“But today, we honor your differences for they have determined your future, here are the leaders and the teachers and the workers of tomorrow and I think we’re in very good hands….When we leave this room, you will no longer be dependents but full-fledged members of our society.” (The Giver)
When the above lines are spoken, the people who hear it see it as laudable, children advancing to become productive members of society. But we, the audience, who have not grown up in that world, know that what’s being said is untrue. It’s a placating, self-congratulating monologue where those listening to the tradition lap up what is being said as their child is proudly and with great enthusiasm, fed to the cycle of platitudes, failure and lies. I find myself thinking of these and lines like it every graduation speech I’ve ever seen. The ingratiation that comes with these ideas gets worse in proportion to the number of people I know who are being fed this garbage.
What is graduation? I don’t mean the ceremony, that’s just a collection of platitudes and music meant to justify everything that came before it in an hour and a half. I mean graduation itself. To my mind, graduation is a sign that you can finally get off the hamster wheel of the academic institution and begin (but onlyif you are lucky), to do what you were supposed to do in the first place. The blessing in America, statistics show is not getting to go to college. It could only be such if you consider that people come from all over the world to come to an American college and we just need a 6-2 hour flight. Student debt is now larger than credit card debt (in a nation known for materialistic consumerism. Try to square that). So money apparently isn’t a restriction to this blessing. No, the blessing seems to be getting to do what you came to college to learn about in the first place. Moreover, regardless of its cost or redundancy, college is a societal rite of passage. In his effort to explain free (subsidized through taxes) college in New York, governor Cuomo said that “if you are young and want success, a college education is mandatory”. The more apologetic perspective comes to us from Derek Melleby and his book “The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness:
I guess the main reason that I think college is weird is that it isn’t designed to help us become what we really need to become. So much that goes on during the college years is irrelevant, shallow, and even destructive. Don’t get me wrong; I think life and college should be full of laughter and plenty of good times. It just seems to me that all of that time (4 + years) and all that money ($ 25K to $ 175K) could be put to much better use.
Shortly after admitting that college is “weird”, Melleby states he wouldn’t change anything, and even wouldn’t do so if his alma mater could reimburse all that money and time. He essentially states that because of the people he met and the activities he participated in, the 4 years and the 120 thousand were worth it.Do you know anyone like that? Someone who goes “95% of what I experienced in college was shallow, unfulfilling, and if given the chance to no longer be in debt, and to spend those 4+ years working towards something greater and more fulfilling, I’d pass.” I don’t know anyone like that, and I’m pretty sure you don’t either. The indignant response is “If you didn’t go here, you’d never have met me”. Because this is true, you would never have met me either. Therefore, further consideration of this hypothetical is pointless.
So what we have in the academic world, is something that is shallow, irrelevant, destructive and mandatory.Even the people who defend academia as an institution and societal rite of passage pass off the systems monstrous shortcomings as just literally the price of admission.
Let’s break down that quote, starting with the phrase “So much that goes on is irrelevant”: I’ve had conversations with friends, members of the public safety here, graduates at other schools and people going through this process, and there is a common (if not universal) thread: About two years in, you realize the promise that you’d be able to focus on what you love and improve at what you are best at is sacrificed to learn a horde of information, 85% of which won’t stick or be useful in the future. Students may not lose sight of their goal (some do, I did.), but eventually getting hit with a workload that is 3/4-9/10 of useless information that is important only by virtue of existing in the same space as the classes that pertain to the major can have adverse effects. Nobody retains this much information, there’s too much to retain. They take notes, finish the tests and nothing has actually stuck. They may as well not learn anything at all.
Shallow: This is a by-product of the irrelevance. Again, people come to class, take notes, do enough to get a passing grade and move on.
Destructive: College is, especially now, the home of platitudes, relativism and self-satisfied, surface level arguments. It is the birthplace of the battle cry “All ideas are valid” with the asterisk that some are less offensive than others and offensiveness is determined by the listener. It is the home of the protests across the country that seem to have “This is wrong” as their guiding philosophy based in nothing but the idea that something is wrong. It has given us the safe space and allowed the amorphous idea of the microagression a place to fester and metastasize into the greater culture. What constitutes a microagression seems to change by the day. In short is the place where objective truth is becoming obsolete.
Mandatory: This is it. Middle school and especially high school inundate students with talk of college as though it is the only route out of McDonalds. “You do well in high school, you get into a good college. You do well in college, you’ll get a good job.” None of this is mentioned with an asterisk. Those come after you’ve made it through college
And yet, at the end of it all, none of this acknowledged. The uselessness, the shallowness, the destructiveness, the irrelevancy, all washed over by this sea of “go-get-em” speeches and soaring songs that bring out all the platitudes in the world in a last-ditch effort to convince the audience that the school did such a great job preparing students for the real world. A world which will care about their feelings and take their opinions seriously just by virtue of them being expressed at all. Melleby even admits implicitly that the school has made no such effort to prepare anyone for anything.
