On Political Correctness, its Abuse, and the Modern University

Legendary English comedian John Cleese recently recorded a BigThink.com video where he discusses the role of political correctness in society. (The YouTube version is here). I agree with John Cleese. Political correctness is a good idea when it discourages people from being mean or nasty to those who cannot necessarily change their condition or status, be it race, gender, ethnicity, body size and shape, mental or physical disability, etc.

But when it comes to ideas, that is, thoughts that are conceived and then spoken aloud, I think that these are appropriate to consider, debate, critique, and at times, mock. Of course, I want to hear all ideas, as there might be something new that I haven’t considered that might be useful to me or humanity. I should never be so stubborn or foolish to think that I am the sole proprietor of truth, or that my thoughts and beliefs have somehow achieved a privileged exemption from criticism based on the fact that they, for instance, are religious or traditional.

But when an idea is harmful to society, or when the idea is easily and has been repeatedly debunked with facts and evidence and logic and numbers, and when an idea has been shown to marginalize certain individuals or groups, then these ideas can and should be critiqued. If the one espousing the defunct, harmful idea continues to espouse the idea, then that is his or her right, but it is also our right as responsible citizens to continue to assail the idea (not the person, but the idea) with logic, reason, and even mockery, as public humiliation is often the only thing that persuades one espousing a defunct idea to cease its propagation. This goes for all ideas, including political, philosophical, economic, ideological, and religious claims–no idea is exempt from critique! And while the debate over some ideas will continue for millennia–fate vs. free will, which economic or political system is superior, how to handle certain ethical issues, etc.–many other ideas should be retired from mainstream discourse with the understanding that there will always be someone or some group that will continue to cling to outdated, debunked ideas.

Political correctness is a good idea when it is limited to the physical characteristics or status of an individual or society. But when political correctness seeks to prohibit the critique of ideas, and attempts to characterize any critical analysis of an idea as “offensive”, then political correctness has gone too far. This is true especially for university campuses, which exist, in part, to expose students to new ideas, foreign concepts, and different ways of thinking that are often unfamiliar or even exotic, and with which a particular student may disagree, and where all of this is done in a safe, creative, developmental, experimental environment where students can learn and try out new ideas and concepts, arguing for and against several newly introduced issues without paying the social penalty for nonconformity to the societal majority’s opinion.

Universities are the practice fields of the world’s future players. Like professional athletes, citizens of the world’s communities should be exposed to every possible scenario on the practice field, so that they can learn and plan to respond effectively as professionals when it’s game time. And part of being a responsible professional is learning how to behave professionally when interacting with others. Political correctness aids individuals in treating other individuals and communities with respect and dignity. In this regard, political correctness is a good thing.

However, to hide behind the shield of political correctness when one’s idea is criticized and when its flaws are laid bare is to misuse political correctness. And of course, it is this abuse of political correctness by the far left that those on the far right criticize and then use to mischaracterize all political correctness as the censorship of free speech in an effort to dismiss professionalism and common courtesy during civil discourse so that they can continue to espouse harmful beliefs, make false accusations, promote detrimental policies, and prop up discredited ideas.

There is a place for political correctness, but that place is not the censorship or critique of ideas.

If you are so sensitive that you characterize any idea, any thought, any different way of thinking, or any critique of your own thoughts, claims, or firmly held beliefs as “offensive”, then you have failed in your development as a responsible citizen. I recommend that you enroll in a university, even if only for a short time, so that you can at least be exposed to different ideas in a safe, inclusive environment. And I hope that you do not choose a university that actively seeks to shield its own students from critiques of ideas and beliefs in the name of political correctness, but rather one that encourages the free exchange, debate, and critique of ideas, for this is the only way one learns to handle the wild, crazy, bigoted, unsubstantiated, false, intentionally harmful, nonsensical, illogical, debunked, and irresponsible claims that are made every day in society.

It is the exposure to, consideration of, and the espousal or dismissal of–and not the shielding from–bad ideas that makes individuals smarter, our society better, and allows civilization to progress beyond a censorial tyranny that constantly invents new ways of being offended to mask the fact that the discredited claims they are perpetuating can no longer be defended with evidence, reason, or logic.

