Diversity of opinion and the dangers of groupthink

It’s no secret that Colorado College is a predominantly liberal campus and that most students and faculty members possess political views very much on the left end of the political spectrum. This is not necessarily a bad thing, however, as many students chose this school in part due to the progressive culture that is symptomatic of the school’s intellectual leanings. It does, though, begin to lay seeds of doubt in regards to the academic integrity of the debates and discussions that occur on campus.  As an institution for higher learning, a large part of CC’s value is the quality of ideas it produces and bestows to its students. Diversity is just as important in the intellectual sphere as it is in the socioeconomic one, and it would seem on the surface that CC possesses an imbalance in this regard.

I’d wager that most CC students have experienced at least one instance of a professor going on a left-wing political tangent unrelated or pseudo-related to the subject matter of a class. That’s indicative of how intellectually saturated the campus is with liberal opinions. This is less of a problem in other academic settings, such as political science or history, where professors are very aware of intellectual bias and often conduct discussions in a way to temper such an imbalance. The problem is in the baseline beliefs of the community in general. If CC’s value is the ideas it produces and teaches to its students, its value is also the ideas the college community propagates, as they have a pronounced influence on campus.

It is easy to fall prey to the dangers of an intellectually unified community. In such an echo chamber it becomes increasingly difficult to personally recognize such a context. When you agree with all the ideas you hear, you begin to challenge them less, and it may very well appear that all the perspectives are being represented at the table. Great ideas come from rigorous debate that allows intellectual opponents to test each other’s theories and introduce alternate perspectives to issues that add value to the discussion at hand. A debate of people who agree, on the other hand, is not a debate at all, but rather a group session of self-affirmation in which everyone can come to the same conclusions but skip all the inconvenient stuff like critical questions and valid arguments from the oppostion.

Without tempering ideas with a diversity of opinion, everyone gets the assurance that they are correct but also distance themselves dangerously far from what makes an idea intellectually sound and tested. Without conflicting opinions and ideas, things can get truly dangerous. If thinkers are constantly assured that they are correct, they can become increasingly radicalized. If by chance those thinkers develop a sense of arrogance, things can get dicey fast. As Nietzsche wrote, “The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.” Although I’d like to think CC as a community is a very great distance away from the corruption that Nietzsche is describing, it’s hard to ignore the mundane origins of such a corruption, and it is truly concerning to see the uniformity of the student body’s opinion.

An effort to introduce more opposing voices or even just unpopular opinions into the community dialogue would be a boon for its intellectual strength. Ideas should be judged on their merit and not merely on the size of the crowd that agrees. That being said, introducing opposing voices and viewpoints should not be pedestals for hate speech or prejudices to be pedaled to the community. Rather, it should be a platform for ideas that may be unpopular but can be validated through substantial debate and evidence. The more opinions we can bring to the table, the stronger as a community we can become. The ideas that survive the constant debates, discussions, and arguments that pervade our campus will be much stronger than the ones that are merely affirmed by consensus, and we can reap the rewards of the insights and thoughts those ideas afford us.

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