For most of human history – and in most parts of the world to this day – there were institutions that work like this: We tell people – priests or commissars – what to tell others, who are then sent out into the world to believe what they’ve been told. This has its merits, but it hasn’t always worked out for the best. Homosexuality turned out to be immoral because the Bible said so. Jews were vermin, and kulaks were the enemies of the people, because the Party said so. And so on. 

Then someone had a better idea. Why not create an institution made up of people who we think might have something worth listening to, not because they’re right – after all, how would we know? – but because they’ve had the time to research and think about what we think might be worth listening to, be it the laws of physics, the mathematics of transfinite sets, or whether homosexuality really is contra natura

This too has had its merits. But sometimes we find they’re saying things we no longer think are worth listening to. We hired them to study history, but now they’re saying we’re wrong about what really happened. How would we know we’re right and they’re wrong? Well, because other people we hired to study history told us so. So now we have to decide who to keep and who to let go.

Then someone had an even better idea, that idea being, no we don’t. We can keep them both on staff and let them battle it out between them. Not only was it a better idea; it turned out it was a great idea. Bad ideas shared the field with good ones, but bad ideas found it much harder to root. They called it – go figure! – the liberal university.

I’m no historian, but I’m told it started in the UK about the turn of the last century, was exported to North America and the Antipodes, where it flourished, and was ultimately thought the better of about a decade ago, and has been being dismantled ever since. Why did we think the better of it? Because people decided they didn’t want to have to make the case that the residential school program was genocide, or that trans women were women, or … They didn’t want to have to make the case because, going back to how it was in the beginning, we want people once again just to believe what they’re told. This has its merits. But …

Categories: Everything You Wanted to Know About What's Going On in the World But Were Afraid to Ask, Social and Political Philosophy, Why My Colleagues Are Idiots

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