 

MacLaren’s First Presidential Experience

Mac got to experience his his first presidential rally today (September 7, 2012) when President Barack Obama visited the University of Iowa. Roslyn made him an “I heart Michelle” onesie and he was waving at everyone he saw on the Pentacrest, as well as during lunch at Iowa City’s famous Hamburg Inn (a political tradition in Iowa City).

He had a great time!

Mommy has her ticket and we're ready to see the President

Mommy has her ticket and we’re ready to see the President

Ros and Mac get ready to see the President

Ros and Mac get ready to see the President

Mommy made Mac an "I Heart Michelle" onesie for the occasion.

Mommy made Mac an “I Heart Michelle” onesie for the occasion.

Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the University of Iowa on September 7, 2012

Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the University of Iowa on September 7, 2012

President Barack Obama speaks at the University of Iowa on September 7, 2012

President Barack Obama speaks at the University of Iowa on September 7, 2012

President Barack Obama speaks at the University of Iowa on September 7, 2012

President Barack Obama speaks at the University of Iowa on September 7, 2012

President Barack Obama speaks at the University of Iowa on September 7, 2012

President Barack Obama speaks at the University of Iowa on September 7, 2012

President Barack Obama speaks at the University of Iowa on September 7, 2012

President Barack Obama speaks at the University of Iowa on September 7, 2012

President Barack Obama speaks at the University of Iowa on September 7, 2012

President Barack Obama speaks at the University of Iowa on September 7, 2012

so, rick santorum, what you’re saying is “be conservative: don’t go to college”

Don't wanna be conservative anymore so I went to college

Rick Santorum’s real beliefs on education are finally frothing up and boiling over. Unfortunately, he’s saying them aloud in public.

Kyle Munzenrieder wrote a brilliant response for the Miami New Times to Santorum’s most recent comments, as did The Hill‘s Daniel Strauss. Allow me to offer my own.

Rick Santorum finally said aloud what many fundamentalist Christians have felt for a long time: “be conservative: don’t go to college. And if you do go to college, make sure it’s a Republican party-approved private conservative Christian college. (I’m looking at you Liberty University, Bob Jones, Oral Roberts, Regent University, BYU, and Pepperdine.)

Listen to what Santorum told a Florida audience:

“It’s no wonder President Obama wants every kid to go college..the indoctrination that occurs in American universities is one of the keys to the left holding and maintaining power in America. And it is indoctrination.”

Evangelicals would prefer that students either attend schools with the words “evangelical,” “theological,” and “seminary” in the title (preferably all three) or not at all. Because according to Santorum’s and other evangelicals’ line of thought, when the nation’s top colleges and state universities educate students, it’s liberal indoctrination. But, when private conservative evangelical schools educate students, it’s not indoctrination; it’s a simple dissemination of facts (and by facts, I mean faith claims that are often contrary to scientific facts).

It’s almost comical: Evangelicals don’t want kids to go to America’s top colleges because they might actually learn something besides a fundamentalist, conservative, literalist, theologically-laced worldview, which often leads to a biblically defended suppression of the civil rights of groups that don’t look and/or think like they do. So, from a very early age, they encourage like-minded people to isolate and insulate their kids from any point of view other than their own by placing kids in home schools, private (approved conservative) Christian schools, conservative Christian colleges, and if they do attend graduate school, they often receive some fantastic degree in education, physics, and applied scripture from Southern Evangelical Theological Seminary (I made this title up. If it does exist, my point has only been further underscored.)

So just to clarify:

Public school: Liberal indoctrination
Home school: NOT indoctrination

Public High School: Liberal indoctrination
Christian High School: NOT indoctrination

Public or Ivy League university: Liberal indoctrination
Christian College: NOT indoctrination

R1 Research Graduate School: Liberal indoctrination
Evangelical Theological Seminary: NOT indoctrination

I shake my head.

