As a foreigner, the idea of studying at renowned American universities such as Harvard, Yale, or Columbia has an almost magnetic attraction. Anywhere in Europe, these institutions are known for their ability to foster intellectual discourse and groom individual thinkers. In my native France, the opportunity to study in an American university is considered a privilege coveted by most but attainable to only a few.
Hence my surprise, after three years at New York University, upon realizing just how hostile the American academic environment has become to the intellectual values upon which its reputation is based.
Intellectual individuality, the basis for rational discourse between thinking human beings, is being discarded in favor of groupthink. No longer are students espousing opinions or views based on moral and rational reasoning, but are instead robotically adopting the opinions shared by members of their specific race, ethnicity, religion, or political party.
When it comes to college political correctness, this has reached tragicomical proportions, where the validity of an argument on any topic is no longer evaluated on its evidence or logic, but instead on the identity of the individual making the argument. On college campuses people are regularly disqualified from a political conversation on, say, police brutality, if they are not black, or Hispanic, or member of a “persecuted” minority group, since they have not experienced the “persecution” themselves.
In these conversations, facts do not matter. Nor do the intellectual conclusions surmised from these facts. Instead, the most salient element is the origin or background of the speaker. In American society there is a “ladder of victimization” that ranks opinions not on merit or truthfulness, but instead on the level of perceived persecution experienced by the holder of the opinion.
Through this prism, a black student is more qualified to talk about police brutality than a white one, and his views will be indefinitely more valued and accepted, regardless of the view itself. Only a woman is authorized to talk about abortion, while a man is automatically disqualified; and only members of the LGBT community are approved opinion holders on the topic of same-sex marriage, and so forth.
This phenomenon of invalidating/discrediting opinions based on the color of one’s skin, gender, or sexual orientation is nothing new and it has given rise to the too often heard phrase: “It doesn’t matter what you think, you are (insert individual characteristic) and can’t possibly know anything about the topic!”
I've heard this very phrase countless times on college campuses, and it never ceases to amaze. It is indeed reminiscent of a day not so long ago in the United States, where the sole characteristic of being born black was justification enough for discrimination.
If skin pigmentation is reason enough to discredit and extinguish one’s voice, then we have indeed returned to a day where the separation between one’s intellectual individuality and one’s skin color is erased. This is the death of intellectual discourse, the end of moral reasoning, and of the ability to express opinions based on facts irrelevant to one’s identity.
Facts don’t care about your identity; they easily resist adoption by anyone willing to preserve their inherent truthfulness, and they are not molded or modified by a specific gender, ethnicity, or cultural origin. Facts remain facts, whoever you are.
This is also further evidence of a worrying trend gripping the United States, one that pushes increasing numbers of individuals to discard free thinking in favor of conformity.
Today, one’s views about abortion should in no way predict one’s views on gun control, healthcare, or foreign policy. These are entirely unrelated topics that each require a unique observation and interpretation of the facts.
Yet, if one day you meet someone who argues in favor of the Second Amendment, it is pretty safe to assume you’ll know their position on abortion, healthcare and so forth. Americans are running back to their tribes instead of following their own intellectual conclusions, and nothing could be scarier.
In these cases, the individual forgoes their individuality and instead seeks reassurance within the boundaries of their “team”, essentially reducing political discourse to a “team sport” — but this undeniably leads to violent polarization, and the eventual death of unemotional political discourse.
When you make an idea part of your gender or race, it becomes one with your identity, and any criticism of that idea is taken as a criticism of self.
But ideas need to be criticized, and can’t be regarded as direct extensions of the individuals espousing these ideas, otherwise we forfeit the ability to discern between our intellectual reasoning and our innate characteristics.
The electorate must have the intellectual independence to support candidates of their own choosing because of their policy proposals, and not their association with various groups, political or otherwise.
Although cultural, ethnic, or racial diversity are relevant, we must recognize that they shrink in importance in the face of intellectual diversity; it is only the latter that is crucial to ensuring the greatest pluralism of ideas and their constant renewal.
Louis Sarkozy is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is a student in philosophy and religion at New York University. He is the youngest son of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
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