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“Oppression is now a psychological category”: the decline of civil disagreement

By Thomas V. Mirus (bio - articles - email) | May 18, 2015

Read this excellent article in First Things by Carl R. Trueman, "In Praise of the Dying Art of Civil Disagreement." The increasing inability of people to disagree without demonizing the opponent, even and especially in the places where discourse and debate are supposed to thrive, is one of the things that disturbs me most about our politicized culture.

Trueman writes:

Why is civil disagreement so hard? It cannot simply be a matter of dogmatic certainty. The woman minister and I were quite convinced of the correctness of our respective positions, both at the beginning and at the end of our exchange, yet we later enjoyed a delightful conversation over a glass of wine at the post-seminar reception. No, the failure of civil disagreement cannot be a function of certainty.

I think the lack of civil disagreement in the classroom is best understood as a function of larger social and political trends. As I have noted on this site before, oppression is now a psychological category. This subverts the crucial moral difference between an actual crime, a speech crime, and (increasingly) a thought crime. It has also pressed an already pragmatic philosophy of education into an instrument of politicized therapy.

...Human beings are no longer complicated persons bound together by the deeper unity of an underlying common nature but merely aggregates of whatever opinions they happen to hold. Thus, those who hold even a single belief which the panjandrums of the culture find obnoxious are of necessity essentially defined by that, no matter how marginal it might actually be to their overall social existence and no matter how many other virtues they might embody.

...The truly educated person is now no longer the person who understands an opposing viewpoint even as he rejects it. For even to understand an alternative viewpoint is to collude in the oppression which such an opinion embodies.

Thomas V. Mirus is an administrative assistant and writer at CatholicCulture.org. A jazz pianist with a music degree, he often takes the lead in our commentary on the arts. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: kwonbbl1 - May. 20, 2015 7:33 PM ET USA

    A highly sophisticated Orwellian state we are heading to.

  • Posted by: shrink - May. 19, 2015 8:17 AM ET USA

    Welcome to the dictatorship of relativism.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - May. 18, 2015 6:44 PM ET USA

    The culture at the highest levels in my university has changed so drastically since the advent of Obama that your excerpt represents the substantial reality here. Many of the faculty are none too happy about it either, as expressed in recent dialogs.