HT: Jim West

getting settled into iowa city

Bob, Ros, and Mac

On the porch on the way home from dinner.

the last 4 weeks have been a time of monumental transition and emotion for me and for my family. in the past month, we packed all that we own into storage containers, moved out of our agoura hills condo, moved in with my mom just south of yosemite, experienced the birth of our son, maclaren, loaded all that we own into two moving vans, drove 1800 miles through the california, nevada, and arizona deserts, the utah canyons, over the colorado rockies, across the plains of nebraska, and through the rolling hills of western iowa. we closed on a home in iowa city, moved in, and unpacked. meanwhile, i attended the university of iowa’s new faculty orientation, set up my office (including moving a thousand volumes into my office – motivation enough for a renewed call for e-publishing), met my new colleagues, prepped my courses, learned all (read: some) of the new uiowa policies and procedures, and discovered most of the best places to grab a bite and a cold one. my wife decided to heed some of the doctor’s advice, so she waited precisely one week after maclaren’s birth to get in a car and drive cross-country with my mom and mac to join her father and me in iowa city. since her arrival, it has been an endless barrage of fixing up the yard, painting rooms, changing poopy (sp?) g-diapers, and setting up utilities (including internet at home, so expect a regular return to blogging.)

new state, new city, new time zone, new weather, new baby, new house, new job, new routine. i am thankful for my wife, roslyn, and her amazing ability to be a tireless mother and patient wife at the same time, and for our parents who provided us with support and drove us cross-country. (hint: get walkie-talkies for car caravans; they are invaluable when deciding to exit the freeway at a moment’s notice or when you need the truck at the rear to throw a block on rear-approaching traffic so you can pass the rig in front of you). i am also thankful for my friends, who throughout the entire transition encouraged and joked with me to make the transition bearable.

thank you especially to everyone who commented encouraging words on facebook and twitter while i was tweeting roslyn’s labor. i read those comments to her between breathing and counting, and it really did make all the difference. some made us laugh, which was welcomed relief, but most gave ros the extra motivation to keep going. never underestimate the power of a kind word uttered sincerely to someone in distress, even privately. it makes all the difference in the world.

my new colleagues at iowa are amazing. both departments (religious studies and classics) work together cohesively, share a common goal, and actually know what it is that i do (although ‘digital humanities’ still causes a few more of those colbert-esque raised eyebrows than does ‘second temple judaism’ or ‘archaeology’). they have each taken turns coming by my office and approaching me to chat at department picnics and parties. i look forward to years of production, growth, and fun at iowa. (btw, did i mention that my colleagues are good, fun scholars? it feels good to want to go to work and see my colleagues. it makes the overwhelming parts of a new job that much more bearable.)

iowa city is the best little hidden treasure in the midwest – the perfect combination of an intellectual center, social progress, and traditional emphasis on families and their well-being. i’m proud to be a hawkeye, and to live in the ‘people’s republic’ (as they affectionately are wont to call it) of iowa city, and i hope to contribute my part to the community. for now, i shall indulge in my favorite difference between iowa city and los angeles: i shall walk 5 short minutes (less than the time it used to take me to walk from the $10 per day parking spot allotted to me at ucla to my office) to the bus stop, and take the 10-minute bus ride to my office. my entire new 15 minute ‘commute’ involves no driving, no gas, no tension, and is 45 minutes less than my old, hour-long, one-way drive in los angeles. and to add insult to los angeles’ woeful public transportation injury, my bus pass is $10 per month, meaning i can get to work for a month for the same amount it costs to park (forget the cost of gas and lost time and stress, simply to park) at ucla for a day!

‘it’s not heaven, it’s iowa.’

ok. back to work.

thank you fresno city college – transcript of robert cargill’s 2011 fcc commencement address

Fresno City CollegeI offer my heartfelt thanks to Fresno City College for this honor.

I was truly humbled by being named one of Fresno City College’s 100 Stars for 100 Years late last year, and I am once again humbled and honored to be named 2011’s Distinguished Alumnus and for being invited to speak as the 2011 commencement speaker.

As one who has experienced every level of California public education:

  • John Adams Elementary (Madera, CA)
  • Thomas Jefferson Jr. High (Madera, CA)
  • Madera High School (Madera, CA)
  • Bullard High School (Fresno, CA)
  • Fresno City College (A.A.)
  • California State University, Fresno (B.S. Human Physiology)
  • University of California, Los Angeles (M.A., Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations; Ph.D., Near Eastern Languages and Cultures)

I can attest to the fact that the California public education system works. California public education can continue to be the premier education system in the country, but only if we continue to fund our teachers and students, and only if we do not seek to bail out our state’s fiscal mismanagement by forcing our educational system to bear the brunt of the financial burden. California’s public universities (Junior Colleges, CSUs, and UCs) should not have to pay for California’s fiscal missteps elsewhere.

