It is strange, to feel as though one is being discriminated against, especially when those surrounding the ‘one’, who are doing the discriminating, are seemingly unaware that they are doing so. In this day and age, when everyone is supposed to be open-minded, tolerant, and ‘non-judgy’ (or at least, you should act like it, even if you’re rather stuffy and judgmental in heart and/or mind). Because there is no crime greater than intolerance. And yet, it happens that some people are (sometimes unwittingly) rather ignorant bigots. The assumption, even in a crowd of complete strangers, seems to be that there is ideological conformity, if not total uniformity, amongst ‘educated’, and mostly functional, young people. Thus, things get said which might not otherwise, if speakers were made aware that ideological opponents and dissenters are not (obvious) whackos. For example, let there be a premise q that is, “Mr MacGregor ought to stop persecuting rabbits.” In our fictional world, all those who agree with this believe themselves not only to be a majority, but believe that anyone who disagrees must be warped (after all, who wouldn’t be on the side of cute, fluffy bunnies?), immoral, perverse, ignorant, and probably has an extra limb growing somewhere as a ‘tell’. In the midst of a group of strangers (we’ll say they’re a new book club meeting for the first time), the subject of Mr. MacGregor comes up; not only are those in favor of the premise quite animated about the issue, and not only do they express vehement disagreement with their opponents, but readily, openly question their opponents’ character and principles, and even their intelligence. Before too long, this (apparent) majority in the group descends from criticism to personally derisive comments, like, “I’d hate to meet one of those rabbit-haters in the street; they probably hit people with glasses on”; or, “I bet they think the world is flat, or something ludicrous like that; they must be stupid to disagree with premise q!” Naturally so! None of them, however, notices the one or two people shifting uncomfortably, who is/are secretly thinking, “Well, Mr MacGregor doesn’t grow his vegetables for rabbits to dig up”, or, “Perhaps he should look for humane methods to keep them out, but I certainly don’t oppose him trying to protect his garden. But I don’t dare say anything, because everyone will jump on me and call me a horrible person.” This kind of atmosphere does not foster good-will, productive dialogue, or free exchange in the so-called ‘Marketplace of Ideas.’ It also doesn’t foster critical thought, because it encourages people to demean opponents, think of them as intellectual or moral inferiors, and thus to disregard their arguments without even hearing and considering them. If a position can’t withstand scrutiny, it’s certainly not worth having; but a position should be considered equally worthless if one does not hear the arguments against it in good faith and with an open mind, even if a critical one. And if in the end, a person is not persuaded, it’s not often that an ideological opponent is actually a moron or villain. Of course there are exceptions, but we’re talking about run-of-the-mill ‘decent’ folk. People really ought to be careful, because company could be more mixed than they expect (the anti-q folks probably don’t have faun-ish horns on their heads, so you don’t know who they are), and offence and intimidation (even unintentional) ought to be avoided.
“[Mark] had never before known what an Idea meant: he had always thought till now that they were things inside one’s own head. But now, when his head was continually attacked and often completely filled with the clinging corruption of the training, this Idea towered up above him — something which obviously existed quite independently of himself and had hard rock surfaces which would not give, surfaces he could cling to.” —That Hideous Strength, CS Lewis