A fellow St. John’s alumn describes why the ridiculous “Safe Spaces” thing would never fly there

Fellow St. John’s alumn William Kowalski writes a post I should’ve written about how the current craze against anyone who might say something offensive to someone else would never fly at St. John’s. Here’s the good stuff, but the whole thing is worth a read:

…after four years of intensive practice, most of us were able–wonder of wonders–to hold a coherent, focused, two-hour conversation on topics such as what makes a good person, what is a just state, and what Kant meant by a priori knowledge (to name just three of an infinite number of topics).

The purpose of this was to get us to form our own understanding of complex subjects–the most complex of which was ultimately our own selves. It was a lot of reading and a lot of talking. When you spoke, you were guaranteed a respectful audience. If you said something that was poorly thought out, you were going to be challenged on it immediately. Not by the administration, or by the faculty, but by your peers. Furthermore, you were expected to listen respectfully to other viewpoints, some of which you might have found odious at first, but which you might have found yourself agreeing with after a while, to your great surprise–which was, after all, the point of the whole undertaking: not to reinforce the things you already believed, but to find the holes in your system, and either make the necessary repairs or tear the whole rickety structure down and begin again.

What tribes do I identify with?

One of the best pieces I’ve ever read about what’s responsible for the Internet-outrage cycle comes from this past January, from Scott Alexander in New Statesman. It’s worth reading in absolute full and contains far too many excellent passages for me to excerpt any particular one.

Without getting in to the argument (again, read it for yourself), the story got me thinking about tribalism generally, specifically the tribes I identify with personally. These are the groups I give the benefit of the doubt, or instinctually feel as if I should defend. The groups whose bad behavior I am more likely to excuse.

The cultural and political battles I care about enough to have the time and inclination to fight (and the ones I don’t)

Perhaps it’s just the internet outrage cycle and the coddling of the American mind, but everywhere I turn it seems there is a new culture war or political battle to fight. These fights demand that I like or repost articles or in some cases that I attend protests or events, or donate, or in some way take action.

I can’t do it all of course, and some battles I actively avoid. This isn’t to say I don’t care. I do care about a great many things, many of which I don’t take action on. My inclination to act, or not, isn’t necessarily a reflection on how much I do or don’t care about an issue.

The choice of which battles to fight is more like the Obama foreign policy, which is not purely ideological (that’s part of what I like about it). The administration might care about something a great deal, or that something may align well with their ideology, but whether they act, and to what degree they act, is more influenced by a variety of nuanced factors, including the capacity of that action to make a difference, the given politics of the situation, loyalty to specific allies, whether America has a direct interest, potential negative ramifications on other priorities, and so on.

The “Neo-Liberal” Arts

This is a must-read for anyone who cares about or is involved in higher education. See The Closing of the American Mind for intellectual foundation and background. Full story is in Harper’s:

It is not the humanities per se that are under attack. It is learning: learning for its own sake, curiosity for its own sake, ideas for their own sake. It is the liberal arts, but understood in their true meaning, as all of those fields in which knowledge is pursued as an end in itself, the sciences and social sciences included.