Education is the magic bullet in the heart of poverty, socio-economic inequality, racial tension, social and religious intolerance, and unemployment, but we must continue to fund our public universities at all three levels or else risk mortgaging the future of our state to avoid some present discomfort.

Special thanks to President Anthony Cantú for the invitation, Vice President Christopher Villa for the warm introduction, and to Kathy Bonilla and Ernie Garcia for making the entire experience flawless. Thank you to Ray Appleton for having me on his show. Thank you again for this honor. I hope that I can continue to advocate on behalf of public education for years to come.

Below is the text of my 2011 Commencement Address:


2011 FRESNO CITY COLLEGE COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS

Robert R. Cargill, Ph.D., UCLA

President Cantú, Marshal Larson, Vice President Villa, Members of the Board of Trustees and President Smith, Parents and Relatives, Ladies and Gentlemen, and most importantly, members of the Fresno City College graduating class of 2011: thank you for the honor you’ve bestowed upon me today, and for the invitation to address this commencement ceremony this evening.

Graduates, I am you, 18 years from now.

18 years ago, I received my Associates degree from Fresno City College. And since then, my life has had its ups and downs.

I am 38 years old, married, divorced, and now married to my wife, who makes me both proud and very happy. I have a daughter, and now a son on the way. I bought a house, sold it for a profit, and used the money to buy a new house, which is now underwater.

I am you, 18 years from now.

I have experienced tremendous successes, and some terrible failures. I have gotten to meet many fascinating people throughout my young career, and I’ve watched many people dear to me die long before their time. I have done things of which I am incredibly proud, and I have made decisions I truly regret.

I am you, 18 years from now.

After receiving my AA, I enrolled at Fresno State and received my Bachelors in Human Physiology following a pre-med curriculum. Wanting to pursue matters of faith, I enrolled in Pepperdine University and completed my Master of Divinity degree. I experienced both the boom and the bust of the dot com bubble. Wanting to study biblical literature and archaeology, I enrolled in UCLA and earned an MA and PhD in these fields, and now, having taught at UCLA for the past few years, I have accepted a position to teach Classics and Religious Studies at the University of Iowa. But all of that – ALL OF IT – began right here at Fresno City College.

I am you, 18 years from now.

I enjoy the things you enjoy. I like watching the Fresno Grizzlies play ball. I love playing Angry Birds obsessively every time I pick up my phone, planking various landmarks in the Tower district, and like you, I am always quick to argue against anyone who even hints at cutting funding for education and for California’s Community Colleges.

I ask the same questions that you ask. Will she love me? Or will she leave me? Will I be rich? Will I make my parents proud? Will my children be proud of me? The only thing I possess that you do not is nearly two decades of experiences that all began with me sitting right where you are right now, because I am you 18 years from now.

So if I may, I’d like to share with you 3 things I’ve learned over the past 18 years that may help you in your next 18 years:

Number one: Be nice. Be kind. We live in an aggressive and cynical world, especially when we are young. We are taught to compete for jobs, compete for partners, and compete for goods. And yes, you have to compete in life. But while you are competing, be nice. There is nothing more comforting, nothing more disarming, and nothing more enjoyable than someone who is kind. Be kind. Be patient. Don’t go off when you’re wronged, but give people the benefit of the doubt. Don’t set out to “earn respect.” Simple kindness will make far better impressions on people than any harsh words you might use. So be kind. It’s simple, it’s free, and it will do more for you than just about anything else you can possibly do.

Number two: Be proud of having attended Fresno City College, and of being from Fresno. We get to make fun of our hometown. Letterman can make fun of New York because he lives there. Conan can make fun of Los Angeles. And we all can certainly tease about Fresno because we’re from here. We carry the membership card. But never apologize for being from this beautiful, vibrant, diverse town. Never apologize for having to work hard to earn what you have. Apologize when you’ve wronged someone. Apologize when you’ve hurt someone’s feelings. But, be proud having attended City College. It only makes you stronger, and when you make it, it will only make those around you all the more impressed. Be proud of Fresno and be proud of Fresno City College.

Number three: Say thank you. Be gracious. There is an Arab saying which says: “Blessed is the one who can say thank you in a thousand languages.” People love to be thanked, and people love to be around grateful people. So say thank you to your parents for raising you. Say thank you to your friends for sticking up for you, and covering for you, and for supporting you. Be sincere, look people in the eye, and say thank you.

