Jewish World Review March 1, 2005 / 20 Adar I, 5765
Believing the true believers
While the media have been focusing on the flap at Harvard
growing out of its president's statement about the reasons for the
under-representation of women in the sciences, a much worse and more
revealing scandal has unfolded at the University of Seattle, where a student
mob prevented a military recruiter from meeting with those students who
wanted to meet with him.
At first, the university president said that the student rioters
should apologize. But the storm this created forced the typical academic
administrator's back-down under pressure.
One of the student rioters explained that she didn't want anyone
to be sent overseas to be killed. Apparently it never occurred to her that
what she wanted was not automatically to be imposed on other people, with or
without mob violence.
Back in the days of the divine rights of kings, it might be
understandable why a given monarch might think that what he wanted was all
that mattered. But, in an age of democracy, how can millions of people live
together if each one asserts a divine right to impose his or her will on
Surely our educational system has failed if it has not taught
something so basic in logic or morality. But too many of our schools and
colleges have been so busy pushing particular forms of political correctness
that they have not bothered to explain why other views by other people
cannot be ignored intellectually or disregarded politically.
When the propagandizing activities of educational institutions
were recently criticized in this column, a defender of these institutions
sent an e-mail, claiming that there was nothing wrong with pushing
particular beliefs, if those beliefs were correct.
Violating my New Year's resolution to stop trying to reason with
unreasonable people, I replied, asking if this man would feel all right, if
he were a member of a jury, to vote after having heard only the
prosecution's case or only the defendant's case.
His reply was that he would if the people presenting one side
of the case were people he knew and trusted.
Bizarre as that might sound, it is by no means as unusual as it
might seem, even though most people who act on that basis do not spell out
such a reason to others nor probably even to themselves. They don't say
that they believe people on a particular issue because those are people with
whom they feel simpatico. But that is often how they act.
An example of this mindset was recounted in a recent essay by
Ralph de Toledano, who told of being a young reporter, years ago, during a
case involving Whittaker Chambers against Alger Hiss. Chambers claimed that
Hiss had been a spy for the Soviet Union, operating at the highest levels of
the American government.
The charges against Hiss began as just one man's word against
another's. No one knew who was lying but virtually everyone took sides.
Among the reporters and the intelligentsia, it was widely
assumed that Hiss was innocent and Chambers was lying. De Toledano recalled
that those few reporters who thought that Hiss might be the one who was
lying were immediately ostracized by other reporters.
Why? Because Hiss was in so many ways one of them in
politics, in manner, in lifestyle. He was a New Deal liberal, an Ivy
League-educated young man, trim, erect, well-spoken, a member and leader of
the kinds of prestigious organizations that liberals looked up to. Chambers
was a paunchy old man in rumpled clothes who slouched and was obviously
To the reporters, Hiss was one of Us and Chambers was one of
Them. Like today's young man who would be content to reach a verdict after
hearing only one side of a case, the press chose to believe Hiss, their
fellow true believer.
Many chose to continue to believe Hiss even after the evidence
that came out at the trial sent him to prison and some continue to
believe even today, despite information from the secret files of the former
Soviet Union which added more damning evidence against Hiss.
The time is long overdue for our media and our educational
institutions to start presenting both sides of issues and for our schools
and colleges to start teaching students how to think, instead of telling
them what to think.
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