“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” – Aristotle
Once upon a time classical liberalism was known for advocating free speech, free thinking, open discourse, and challenging dogmas. In the modern use, liberals are associated with the sexual revolution and freedom of alternative lifestyle. These days, liberalism has become something altogether different. It has become the very thing it once hated, and it is not even aware of this change.
Secular dogmas have been created, proper conduct has been decided, the socially just are the righteous, and any who deviate are committing a secular sin. Some have called it “political correctness.” I find this phrase overused and meaningless. What we are witnessing is a passive totalitarian control of the public discourse.
The Internet has allowed the creation of echo chambers, or better put, hugboxes. Like-minded individuals come together and wallow in emotional pity, confirm one another’s perspective, and rant against an unjust world. The most destructive result of this is the intolerance towards any differing perspective. Mainstream news, academia, and college campuses have adopted this ‘hugbox’ mode. Essentially the discourse is narrowed, the correct positions are praised and confirmed, any deviating views are condemned.
The narrowed discourse is incredibly leftist in values, and criticism of that is equivalent to committing some kind of unspoken secular sin. If one disrupts the hugbox environment then feelings are hurt and the “sinner” is scolded in hopes they will see the err of their ways. The hugbox does not cultivate the mind nor the soul, it only indulges in sentimentalism and creates thin-skinned individuals. Furthermore there is an air of self-righteousness about them. They have found the true way, the path to secular enlightenment, of love and peace, and those poor souls who deviate are lost in ignorance. This is not intellectual. It is not even intellectualism. It is a tool produced by a strictly controlled discourse.
Aristotle made the insightful statement which I began the article with. Acknowledging, listening to, comprehending, tolerating another’s position and ideology is not the same as accepting it. Only a weak mind cannot tolerate or entertain an opposing position. It takes time to develop this ability, and most never do. Each person is attached to their particular position, their ideology, and vary in their passion. This is human. It requires a subtle non-attachment to allow oneself to entertain the opposing position or ideologies which one dislikes. In my own personal studies I have read and attempted to comprehend extreme far right ideologies such as white supremacy, black supremacy, fascist nationalism, and so forth. I do not agree with these positions in the least, nor do I excuse them ethically. Understanding does not mean condoning.
The intellectual realm is a lost cause if it cannot entertain and comprehend positions outside of its narrow hugbox of a discourse. The intellect cannot flourish if it can only accept confirmations and not opposition. There is no free thinking if there is a prison fence to keep one safe and feelings unharmed. An excellent practice is finding an ideology of the complete polar opposite of one’s own, study it, talk to people of that ideology, attempt to comprehend it, put your personal feelings aside, and perhaps even experiment using their perspective of the world. Free thinking should be dangerous, not safe. A healthy intellectual environment challenges every presumed notion and closely held belief. It should sunder the mind and soul, leaving the individual to put the pieces back together.
Indeed, the left prides itself on being open minded and intellectual, though its actions have shown the opposite. A narrowed discourse produces a closed mind and thin skin. Emotions and passions are powerful, but again there must be danger if there is to be content. One’s feelings, one’s sense of self, one’s esteem, the world owes it nothing. The world does not even owe it common courtesy. A civil society certainly values courtesy and consideration, but no person is inherently entitled to this.
To the world, to society, one’s feelings are absolutely insignificant and it is inflated self-indulgence to think otherwise. To ourselves and to our loved ones, feelings are valued and acknowledged, but do not in the least expect this from a complete stranger or society at large. They owe nothing to one’s subjectivity. Do not expect it, and if kind consideration does occur then it is a delightful privilege, not a right. As creatures of comfort we prefer the security of stasis, of the familiar. Life events may rend our emotions and throw us into storms. Inner tranquility is invaluable, but so is the ability to affirm chaotic passions.
The intellectual attempts to be purely rational or stoic; this is foolish, the passions are just as important as one’s thoughts. The hugbox attempts to keep the feelings safe, unchallenged, and as a result the soul is withered. The same can be said of the mind that goes unchallenged and coddled. A controlled narrow discourse that is intolerant of deviating positions, including the most radical and distasteful, is not free thought at all. It is passive and soft discursive totalitarianism.
Natasha Maria Phoenix is currently a university student majoring in political science and philosophy. She is a cinephile, occultist, and aspiring writer with specific interest in pessimism, antihumanism, and horror fiction. She enjoys long romantic walks through the abyss. Her blog can be found here.