The Intolerant Tolerants
June 1, 2005
It’s not a normal thing to be reading scholarly essays and be struck by a subject that causes you to reminisce upon a similar experience. However, such was the case as I spent an afternoon with the upcoming edition of the quarterly Claremont Review of Books. It contains an article regarding Harvard University President Lawrence Summers and his intellectual cowardice. You may recall not long ago, he suggested that institutional prejudice and cultural pressure were not the only reasons for the scarcity of women faculty in the hard sciences at Harvard and elsewhere. His suggestion was met with outrage and calls for his resignation. Summers apologized and declared that such institutional bias must stop, and pledged $50 million to research and fix the problem. All of this brought me back to the quickly fading memory of a night spent at Ohio University for the annual Halloween college debauchery bash.
The streets were filled with the utterances and exclamations of good-spirited youthful drunkenness, of which I was happily a part. People ran through the overflowing streets, which had been annexed by the feet of students in place of cars. The costumed numbers allowed themselves to be lost behind their rubber and latex attire, experiencing life as only a mask can permit. There is something peculiarly genuine about such events. We see in full force that mixture of the lesser and better angels of our nature. Such was the experience of my good-natured boisterousness to that point, and all was well in my world.
As the night wore on, the allure of the streets moved in the direction of the slighted shacks that make the homes of our young and brightest, and thus we were led to the numerous house parties taking place throughout the town.
The pungent smell of what we call "bar" hit me as I walked inside. That strange mixture of heat, tobacco, alcohol, and sweat that invades clothes and destroys the utility of deodorant. The lights were low, the music blared, and the haze of smoke rolled seductively just below the ceiling. As we pummeled our way through the crowd, I was struck by the sights of the chosen disguises. There, talking with Hamlet and a magnanimous Caesar, was President Bush, an arrow running through the length of his skull. On the stairs sat the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man (of "Ghostbusters" fame), crying philosophy with Dr. Peter Venkman. And then there was Donald Rumsfield. Complete with the dark, pinstriped suit, meticulously combed hair, and eyeglasses. The clothes, however, were not what caught my attention. On the contrary, my eyes were led to the blood that surrounded the nickel-sized bullet hole in his head.
"Here," I thought, "is a politically-involved youth I should talk to." I began subtly, "Mr. Rumsfield, it’s a pleasure…"
"No, no, my boy, it’s all mine. Nothing pleases me more than to see the face of those I will soon send to die for oil."
The following dialogue is not worth laying down here. I think we all know what follows in these types of "debates." The usual suspects ought to give you a sufficient taste: "Why did we invade Iraq?… Where are the WMDs?… Bush lied!… No war for oil!"
What followed my inquisitive skepticism, however, is telling. In response to, "Why do you think this war is about oil? It seems more likely to be a second staging area for the ’War on Terror,’" I was bombarded by yells, threats, and defiance.
Shouts of, "How dare you support the war," filled the room. Hamlet, Dr. Venkman, the frightful Stay Puff, President Bush, Mr. Rumsfield, even the great Caesar, were at my throat. What is a college kid to do in a situation like this? The easy way, of course, is to pander through flattery. Appeasement would serve a certain purpose in my circumstance, and the thought crossed my mind. My friends were enjoying themselves and the last thing they wanted was to watch one of my notorious political discussions. But I was tired of these types of antics. The hyperbole of the college left-winger is so magnified today that, apparently, conversation and argument are useless. But I didn’t want to give in. I’m a stubborn-sort in some ways, so I persisted with my opinion… and found myself and my friends in the street a few moments later.
Needless to say, they were not thrilled. I tried to justify it to them, but the usefulness of discussing why intellectual courage is significant carries little weight with the lightly-toasted-looking-for-fun types. But what of it? How can I get kicked out of a college party by discussing the War in Iraq; a war that involves the people of our generation, a war involving our friends, brothers, and sisters, and be shown the door because I have a different opinion? And from the party of "tolerance," the banner bearers of "diversity"? Apparently diversity of opinion is not so well tolerated if it comes from someone with the same tone of skin and an Anglo-Saxon name.
As if dominating the political culture of our campuses isn’t enough, now I can’t even speak? I reject that. I reject their closed eyes and ears, and their mindless adherence to the dogma that their movement’s founders were supposedly fighting against. And I will never accept it. Nor should any of us. Education ends as soon as opinion becomes someone’s feelings. Feelings cannot be wrong, and give license to attack the (apparently non-felt?) opinions of those with different ideas. So when an idea is attacked due to its stance and not its merit, stand firm. While it may mean nothing to the mindless automaton whom it’s addressing, it is setting the example that intellectual integrity will not so easily die. That opinions must be heard and discussed, rather than be accompanied with derision and physical intimidation. The antics of the intolerant tolerants must not prevail, or our universities are doomed.
That’s why, as I read of the shameless actions of Lawrence Summers, I am so disgusted. The problem does not find its origins in our youth, it has come from the administration; from the leaders who are supposed to guide us from the shadows. "Diversity" and "tolerance" are mantras holding us back. While they rose to prominence in order to fight discrimination, they have only given birth to a new breed of it. If their consequences are not soon dealt with, the education of our children will continue to ossify in a long, painful rigor mortis.
Fred Bills is a graduate of the Ashbrook Scholar Program and Ashland University. He is currently interning at the Claremont Institute in California and will attend the Ohio State University School of Law this fall.