Heterodox Academy member Flagg Taylor, associate professor of political science at Skidmore College, has written a thought-provoking essay in The American Interest about the goals of higher education, and why the cultivation of the mind is at odds with the current emphasis on “passion” and “engagement.”
[A]pplauding the passion or commitment displayed by student-activists is problematic for a host of reasons. First, one might be a passionate activist in the service of an invidious cause. Ought we celebrate the passion of a 9/11 hijacker or a suicide bomber? Second, passionate commitment can also embody a cheap moral exhibitionism that is both pointless and self-indulgent. Indeed, precisely that happens a lot these days on campus. Take the Middlebury incident as a case in point: So it was that, after offending vast swaths of the French intellectual establishment with his book The Opium of the Intellectuals, Raymond Aron was charged with being both dry and overly negative. “I must confess to an extreme repugnance to reply to this type of argument,” he responded. “Those who let it be known that their own sentiments are noble and those of their adversaries base strike me as exhibitionists.”
He also notes that
the praise of passion and engagement has another less noticeable but pernicious consequence. The loud, confident voices are applauded, but the quiet students are presumed not to be “engaged.” At best they are called apathetic, at worst they are “part of the problem.” Thus what institutions of higher learning have done with this fetishization of passion is to destroy the space for intellectual modesty. Some students might think, very naturally, “I really don’t know enough about that topic to have a strong opinion.” But the general atmosphere tells them to get committed, get passionate; there is no time to waste!
You can read the whole essay here.