And if you’ll allow me, I’d like to practice what I preach and take this opportunity to say thank you to a few people.

First, thank you to my coaches, Ron Scott, Eric Solberg, and Mike Noakes. I played baseball for these coaches at Fresno City College and Bullard High School. These men not only taught me to play baseball, but how to compete with character and confidence in life. Thank you Coach Scott, Coach Solberg, and Coach Noakes.

Thank you to Reuben Scott, who taught me to argue both sides of every issue. I came to Fresno City College knowing how to argue my side of an issue, but Reuben Scott taught me to understand opinions other than my own, and to write and argue cogently, to the point, and on the merits of the argument. He taught me to think critically, and for this I am eternally grateful. Thank you Reuben Scott.

And finally, I would not be here this evening, and I would not be a professor today, were it not for this evening’s Faculty Marshal, and my Western Civ. professor, Mr. Don Larson. I love this man for more reasons than I can count. For one, to me, this man is Fresno City College. I took Mr. Larson for Western Civilization, and on the first day of class he said, “I can love you and give you a ‘C’ and I can not like you, and give you an ‘A’. You will get the grade that you earn, and earn the grade that you get.”

Well, Mr. Larson must have really liked me, because he gave me a ‘C’. (Oh no, I haven’t forgotten.) But Mr. Larson also invited me to talk to him whenever I needed advice, or guidance, or just someone to listen. His facilitation of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes meetings greatly influenced me by introducing me to successful role models, and afternoons spent at his home talking about religion and politics helped to frame many of my present positions on these topics.

By the way, you must visit Mr. Larson’s home during Christmas time. If you haven’t seen it, just imagine all of Christmas Tree Lane crammed neatly inside a single house. That is Mr. Larson’s house at Christmas time.

After my days at Fresno City College, Mr. Larson became a lifelong friend and mentor, and although I have not yet mastered the art of your ever-present bow tie, you have meant more to me than you will ever know. You are the most fair, honest, upright, and faithful man I know, and I want to take this very public opportunity to say to you, “Thank you.” Thank you Mr. Larson.

By the way, if you haven’t yet come up with a name for the renovated Old Administration Building, I’ve got a suggestion: how about the “Don Larson Administration Building”? I’m pretty sure he was already teaching here in 1916 when they built it, so you might as well name it after him. Thank you again, Mr. Larson.

So when you leave tonight, hug your parents and say thank you. Find a teacher who has taught you and say thank you. Find a friend who studied with you and say thank you. Be kind to them, and always be proud of what you’ve accomplished here at Fresno City College. And while I know it is incredibly cliché, go forth from here tonight knowing that you really can be whatever you want to be. Do these things and who knows what your next 18 years will bring.

Thank you again, and congratulations to you graduates on your hard work and your graduation from Fresno City College. Thank you.


Dr. Robert R. Cargill delivers the 2011 Fresno City College commencement address at Selland Arena, May 20, 2011.

2011 Distinguished Alumnus Dr. Robert R. Cargill delivers the Fresno City College commencement address at Selland Arena, May 20, 2011.

Sharon Cargill, Roslyn (and MacLaren) Cargill, Robert Cargill, and Don Larson

Sharon Cargill, Roslyn (and MacLaren) Cargill, Robert Cargill, and Don Larson

iowa!

Iowa_HawkeyesRoslyn and I (and baby MacLaren) are pleased to announce that we will be leaving California for Iowa this fall. I have accepted a position as Assistant Professor of Classics and Religious Studies with an emphasis in the Digital Humanities at the University of Iowa. We are excited to be headed to Iowa and are thankful to UCLA for the time we’ve spent here. My daughter, Talitha, has given us her blessing. Prof. Tiggens is as of yet undecided.

Moving from UCLA to Iowa means many changes are in store. I hear the weather is a bit different. My school colors change a little from blue and gold to black and gold. I switch from being a Bruin to a Hawkeye. And I’m definitely going to have to redesign my California flag themed web page.

We are excited about the future and moving forward. Thanx again to everyone at UCLA who made the past nine years so wonderful, and to all the friends and colleagues I’ve made over the past few years. I look forward to making new friends and working with my new colleagues in Iowa.

-bc

you should attend ucla

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