December 4, 2007
Things You Are Not Allowed to SayBy Christopher Chantrill
The good thing about living in the modern era is that we have freedom of speech and dissent is celebrated as the highest form of patriotism.
So when a Nobel laureate like James Watson, co-discoverer of DNA, opines that maybe the reason that Africa is such a mess is because of intelligence you can imagine the reaction. Said Watson, as reported by the London Times:
Anybody reading that -- even a rock-ribbed conservative -- will experience a cringe of embarrassment. The more sensitive types, those fully accredited as "non-racists," will likely feel more. They will feel the need to anathematize Dr. Watson, strip him of his public appointments, and deny him access to the public square.
All this embarrassment and anger is odd because the west proudly advertises itself as a culture of reason, where ideas rule, completely different from benighted Islam where a teacher can get a jail sentence for allowing the children in her charge to give a teddy-bear the name "Mohammed" (the just and merciful).
And yet dear old James Watson has been stripped of all his public appointments and sent off to ponder the error of his ways. So what's going on?
Back in the eighteenth century during the Enlightenment, French philosophes prophesied a new age of reason. But there was a problem. Everyone except themselves was prejudiced and superstitious.
That wasn't surprising. People went to church and listened to the priest. And the few French who were lucky enough to get an education went to schools run by the Jesuits.
The Marquis de Condorcet knew what to do. He submitted a plan to the French Legislative Assembly in 1792 that called for universal state education to educate the people out of their prejudice and superstition. The system should, of course, be free of political control. Condorcet envisioned the teachers from these schools lecturing to the people on Sundays, expounding on the principles and rules of ethics and explaining the nation's laws.
Unfortunately there has never been a political activist who wasn't eager to bend the government's school system into preaching their passionately-held beliefs. Andrew J. Coulson makes the definitive point in Market Education.
In the nineteenth century the public schools were used to push the Protestant Bible on the Irish Catholics. In the twentieth century they were used to push liberal political correctness on Protestant fundamentalists.
These activists understand that reason has nothing to do with it. They want to enforce their shaming code upon the benighted masses and they are not afraid to use government power to do it.
We really shouldn't be surprised about this. John Derbyshire of National Review reminds us that we humans are much more group-oriented than rational. We know there are certain things we are not allowed to say or to think.
In his view it probably takes an antisocial loner like James Watson to do good science and ask antisocial questions about intelligence.
When it comes to Nobel-quality science, go-along conformists need not apply. Of course, the Nobel Peace Prize is another matter.
Conservatives, as you would expect, own the reasonable approach to all this. We believe that people should be careful about sweeping claims of reason. Every society needs its prejudices, its shaming code, and its taboos.
When liberals demand absolute free speech and freedom from shame, they end up smuggling prejudice and taboo in the back door.
But conservatives are all in favor of reason when applied in a practical, gradualist way to the advance of science, the development of law, and the reform of government.
That is why we believe, as a practical matter, that after 150 years of government education it would be a good idea to discuss some serious education reform. If nothing else, it might reduce the conflict over our schools. But our liberal friends say that people who want to relax government control of education "don't care about kids."
And we believe that after 70 years of Social Security in which life expectancy at birth has climbed about 10 years it is time to discuss reform. But our liberal friends say that people who want to privatize Social Security want to throw granny into the street.
It's good to know that our lefty friends insist that dissent is the highest form of patriotism.
Otherwise people could easily get the impression that liberals believe that free speech is only for people who think the right thoughts.
Christopher Chantrill is a frequent contributor to American Thinker. See his roadtothemiddleclass.com and usgovernmentspending.com. His Road to the Middle Class is forthcoming.