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The 30th anniversary of the collapse of the Berlin Wall was appropriately if insufficiently celebrated a couple months ago. The collapse of the state which built the wall, the Soviet Union, will be appropriately and hopefully better celebrated next year.

Autopsies have identified a number of factors for explaining the collapse of communism, but most important might have been the "red versus expert" dilemma. That dilemma, which all communist systems confronted and none could come close to solving, meant that such systems could either reward loyalty to the party and the official ideology on the one hand or intellectual integrity and expertise on the other.

Since both "red" and "expert" were unlikely to go together in the same package -- that is, the reliable party drone and the innovative scientist or creative artist were unlikely to be captured in the same person -- communist regimes were always forced to choose between the two. If they chose "red" for the sake of ideological stability, their economic/technological foundation eventually went to rot. If they chose "expert" for the sake of economic/technological advancement, their ideological stability would be undermined.

Each answer to the question led to the same result: collapse.

The broader point beneath the "red versus expert" dilemma, though, is that ideological orthodoxy digs its own grave because it undermines the logic and reason upon which human flourishing depends.

Communism, a system that presented itself as the end of history because it would outperform capitalism, ended up in the dustbin of history because it produced only shared poverty. But that outcome in turn flowed from the way in which ideological conformity was prioritized over the free thought necessary for social and economic viability.

This should tell us something important for our own politics, for politics in general -- that smelly orthodoxies, and the demands for conformity and suppression of dissent that invariably go with them, will eventually produce intellectual disarmament followed by defeat.

Since adherence to orthodoxy requires unthinking acceptance of a set of prescribed positions, the minds of the adherents must necessarily be shut down. Reason and logic and facts, the substance of thinking itself, become subversive in such circumstances (as they did under communism).

Human progress has always depended upon critical reasoning and the healthy skepticism it contains, but since such skepticism is forever the enemy of orthodoxy, orthodoxy can't help but become the enemy of progress.

The implications for those who are part of our woke "cancel culture," our version of an official ideology (or even secular religion) should be rather obvious -- being politically correct in all matters doesn't make you more enlightened or more sensitive or a better person; it just makes you either dumb or a liar, and eventually both. Dumb if you can't see that the emperor has no clothes, a liar because you can see the naked emperor but pretend not to out of fear. When truth and the party line dictated by orthodoxy come into conflict, the party line must prevail.

When people become afraid to state obvious truths -- that a man doesn't become a woman simply by putting on a dress and a wig, for instance -- we know we have moved from the land of reason to the land of anti-reason, and that is not a land where anyone with any intellectual integrity is going to want to live.

Demands for censorship and the suppression of criticism are evidence of ideological weakness, of the unwillingness of the side which has the weaker argument to expose itself to honest debate. But we often forget that such tendencies cause weakness as well.

Because orthodoxy by its very nature demands conformity, people who subscribe to them lose the ability to think logically (meaning critically) about the world around them. Thinking is discouraged because it might lead to heretical thoughts and the asking of awkward questions.

Like the communists of the past century, our social justice warriors are attempting to impose a suffocating orthodoxy upon society, most conspicuously in our universities and mass media, that will drive away anyone with an interest in the play of ideas or who is capable of independent thought.

It is distressing to see speakers shouted down on our college campuses and support for the First Amendment depicted as equivalent to hate speech (conveniently defined by the left as any speech critical of the left). And even more depressing to see folks who should know better bow and scrape and seek to curry favor with the bullies out of fear, as so many did for so long under communism.

But censorship and mob intimidation can only work for a time, until the point when, like for communism, people cease to be afraid and begin speaking what they know is the truth.

And we can take some solace in realizing that a movement that claims mathematics is an instrument of racist oppression and the study of Western civilization a means of upholding "white supremacy," and then calls anyone who disagrees with such absurd claims racist, isn't going to be very good at mathematics. Or history. Or anything that requires thinking.

Freelance columnist Bradley R. Gitz, who lives and teaches in Batesville, received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois.

Editorial on 01/13/2020

Print Headline: Orthodoxy makes us dumb

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