Authentic Rebellion

In almost every venue today, we find that "new slogans, political and social [are] used often with calculated ambiguity. Extreme positions, on the right and on the left, are becoming more and more uncompromising. Moderation is taken for apathy, and patience is looked upon as a pretext for inaction. There is mounting unrest and violence not only among university students but in society at large. The product is a weakening of confidence between young and old, between racial groups, between partisan political factions, between students and administrators, between citizens and government. An individualism of suspicion and distrust is replacing an individualism of opportunity and hope." 

Written almost 50 years ago, the above aptly describes what is assailing America today. In 1968, Philip H. Rhinelander, then a professor of philosophy and humanities at Stanford University, wrote a piece entitled "Education and Society" for The Key Reporter which was delivered before the Phi Beta Kappa chapter at Stanford on June 15, 1968. Rhinelander reminded his audience that they were "dealing with a failure of education" leading to "an increasing doubt in the minds of students as to whether intellectual discipline and rational analysis have any relevance to the solution of the pressing problems of the day." 

One cannot enter a classroom of higher learning today without walking into pitched battles and extreme positioning. University students deride the idea of consensus-building and seek to run administrators out of town. Any student daring to express an opinion different from the politically correct one of the day is frightened into mental subservience, so much so that logical argumentation is in tatters. Aristotle's classifications of ethos, pathos, and logos rarely make their way into classroom discussions as shouting matches become the rule of the day.

So much so that in an English composition class, a discussion ensued where a student mentioned an article from Slate entitled "Confused by All the New Facebook Genders." The 56 options of gender self-identifiers were understandably confusing to a number of these 18-year old students. But another student asked "what is wrong with all these designations?" implying that they were quite logical. The teacher responded by stating that "at this time, a man is designated as having an 'x' and a 'y' chromosome while a female has two 'x' chromosomes. The student angrily accused the teacher of "transphobia and of being inhumane and on the wrong side of history." 

So the student engaged in an ad hominem attack on the perceived failings of the teacher rather than on the merits of the case based on currently accepted scientific canon. The ever popular straw man fallacy was used where an individual's actual position was either exaggerated or misrepresented. In fact, the teacher never actually took a position; all she did was ask a question of the entire class which was "do you feel it is okay for a man who identifies as a woman to go into a little girl's bathroom?" 

In another instance, a young man who is interested in politics explained that while he is happy to keep the conversations going, he wants to keep "them from getting too divisive or from going down a bad road." Already there is the fear that one cannot simply engage in rational discussion.

Hence, as the smiling millenials hold up signs supporting Bernie Sanders, a useful endeavor would be to ask them the following questions.

  • How much money from your paycheck will be you willing to pay to the government under Bernie Sanders?
  • Should the government be permitted to keep all your wages? Why not?
  • When the people no longer have any money of their own, how will they subsist?
  • Currently, the country owes $19 trillion dollars. How much more debt is acceptable to you?
  • Are you aware of the socialist countries of Cuba and Venezuela and how the people fare in these countries?
  • If you are not aware of these models, may I give you this item to read?
  • Would you comment on this article by Peter Saint-Andre who experienced socialism firsthand?
  • Do you understand that when everyone is equal, that means that no one will be able to strive to be better because then that would not be equal?
  • What do you think of the idea promulgated by Leon Kass that "the love of equality destroys all possible human excellence, and it produces souls without aspiration or longing?" 

In their march off the cliff, do these students understand that "the Utopian Eden is a false paradise built on lies and maintained by abuses?" In their desire to be "rebels" do they understand that "a traditionalist rebel... has learned the lessons of experience" and [therefore] "rejects centralized authority for local authority, unelected officials for elected ones, national regulations for human values and mandates for conscience" versus the "leftist Utopian" who wishes to impose his will on the people?

Almost 50 years ago, thoughtful educators expressed concern about the "relative neglect of undergraduate education in America" and the "somewhat one-sided emphasis on the development of graduate education and research." Given the overwhelming emphasis on technology in the classroom while at the same time ignoring the need for true vocational training for students, we often encounter students who have no genuine interest in the liberal arts and humanities. Additionally, their "refusal to listen to speakers who might express ideas with which they don't agree" is chilling. Thus, were Rhinelander to quote Thucydides and the social revolution at Corcyra in an American university today, it would elude most students.

Still it needs to be aired:

. . . civil war gave birth to every kind of iniquity in the Greek world. Simplicity, the chief ingredient in a noble nature, was ridiculed and disappeared, and society was divided into rival camps in which no man trusted his fellow.

Is it too much to yearn for euethes which translates as "simplicity" or the "chief ingredient in a noble nature?" The word, in fact, "denotes the characteristic of man which gives and evokes trust. Because simplicity is trusting, it can be deceived and victimized, but this very weakness is its strength. By trusting others it invites reciprocal trust, thereby laying the foundation for communication and mutual cooperation? 

A half-century later Daniel Greenfield asserts that the traditionalist rebel

does not believe that collectivist institutions can make us moral. He relies instead on individual institutions of character and honor, empathy and morality. He trusts people individually to do the right thing more than any government. And when he has to trust institutions, he prefers those that are built on honor and integrity, and on simple decency, than those tangled mazes of academic theory whose premises, followed to their terrible conclusions, assert that human beings are expendable for the sake of utopian ideologies.

Thus, "[e]ducation ought to be ultimately not a matter of systems, nor of organizations, or of structures, or of theories, but of individuals who encounter one another, who respect one another, who can speak to one another, despite disagreement, and who can listen."

As we move closer to November 2016, it is vital that we be "skeptical idealists who are [more] interested in character rather than movements." We need to be careful of "any person who would require us to abandon our rights for the greater good." The desecration of the Constitution has to end or the "entropy of our beliefs and institutions" will only worsen. Ultimately, we need to be "accountable to G-d and [our] conscience every minute of the day, instead of the ears, eyes and tentacles of government." We must, like Thomas Jefferson, avow "...upon the altar of god, eternal hostility to every form of tyranny over the mind of man." Then we will reinvigorate this country again.

Eileen can be reached at

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