Sunday, May 6, 2007

The Paradox of a Freethinking Revolution

Wrapping up another school year, the first one at a new university, I am a little dismayed about the current and future state of higher education. My optimism is being sorely trumped. It has not yet been defeated, though.

For all our Western progress (and I use the word cautiously), for all our advancements in technology and medicine, all our so-called enlightenment and moral virtue (ahem... I'm looking at you, democracy), we are still - and now perhaps even more so - an amazingly dull and unthinking society. We have certain modes of thinking, like cultural synapses, that fire involuntarily and with gleeful abandon and, when we find ourselves inside these cozy little, familiar cultural currents, we think we are being radical, subversive or intelligent. Certain ideological trends appear, but only appear, to radical and intelligent; certain party lines like "Hey, Church, stop oppressing women!" or "Yo, fundamentalism, what's with all the homophobia" have only the faint taste of authenticity and free thought. For some reason, we think that brainwashing people into thinking that religion and morality is bad is a better goal than letting religion "brainwash" people into becoming moral or righteous people. Within our schools these cultural synapses fire wildly and, I'm beginning to think, irresponsibly. The subversion of traditional mores and belief is happening under the guise of liberation and freethinking.

Subversion and radical revolution is often required. After years and years of unchallenged stability, an organized religion - or any institutionalized ideology for that matter - probably requires a revolution, an aggressive enema to purify the system. My concern, however, is that it is exactly when Freethinking appears to be operating, such as when it attacks organized thought, that Freethinking itself is often annihilated. The popular criticism of organized religion is itself an organized attempt to control peoples' thought by mindlessly turning them away from what only has their best interests at heart. When subversion and revolution no longer intends to restore and when it resorts to lying and manipulation to bring about its own ends then it no longer desires to create freethinking individuals but only desires to turn those individuals into its own mindless foot soldiers.

So, yeah, my optimism is waning. But its last flames have not yet been doused. I still maintain that through classical humanist education - education that focuses on the great thinkers and poets of the past - people can attain a degree of self-awareness and critical thought. Read it for yourself, people, and don't mindlessly quote the party line.

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