Dissent necessary for meaningful discourse

January 15, 2016

The primary role of a college education is to give students a better life. By equipping them with knowledge and techniques in different disciplines of their choosing, it allows them to better perform throughout their lives. Essentially, people attend college to major in a specific field and to get a better job than they would have gotten had they not attended.

Of course, there are a multitude of other reasons to attend college, and the focus of this article is on one such reason. College is where we as students define ourselves for the first time. Until this point, the majority of us have been living at home, hearing and digesting only certain viewpoints and beliefs. This gave us a predisposition towards whichever ideas we heard discussed at the dinner table, on the news our parents and relatives watched and in the papers that our family members consumed.

College is where we find ourselves on our own for the first time, cast into a sea of many unlike-minded students. Physiologically we are at our peak developmental stage in which we develop habits that will stick for nearly the rest of our lives. In short, this is where we define ourselves, but this transformative process is evaporating.

It appears that on today’s college campuses, any thought which does not conform with the politically correct or liberal ideology is immediately decried as uninformed nonsense or an unrighteous opinion. When students determine which guest speakers should be admitted based only on whether or not they conform to a single belief, we inherently give up our ability to think freely. If we as students do not allow our beliefs, ethics, morals and views of the world to be questioned, we will never evolve; we will never be given the chance to question the foundations of our beliefs. This is a fundamental issue because it causes us to not choose our beliefs and subjects us to a prescribed ideology which we can only defend with spoon-fed generic arguments.

With the demand for trigger warnings, politically correct speech and the denouncement of all ideas except those followed by a certain group, it seems that in this time when we are supposed to grow the most, we are instead stifled. For example, the expansion of “safe spaces” are harmful and only do us an injustice by ill-preparing us for the outside world. Safe spaces seek to isolate people, to make sure that no kind of “conflict” will arise. But only through the conflict which safe spaces seek to avoid can we expand our understanding of other viewpoints, which may affect our own beliefs or deepen our own convictions.

The idea of protesting, as seen most recently on many college campuses, is in direct contrast to the idea of a safe space. If the intent of a safe space is to eliminate all possible forms of conflict and to ensure that everyone feels comfortable, then protests—which have the effect of making people uncomfortable with the current status quo—should be banned. But banning protests, legitimate and evidently impactful methods of generating change, is ludicrous.

It is through debate and discourse, research and argumentation that we are allowed to discover the underlying reasons for our thoughts and motivations. By limiting dissenting opinions and allowing only a single viewpoint, we become weaker. Only by engaging with those with whom we disagree and only by questioning the values we as individuals hold can we define our ethics, our justifications and our very being. We become stronger when we are forced to rationalize and justify our positions, and this can never be done without dissent.

By forcing ourselves to question our core beliefs, we expose ourselves to new schools of thought. We allow ourselves to consider ideas that we would otherwise ignore for no reason. We can consider ideas that we have never thought of. It makes our convictions stronger and guarantees that we are always in control of our own thoughts. That is what it means to live in a free society.

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