Saturday, May 20, 2017

Listening Is Not The Same As Understanding: Intent Beyond Words

Since the defeat of Hillary Clinton and election of Donald Trump as President in November 2016, things seem to be getting really strange. For instance, there has been a marked increase in the number of violent protests, demands for "safe space" on college campuses and even in the workplace where, mostly, Millennials can retreat from what they find to be "offensive" speech; that is, speech which differs from their narrow echo chamber perspective, Ironically, college campuses are no longer safe for rational discussion or free speech if one side has an opposing position. There have been dozens of individuals, primarily conservative and a few even "controversial" according to the corporate media's definition of the word. Rather than allow these individuals the opportunity to speak in college provided forum, they are boycotted, protested against (usually involving some form violence) or shouted down by bull horns, air horns, or some other disruptive behavior.

The irony is that most universities and college campuses, while generally open institutions for public discussion of ideas, where basically conservative up through the early 1960's. They tended to have a strong, often financial, relationship with state and especially the federal government, corporations, and so forth. To be more specific, these institutions of higher learning received government funds---in the hundreds of thousands of dollars---to conduct tests, research, and experiments for the Department of Transportation, NASA, the Food and Drug Administration, and especially the US military and the alphabet soup network of national security agencies. In fact, the US military was (and remains) the largest provider of grant money to the colleges and universities. Corporate businesses such as IBM, AT&T, General Electric, Shell, Exxon, dozens of other oil and gas companies among many others would do so as well. In fact, for a few lucky schools, one of these multi-billion companies would pick up the tab for an entire department and/or underwrite scholarships, institutional improvements, and so on. Obviously, there was quite the symbiotic relationship government, business, and academia. Of course, today, we can add numerous high technology companies like Apple, Microsoft, Intel, Motorola, and Raytheon.

However, while this relationship have remained largely the same down through the decades, academia began to open up starting in the mid 1960's. Students took a more active interest in world affairs and our role in it. Students protested, held sit-ins, started petition drives, occupied administrative offices, etc over various social issues such as Civil Rights, the Vietnam War, the draft, gender equality, as well as the universities role in these issues; and occasionally forcing the school to divest themselves from certain weapons research programs or from companies which fragrantly polluted or engaged in animal testing for instance. In a few cases, during the Vietnam War, they forced military and CIA recruiters off school campuses while demanding the addition of courses in, for example, African, environmental or women studies, community organizing, and a more well-rounded explanation of historical events and individuals devoid of popular social mythology. They went even further by demanding that individuals the institutions found "offensive" be allowed to come and speak. Nowadays, this demand to hear and understand both sides of the story are being drowned out by individuals who are ill-equipped to handle the reality of the world. Let's take a brief look at some of these individuals.

Perhaps the most infamous has been Milo Yiannopoulos of (formerly) Breitbart News, a conservative internet news site. Milo describes himself as a conservative gay man and he is known to bask in controversy. I guess you might call that his stock-in-trade. He's encouraged his followers to harass or ridicule various individuals or issues on the political Left. However, tables were turned recently when Mr. Yiannopoulos found himself uninvited from several speaking engagements over security or content on some occasions. However, most has been due to threats of protests and possible violence if he was allowed to speak. To be honest, I'm not that familiar with Milo or his "act". I suppose he's a lot like the radio "shock jocks" of the 1980's like Howard Stern (I didn't care for them either). Given all the recent cancellations, Mr. Yiannopoulos has found that his stock has declined. Not so much because he's a self described conservative gay man as to the fact that mainstream America has had an opportunity to hear the content of his past talks and didn't like what they heard. Regardless though, if he's invited, he should be allowed to speak. If you don't want to hear what he has to say, don't attend. It's like not liking a particular TV show. Instead of demanding that the network take it off the air, which would deny others who do like the show the opportunity to watch it, why not just flip the channel or go for a walk or something?

Another individual is Conservative writer Ann Coulter. Ann has been invited to speak at several universities only to find herself uninvited at the last minute for pretty much the same reasons. Again, Ann Coulter is not one of my favorite people. To be honest, I can't stand the sound of her voice or even to look at her, but that's just me. I know a lot of people---mostly guys---who simply adore Coulter. Good for them. However, I have no interest in listening to her speak, either in person or on one of those "talking head" shows, nor do I care to listen to conservative author Ben Shapiro, TV host Glenn Beck and others. But that doesn't give me the right to deny others the opportunity to hear them. I simply either mute their segment, turn the channel, or go brush my teeth. Of course, there are those on the Left I feel the same way about (such as everyone on The View or Keith Olbermann---blah). The point is that we are willfully losing the common decency of free speech, particularly free political speech.

Free and open political dialogue is key to the survival and growth of any democracy. It's only under totalitarian governments do we see political speech curtailed or denied all together. Our Founding Fathers depended on the open discussion of ideas in order to bring about this nation. In fact, it was the acceptance of differing opinion that enabled the City-state of Athens to become the world's first sustained democracy. Listening to what people say doesn't obligate you to accept their point of view. However, it does require that you maintain an open mind and that you are in position of critical thinking skills; to be able to listen objectively to an argument and balance what is being said with your own values. This doesn't mean shouting them down because they're the "bad guy" and might say something you actually agree with (Heaven forbid!). It means having a civil and rational exchange of ideas and of opinions. It's through this dialogue that intellectual growth occurs; where solutions happen. Unfortunately, whenever we watch politicians we often see them trying to talk each other down. On talk news shows, everyone seems to try and talk over one another (in fact, it seems to be encouraged). In the movies, on TV, and especially in video games, the person who talks the loudest seems to "win", and when that fails, it's the person who acts like the biggest bully and successfully intimidates the other person. Of course, should that fail, out come the weapons, and again, it's usually whoever has the biggest baddest gun that gets the booty (take that in whatever context you want. They all apply).

There's plenty of blame to go around. We have the dumbing down of the schools in general critical thinking skills in particular. We, as a society, have stopped teaching civility; common manners and respect. Kids somehow have to think that they can "demand" respect through a gun or other weapon. Bull crap. Respect is earned. It's based on individual integrity and to get respect, you have to give respect. As a society, we've been told that we don't have to be responsible for your actions. Somehow, perhaps magically, the State will assume any blame. After all, we are a nation of victims right? The State even steps in to absolve you of your responsibility to and for your children. Next, we've created a society where we should be protected from whatever we don't like it, which, I suppose, is part of the dumbing down process.

We've created a society where mediocrity is rewarded (have any doubts? Who gets paid more---athletes or teachers?). We're told that if we succeed, it was a collective effort that made it happen, therefore, everyone is "entitled" to a piece of your success. The group is more important than the individual. I hate to break it to you, but you come into this world an individual and you go of this world as an individual. What you do in between is learn how to cooperate with others, and you do this by learning to listen, take personal responsibility, and treat others with dignity and respect. The great 1st century Jewish Philosopher, Hillel was asked once to describe the whole of the Torah while standing on one leg. His response was brilliant. Hillel said, "What is hateful to you do not do to your neighbor. All else is commentary". We would do well as a society to remember this.



Inflammatory and Turned Away


A conservative speaker was uninvited from campus. And then re-invited.


A Texas University Just Cancelled Its Commencement Speaker

Ann Coulter's Berkeley speech off; police still plan for protesters