Sometimes I think one should be licensed to vote in national elections, perhaps take a test as one is tested for a driver’s license. Each of us wield a powerful tool, the vote, more deadly than any vehicle. We should be responsible with that tool, just as we should be responsible with our vehicles. We must know the rules of the road – the role of government, the history of our country, essentially, Civics 101.
The history of the West is largely the history of Jews and Christians and their systems of right and wrong, codified in time, ways of living together (not always successful) that honor the dignity of every person. We are taught shoulds and oughts. We feel shame and guilt when we should and ought to feel this way. We honor humility, and we dishonor pride. These are mechanisms of change within and without, ways to right our behavior, to become righteous, better people. We confess our sins and we make amendment. We repent, return to the right path. Can a society survive without these habits of living and thinking? Can a society that values self-esteem over self-sacrifice continue as a community? That is the challenge of today’s secular culture.
In many areas of society – government, church, family – I increasingly meet those who want to run away from serious debate, rational reasoning. We are like birds with our heads in the proverbial sand. It is more comfortable to avoid discomfort, to insulate oneself with rosy visions of reality. Who doesn’t want to love everyone and be loved by everyone? Sounds good.
But life is more complicated than that, indeed, survival as a nation is more complicated. One behavior slides toward another. In studying history, whether it be the history of an individual or a nation, we see these patterns and can better predict outcomes from those patterns. We apply that knowledge to current crises and so make better decisions.
In a democracy we citizens need to be educated on the issues. Without an educated electorate electing, choosing candidates and platforms who will determine our nation’s future, democracy becomes a sham and we the people, blindly teeter on the edge of a cliff.
It takes courage to face reality, whether it be the state of our own hearts or the state of the state. Many of us would rather not face facts, just to keep the peace. The price is high, however, as we veer unchecked toward the precipice.
In our nation, we look to educational institutions to educate us, to ensure each generation learns their country’s founding story, as unbiased as possible, through clear lenses rather than filtered through biases of gender or class, race or religion. We look to our schools and universities to foster honest debate, in fact, to teach us how to debate civilly, how to consider the opposite side of an argument. Most importantly, we want to be able to hear criticism and not deem it hate speech, to differ without fearing jail.
There has been a recent trend on university campuses for students to veto invitations to speakers with whom they disagree. So far, among many, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, George Will, and Charles Murray have been invited and disinvited because of the possibility of disagreement among students. For disagreement has become synonymous with hate. Here, on university campuses, where the exchange of free ideas should be encouraged, where the First Amendment right of free speech should be explained and exalted, tyranny of thought and language reigns.
McLaughlin & Associates conducted a survey of attitudes towards free speech on campus, and by wide margins, students desire codes regulating speech for students and faculty, requiring “trigger warnings” in class in case material might be uncomfortable. Might be uncomfortable? I would find the trigger warnings themselves uncomfortable; does that mean there should be triggers for the triggers?
Such absurdity nearly sidesteps the serious harm done to free speech and the dumbing down of an electorate who should be tough on all sides through reason. The gift of reason is unique to our species, one claimed divine and proof of God’s existence, that is, the existence of a reasoning Creator. We think things through, we legislate laws, we judge our fellows innocent and guilty. Courts and their legal systems, rights to defense and trial, separation of powers stemming from Magna Carta and earlier, all are rooted in the remarkable belief that we can reason through our differences, and only in this way can we maintain peace.
That we must train the next generation to do the same, to carry on this great tradition of Western civilization, seems obvious, at least to this writer, using her limited talents to reason.
Children who are surrounded by serious conversation around the dinner table are deemed to have a head start in life in contrast to those not exposed to such speech. They learn by example the steps taken to reach a point, and the charity required to listen to opposing views. Such beginnings are far more powerful than class or gender or race. There was a time it was thought that only the best educated could provide these beginnings for their children.
Not so any more, it appears, with the current trends. For academia favors a sweet diet of no opinion, sameness. We must agree (with the liberal viewpoint) or be arrested. Why does this brave new world remind me of a book by that name? Why does it remind me of Islamic State and its thought police who behead Christians and crucify those of differing beliefs, who sell their children into slavery, who watch and wait as America grows increasingly weak and wavering?
The natural desire to avoid conflict, to silence speech contrary to one’s own, and then silence one’s own speech to keep the peace, is especially harmful to a nation nearing national elections in 2016. But we must take courage, pull our heads out of the sand, and listen to the arguments pro and con. We must study our Western patrimony (Daniel Hannon’s Inventing Freedom is a good and readable start) and make intelligent, educated choices in the voter booth next year. We should listen to the candidates and judge their true character. Do they understand America’s true character? Are they unafraid to uphold the character and the history of the West? Or do they feed us a sweet diet of platitudes and promises to make us feel better?
If we don’t do our homework, then we should not be voting. If we do not license ourselves to vote, others will take our vote from us.