Saturday, May 30, 2009

Education and Philosophical versus Political Correctness

Tibor R. Machan

You will know what I am after here when I tell you how much I dislike it when people talk of "her majesty" or "his highness" as they talk of various pretenders to heads of countries around the globe and throughout human history. For me such terms are like ones out of faerie tales because, well, there are no kings or queens or any such thing except in myths. In other words kings are really not what they pretend to be, namely, God's chosen leaders here on earth. As with all in-born status that places some above others not in height or even talent but in political authority--some may rule and others will be ruled--the whole monarchical idea is a lie. Yet even now one can encounter references to these pretenders, right here in the United States of America, as if they were the real McCoy! Poppycock, I say. Was it not the American Founders who participated in the revolution that demoted these pretenders, who showed that world that no one is by nature the ruler of someone else?

Of course in all of history, wherever there have been human inhabitants, such pretentious ruses and the accompanying distortions of language have been ubiquitous. It is not so much that the thought of it ought to be banned by law. No ideas should be regarded as subject to censorship, which is the ultimate objective of construing certain ideas as politically incorrect. The Pope, the Reverend Moon, Father this and Sister that--all these are titles dependent on a dubious narrative, Most of them are offices with no rational reason for them. But the idea of them all, however debatable, has to be tolerated in a free country, even if those ideas are a threat to the freedom that's so central to such a country. Yes, then, folks ought to give them all up, just as they have given up superstitions of any sort. But this has to happen through enlightenment, education, reflection, conversation and other peaceful means, not through government intervention. A free country defers to the market place of ideas when it comes to what ideas will be deemed worthy of embrace. So, for example, it should not be government that chooses between creationism and Charles Darwin's evolutionary theory, any more than it should be government that chooses between one or another religion or ethics.

It is another thing, however, for citizens themselves, independently of government, to consider some ideas philosophically incorrect. Just what is and what is not will, of course, be subject to eternal disputation, especially in societies where ideas of any kind have the protection of the legal system. Even racist ideas, even anti-Semitic ones, indeed any kind of bigotry must be given legal protection and their criticism needs to be confined to argumentation, ostracism, disputation, debate and such.

There is just one big problem with this. When a country tries to combine freedom of thought and speech with government administered education there will be irresolvable conflict. In a system of private education competition among schools would take care of philosophical correctness. In some schools certain books will be featured in the library, in others they will not, and students and their parents will be able to select which they want to be exposed to.

But when government delivers a coercive system of "education"--actually mostly indoctrination, since no alternative is available to the bulk of us who have to pay for and use such a system--any selection of books, magazines, films shown in classes and so forth will amount to implicit censorship of the materials not chosen. They will be deemed as having been banned--whereas in a private system selection by the administrators of some schools and library officials will not preclude exclusion by others. It is government's one-size-fits-all approach to education that stands in the way of free inquiry.

Unfortunately, in many societies people want to mix elements of liberty with elements of coercion, as if that were something trouble free. It isn't--the courts will struggle forever with trying to square that circle. Only by getting government out of education can that matter be made consistent with the principles of a free society and fit for human beings whose minds must forever be free to think.

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