There’s a great scene about midway through an episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia called “Reynolds vs Reynolds: The Cereal Defense,” where Mac is trying to convince The Gang that evolution is not real. The back and forth between Mac and Dennis is the best part. Dennis suggests that evolution is real “Because all of the smartest scientists in all of the world agree that it’s real.” Mac responds asking if he’s a fool “because he has more faith in the Saints that the wrote the bible?” “Yeah,” Dennis retorts, “because you just read the words of a bunch of guys that you never met, and you just take it on ‘faith’ that everything they wrote was true.” To which Mac replies by suggesting that Dennis should have no more faith in the scientists, data, and fossil records he believes in because he has never “pored through the numbers and figures” himself, meaning “You get your information from a book, written by men you’ve never met, and you take their words as truth, based on a willingness to believe, a desire to accept, a leap of…faith.” Dennis is speechless.
The scene is absurd, but there is a kernel of insight from Mac here—not about the validity of evolution—but in the way we think we know what we know, and how we defend it. The dogmatism we adhere to when it comes to our politics and culture has reached a fever pitch—it is in fact, religious. This is what discourse is like when everyone, not just liberals and conservatives, operate on differing notions of reality. There is no nuance; everything is either right or wrong.
Think about climate change, I consider this a good parallel. We can objectively observe the Earth’s rising temperature. We cannot observe what exactly is causing this rise in temperature. There is evidence to suggest that a rise in atmospheric CO2 has something to do with it. However, we can’t prove what portion of the cause of rising average temperatures can be attributed this rise in atmospheric CO2. There is little evidence, if any, to suggest that the United States’ entrance or exit from the Paris Climate Agreement will have any effect on the amount of atmospheric CO2, or average global temperatures. However, this is not the prevailing narrative. We are told that people either do or do not believe in climate change—you’re all in or you’re all out—and you certainly can’t engage in economic cost benefit analysis on policies put in place to allegedly stop or slow climate change. If you happen to think some of these policies aren’t worth their economic cost, you’re against “science” and you’re an idiot. Maybe this is what Mac means when he says, “Science is a liar sometimes.”
Think for a moment how many nuanced conversations you’ve had with peers or faculty concerning climate change. Just ask yourself why you think what you do about it and try not to rely on the “95% of scientists say so” line. We must be willing to discuss issues like climate change, policies surrounding these issues, and question why we believe what we believe in order to truly understand the problem and bring others to understand as well.
We should consider our education a failure if we sit in class together with people that all think the same way and with professors who either affirm our previously held beliefs or stand at the head of the class handing us knowledge to be written down and never questioned. So often, anyone who dissents from the orthodoxy gets berated for questioning what others believe to be established. In reality, one of the best ways to know that you’ve received a proper education is by being less sure of things than you were when you started.
What happens when we collectively lose our ability to think of the world in half-truths—because this path is more difficult and less satisfying—is that everything becomes a bit like that climate change scenario. It’s an interesting irony that institutions of higher learning are places simultaneously considered to be where some of our greatest thinkers go to learn and teach, as well as places that are the most ideologically one-sided and doctrinaire.
Ideas touted as extremely important at Goucher such as diversity and tolerance have been fetishized into a different thing altogether; the more progressive you are, the more we tolerate your opinion, regardless of its merits. I’m somebody who champions free market ideas, supports individual rights rather than those of the group, believes in the value of strong families in society, and advertises the unique greatness of America in history. These ideas are not controversial, but the Overton Window has shifted so much at college that they are often dismissed based on their inherent “colonialism,” or because of their association with “white supremacy” and the “patriarchy”—the buzzwords du jour. This environment, which is largely conceived in the spirit of postmodernism, incentivizes a culture of unthinking and faction. It’s not conducive to learning or growing and it’s at the heart of the issue that many people are trying to get at when they bring up free speech on campus. This isn’t about free speech, although it often leads to issues about expression. It’s about whether we go to school to seek truth through legitimate discussion, or whether we’re just going to talk past one another with our preconceived notions of what is right.
Colleges produce our “elite” class, the people who shape debate, policy, the economy, and control the commanding heights of our country. When these people all think the same way—not necessarily just from the left, but within the same general frame of mind—you get a system conducive to producing something like what we have now; President Trump isn’t the end of this, he’s a symptom. This is not meant to be an indictment of the left and their various ideologies, but of the lack of critical thinking on campus. We need more people with diverse thoughts and ideas, but if every person who doesn’t think we should have open borders or espouses principles associated with the free market system becomes a “neo-fascist,” we are going to get less thinking and more dogma.
We can’t be afraid to learn the truth, or grapple with things we disagree with because then we cannot move forward. I have seen this in my classes the few times we have tried to have difficult conversations. Everyone is afraid to say something that they think will offend the sensibilities of someone else, so everyone dances around the issue. You can’t force someone to think a certain way about something, you have to convince them. This goes for every idea. Responsible people need to discuss and deal with the complicated, often sensitive problems we have, otherwise they will fall to the irresponsible and pernicious among us—people like Mac and Dennis, if you will.
Featured Image: The Cereal Defense. Credit: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia Wiki