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on the Bard College Berlin Student Blog

Credit: Plato and Aristotle in discussion (Credit: Raphael, from “The School of Athens”)

In the context of the two recent Liberal Arts days on BCB’s campus that sought to examine the meaning of liberal arts studies and the role of discourse within them, a recent op-ed for The New York Times titled “The Dying Art of Disagreement” was shared with the student body. In his speech, former Wall Street Journal contributor Bret Stephens details the allegedly tragic loss of ‘proper’ discourse on American college campuses, by which he means discourse which contains productive disagreements. He illustrates a world in which the ideologies of “junior totalitarian” college students engender the “bullying” of speakers they don’t like. He paints their vitriol against mostly conservative speakers as the result of an early “miseducation,” as the ugly culmination of an illiberal culture that has engendered a culture of ideological intolerance, in which those who would seek to educate themselves in higher thought irrationally bar the thoughts of those with whom they disagree. He decries a phenomenon that has been discussed ad nauseam in regards to U.S. institutions of higher education. What usually follows from these debates is an ambiguous call for the return to an alleged prior culture of ideological tolerance — a call that assumes such a time existed and ignores the fact that historically marginalized people’s voices have rarely been welcomed in the realm of this “tolerance”. Whether or not this is Stephens’ goal, his proposal ultimately amounts to a call for the rectification of the alleged “infantilization” of today’s youth in the US.

To support his arguments, Stephens calls forth his time at the University of Chicago, where he was taught the art of “interrogation.” His time there, he says, was not blemished by dogmatic instruction, but rather enriched by the freedom to interpret the texts he read with an open-mind: one could say he engaged in charitable reading before considering and potentially disagreeing with the ideas the texts presented. This form of education, so central to the project of the liberal arts, is being lost, according to Stephens. The liberal education that he received is being replaced by a reflexive, almost dogmatic opposition to those who  have unpopular opinions. At the University of Chicago, Stephens learned to “cultivate an open mind” and to “treat no proposition as sacred.”

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Kafranbel is a liberated town in Syria, i.e not under the influence of the regime. The town became famous for making banners and sharing them on Facebook in support of the revolution.

In our liberal age, the notion of freedom is sacred. Arguing the opposite amounts to liberal heresy. The so-called ‘Arab Spring’ as depicted by the media affirms the universal sanctity of freedom. Didn’t “Arabs” sacrifice their lives for freedom’s sake after all? Maybe. The media did not depict the illiberal version of the story. In Syria––as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter remind me everyday – part of the population hates freedom.

Is it possible for ‘rational’ human beings to hate freedom?

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Ella finding her way through BVG

Ella finding her way through BVG

Berlin makes me feel like a small child. Actually, a big child. I look of-age, with my grandpa’s brown leather coat, my light-brown heeled oxfords, my black beanie, black hair, and black eyeliner, but I am completely incapable of being an adult. At least, a European adult.

Being in Berlin has made it clear that it is time for me to grow up. To not get lost, repeatedly; to be comfortable with nudity, to drink responsibly, and most importantly, to manage my money.

The difference between the U.S. and Berlin was apparent immediately. My first night out, I saw partygoers sipping beer on the U-Bahn. People here can even leave restaurants, beer in hand. Most shocking are the kids, who I call kids because I swear they must be preteens, occupying a table beneath the massive disco ball at the overcrowded An einem Sonntag in August bar.

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