Six Dangerous Subjects to Debate with Your Professor

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Dangerous subjects to debateIn the last couple of decades, the university has become quite a different place from its original idea as a hothouse of competing ideas. As philosopher Roger Scruton writes,

In many courses in the humanities and social sciences … ideological conformity, rather than critical appraisal, and censorship has become accepted as a legitimate part of the academic way of life. “No platform” policies, forbidding people of unorthodox or offensive views from addressing audiences on campus, or speech codes that condemn unorthodox statements as “hate speech” are now widely accepted.

This problem will take a long time to solve, and you must get an education in the meantime. So here are some topics to be cautious about raising, lest you find yourself at odds with an ideologue who has the power and institutional support to shortcircuit your aspirations. (There are, of course, exceptional professors, but yours might not be among them.)

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Debates you may want to avoid:


1. Suggesting that Western civilization may have been a good influence.

Many professors grew up with the mantra that it wrecked happy, harmonious indigenous cultures. Anthropologist Derek Freeman, author of Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth and journalist Patrick Tierney, author of Darkness in El Dorado: How Scientists and Journalists Devastated the Amazon, were both denounced at angry meetings of anthropologists. Freeman was denounced for discovering that, contrary to anthropology icon Margaret Mead's claims, Samoa was not a free love Shangri-la when she visited in the 1930s; it was pretty straight-laced. But generations believed her. And Tierney? He found, after many field trips, how anthropologists often misused and set up traditional peoples, to demonstrate a questionable thesis that were then taught to undergrads as the assured results of science. Western civilization was not the culprit, rather, anthropological practice. Key facts certainly supported Freeman and Tierney, but their reward was infamy.

2. Thinking out loud that globalization might be good.

For many professors, globalization is a World Class Bad. They rightly deplore child labor in Third World countries. But they seldom consider that lifetime rural labor, illiteracy, and early teen marriage are the millennia-old alternative. In general, a convinced anti-globalist is not (!) interested in a reasonable discussion, let alone in considering whether globalization is inevitable in the Internet age, and must be managed rather than opposed.

3. Questioning anthropogenic global warming.

“The time for debate is over,” proclaimed a global warming lobbyist at a 2010 science journalists' conference at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. Indeed, stripping weather forecasters who doubt manmade global warming of their license has been seriously proposed in America. The term "denialist" is flung at those whose data do not support the theory, while conformists applaud. Meanwhile, the 2009 Climategate scandal showed to the world pro-warming academics scheming to prevent contrary data from appearing in journals. It's no surprise. Essentially, manmade global warming as an offshoot of environmentalism is like a religion for some professors. You could argue with their reasons, but not with their passions, so tread carefully.

Go to "The Karoly/Tamblyn–Happer Focused Civil Dialogue on Global Warming."

4. Suggesting that innate differences between men and women, rather than injustice alone, may affect career choices in the sciences or Nobel Prizes.

This 2005 gaffe derailed the career of Harvard president Larry Summers (he reemerged, years later, as President Obama's sometime finance guru), but don't count on having his buoyancy. Much research supports the view that men's and women's brains are differently organized, which may often play out in different career choices, but political correctness does not recognize such scientific findings.

5. Stating that, if human life begins at conception, unborn children should have some legal protection.

This one could get you arrested for a peaceful on-campus demonstration. And you will not be assumed to have the same rights as other protestors, even at an ostensibly religious institution. In a matter of life and death, speak out when you know you must, but remember, much of the opposition you encounter is based on personal history, and there is little point in expecting it to be rational.

6. Questioning anything at all about Darwinian evolution.

You may know of problems with the theory, acknowledged in journals. But for surprising numbers of professors, Darwinism is the creation story of an atheistic materialism that they espouse, and not to be questioned by mere mortals like yourself. To hear some of them, Darwin himself was the greatest of the prophets. The actual field of Darwinism is currently a mess of competing theories and rancorous disputes, but be cautious when probing its wounds.

Of course, challenging some professors can be grade-limiting, no matter what. But these six otherwise disparate topics (and some others you may think of) are united by two factors: The politically correct view among academics is doubted by the public, and the academics often hold their views with the fervor of a religious convert. Essentially, by raising an alternative perspective, you insult their religion.

If you want to do something about the propaganda aimed at students and the public in any of these areas, remember that, first and foremost, you are at school to get a degree. You are not being asked to shut up (here, at any rate), but rather to weigh the risk of becoming an example of the grim fate of dissenters. Once you are in a position, work with others to fight back effectively against close-mindedness and promote freedom of thought and expression. But in the meantime, watch your back.

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