“I think everybody can be right.” said a STEM field doctoral student to me once. This student was at one of the best universities in the world.
When I tried to argue that both facts and truth exist, and that her statement defies the definition of right, she proceeded to tell me that we simply thought in different ways.
A renowned institution suddenly seemed like a kindergarten.
Nowadays, I like to open a philosophy class by asking students if they can say that everybody can be right. They would mostly start by defending those who support such claims, arguing that everybody can be described as well-meaning in some personal sense of the word.
However, they then proceed to define “right” as related to truth, and reason that two contradictory statements cannot be right at the same time.
Disagreement plays an important role in seeking truth
This is why I am thankful that I do not work at an Ivy League school, but at a private university in Romania. These students are searching for answers, not consolation. They will not act offended at a simple question about the existence of truth, unlike some young professionals I have met in Western Europe.
Disagreement was perceived as criticism or even attack, and human interaction was reduced to insincere placating. You couldn’t take a risk of hurting someone’s feelings. You couldn’t tell them you don’t like A or B when they do.
You couldn’t bring attention to any form of inappropriate behavior. Everything had to be – for the lack of a better word – “cool.” So. if you want to start an uncomfortable discussion, they would be quick to silence you with the cop out, “we think differently, and that is OK.”
I would much rather prefer to face fierce disagreement than such a void of agreeableness.
We must not place comfort above truth
Such an environment is driven by a form of childish positivity, without inclusion of the tragedies of life, where the highest purpose stops at some false sense of comfort.
People of such disposition would by far be the easiest target for manipulation, as they lose the ability to take a moral stance. They will create toxic working environments, where any mention of an issue will be silenced, and anyone threatening the comfort of shallow cheerfulness would be ignored. Such a “see no evil, speak no evil” setting is particularly appealing to all sorts of abusers.
It would be far too uncomfortable to admit the difficult truth that sometimes humans suffer, and sometimes other humans are responsible for that suffering. Therefore, it is better to pretend that “everybody is right” – disregarding the obvious logical contradiction in said sentence.
It then only becomes too easy to panache any disagreement through “intolerance,” and promote wrongly understood “tolerance” – pushing emotionally immature adults up the academic or corporate ladders.
The academia that I have come to know turned out to be a totalitarian state in a petri dish, providing insight into the psychological roots of control, and showing clearly what happens if we denounce the notion of objective truth.
The destruction of free thought we witness today runs deeper than just political agitation. It poses a problem that goes beyond simple emotions of a crowd. The oversimplified, pop version of postmodernism erased the very construction upon which any conversation can be held, and that is the mutual agreement that truth exists. In this way, free speech has been silently euthanized rather than violently attacked.
Not everyone can be right: some ideas are simply wrong
When you arrive at “we think differently, and that is OK” – all interaction stops. Nobody will convince anyone of anything. Nobody is searching for answers. They simply do not want to get their feelings hurt, so they stop thinking about reality altogether.
It becomes particularly haunting if we take into account the history of the 20th century: people executed, relocated and tortured for their nationality or origin. All because of ideas – ideas that were not right, but wrong.
If you point it out, some will naively argue that it was a long time ago. It was not. Murdering innocent people is clearly within human nature, and we should investigate the mechanisms that bring us to commit such acts. Not to mention putting guns to civilians’ heads is happening right now in occupied Ukraine, and calling for genocide of a whole nation can be found in Dugin’s speech from 2014. It is real.
Would you still say that “everybody is right”?
Wouldn’t dictators prefer to rule over a society filled with people who are too scared to disagree with anyone or even enter any serious discussions? Saying “I don’t know and I don’t want to know, the politicians must know what they are doing, everything is OK” – that is how the traumatized people of Russia act on camera. Would you want to see college graduates act similarly?
The world is a terrifying place, and it needs people with a spine.
We should strive to be truth-seekers and not comfort-seekers. Only by setting this example will we raise strong youth. As Aaron Tippin sang: “You’ve got to stand for something, or you’ll fall for anything”.
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This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions.