A law professor at Faulkner University delivered a speech to his students this semester, urging them to “rid [themselves] of unreason” and to break free from the “prison fashioned by elite culture and their undergraduate professors.”
Adam J. McLeod, a professor at Faulkner’s Jones School of Law in Montgomery, Alabama, wrote recently that, while his younger students do indeed “want to learn,” most of them “cannot think, don’t know very much, and are enslaved to their appetites and feelings.”
As a result, to counteract this dearth of critical thinking, McLeod decided to “lay down some ground rules” this semester.
“Before I can teach you how to reason,” McLeod told his students, “I must first teach you how to rid yourself of unreason. For many of you have not yet been educated. You have been dis-educated.”
“To put it bluntly,” he went on, “you have been indoctrinated. Before you learn how to think you must first learn how to stop unthinking.”
“Reasoning requires you to understand truth claims,” McLeod said, “even truth claims that you think are false or bad or just icky. Most of you have been taught to label things with various ‘isms’ which prevent you from understanding claims you find uncomfortable or difficult.”
“Reasoning requires you to understand the difference between true and false,” he said. “And reasoning requires coherence and logic. Most of you have been taught to embrace incoherence and illogic.”
From the speech:
We will have to pull out all of the weeds in your mind as we come across them. Unfortunately, your mind is full of weeds, and this will be a very painful experience. But it is strictly necessary if anything useful, good, and fruitful is to be planted in your head.
There is no formula for this. Each of you has different weeds, and so we will need to take this on the case-by-case basis. But there are a few weeds that infect nearly all of your brains. So I am going to pull them out now.
First, except when describing an ideology, you are not to use a word that ends in “ism.” Communism, socialism, Nazism, and capitalism are established concepts in history and the social sciences, and those terms can often be used fruitfully to gain knowledge and promote understanding. “Classism,” “sexism,” “materialism,” “cisgenderism,” and (yes) even racism are generally not used as meaningful or productive terms, at least as you have been taught to use them. Most of the time, they do not promote understanding.
In fact, “isms” prevent you from learning. You have been taught to slap an “ism” on things that you do not understand, or that make you feel uncomfortable, or that make you uncomfortable because you do not understand them. But slapping a label on the box without first opening the box and examining its contents is a form of cheating. Worse, it prevents you from discovering the treasures hidden inside the box. For example, when we discussed the Code of Hammurabi, some of you wanted to slap labels on what you read which enabled you to convince yourself that you had nothing to learn from ancient Babylonians. But when we peeled off the labels and looked carefully inside the box, we discovered several surprising truths. In fact, we discovered that Hammurabi still has a lot to teach us today.
One of the falsehoods that has been stuffed into your brain and pounded into place is that moral knowledge progresses inevitably, such that later generations are morally and intellectually superior to earlier generations, and that the older the source the more morally suspect that source is. There is a term for that. It is called chronological snobbery. Or, to use a term that you might understand more easily, “ageism.”
Students, McLeod said, “have been taught to resort to two moral values above all others, diversity and equality.” While these are “important values,” he wrote, “the way most of you have been taught to understand them makes you irrational, unreasoning.”
“For you have been taught,” he said, “that we must have as much diversity as possible and that equality means that everyone must be made equal. But equal simply means the same. To say that 2+2 equals 4 is to say that 2+2 is numerically the same as four. And diversity simply means difference. So when you say that we should have diversity and equality you are saying we should have difference and sameness. That is incoherent, by itself. Two things cannot be different and the same at the same time in the same way…”
“To their credit,” McLeod writes, “the students received the speech well.”