The reason, largely, for these surface-level arguments that seem to satisfy many is because they are all these optimistic slogans known as platitudes. The Webster definition of a platitude is a “banal, trite or stale remark” that carries with it “The quality or state of being dull or insipid”. And yet, they are embraced in everything from self-help books to Joel Osteen to commencement ceremonies across the country. Perhaps a better definition then comes from the writer H.L. Mencken: A Platitude is an idea that (a) is admitted to be true by everyone, and (b) is not true. So, we have the secular platitudes. The world is your oyster. You are destined for great things, as long as you work hard and believe in yourself, you can do anything you set your mind to, nothing can stop you and everything is going to be just fine. These platitudes are spoken consistently and with absolute conviction.
It gets no better from the Christian perspective. In fact, how shallow they are is brought into perfect focus because they are either unbiblical or single verses out of context. Christian platitudes have a point of reference that render them untrue, whereas secular ones do not. For example: What is the context for “Everything is going to be just fine”? Nothing, the alternative is just staring into a hopeless abyss and thus even a false assurance based in nothing becomes indispensable. “Nothing can stop you” is an overstatement of your own control over your life “You are destined for great things” an overstatement of either control over your life or, more cynically, your potential. “You can do anything you set your mind to” translates roughly into “So just think and it shall be so”. Secular platitudes are insidious, shallow, useless slogans that respectfully demand that a man in freefall look at a giant spider web as a safety net
We now move to Christian platitudes and I’m going to use just one “unbiblical” platitude, and we’re going to move to a bible verse out of context (no, it’s not John 3:16, although I do have my own problems with the mainstream utilization of that one). The unbiblical platitude I want to address is “God doesn’t throw anything at you that you can’t handle.” or “anything he doesn’t think you can handle”
Where is this in Scripture? There’s nothing about God throwing at you just “what He thinks you can handle” or “more than you can handle” This is sort of the Christian/secular blend of “God is for you” and “I believe in you, you need to believe in yourself.”
This isn’t a revolutionary thought, but we’ll say it to establish the rest of this: part of Christianity is acknowledging our weakness without God. God breathes life into us, ergo without God we are dead. The idea that God is just setting up tee-shots for us is absurd. Jesus even says that in this life, we will experience hardships. He’s not talking about a flat tire, he may be talking about the death of a friend.
Moreover, it makes the answer to whether or not God is powerful, good, just, or caring entirely dependent on our ability to withstand the hardships that comes to us, and do so in a way that is “acceptable”.
With this in mind, what isour metric for “handling” difficult times? Is it losing someone we love and only feeling sad about it for a set time limit? That implies we are able to deal with it easily and move on. That we can deaden ourselves both to grief and the fact that we lost a dear friend. Does handling it simply mean we lived through it? “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” (says the healthy man to one who completed chemo) If so, then suffering is just a fact of life and so long as we do not kill ourselves, should we not consider suffering as an obstacle we should deaden our reaction to? Does that mean we should emerge from great adversity unscathed and unchanged. In short “Handling” hardship, requires us to either be dead inside, or cold enough that life is nearly imperceptible.
With that, we can now move to single-verse arguments, or you might say the Biblical platitudes. Tonight, we’ll look at Philippians: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” To get the best perspective on this, we look to noted theologian and scholar Joel Osteen
Most people tend to magnify their limitations. They focus on their shortcomings. But scripture makes it plain: all things are possible to those who believe. That’s right! It is possible to see your dreams fulfilled. It is possible to overcome that obstacle. It is possible to climb to new heights. It is possible to embrace your destiny. You may not know how it will all take place. You may not have a plan, but all you have to know is that if God said you can…you can!
At least this says Christ is the one who strengthens us, but we still come across the fact that this is a platitude out of context. Philippians is one of the prison epistles. Paul wrote in it prison. The verses before Phil 4:13 point out that Paul has become content in every state. “I know how to be abased, how to abound” This isn’t a matter of doing anything you set God’s (your) mind to, this is a matter of staying focused on God even in the midst of great suffering.
And what good do the platitudes really give? If you know they’re untrue, or if you can’t believe them, what’s the point? Have you ever tried to distract yourself from a final or midterm? You start thinking about it to the point where you can’t anymore and go to Netflix or something to get away from it. And yet, even as you are watching, you find yourself slipping back to the thing you’re consciously trying to avoid. What you are trying to avoid is sucking away the enjoyment of whatever you are doing or watching. Why is that? Because what you’re distracting yourself from is bigger than what your using to distract yourself, and this is before you get to the part where you know what you’re not supposed to be looking at where it is.
So let’s assume that even in spite of the platitudes, we are hopeful for the future. What can we take from this that might be useful in the next step? It simple. If college is shallow, irrelevant and destructive, we have the opportunity to more actively pursue that which is deep, relevant and restorative. Let’s look at each of these.
A lot of opinions today seem to be based on surface level understandings of the issues one is talking about. People read only the headlines on their Facebook feed, barely read stories that further discuss views they do agree with, and we’ve even, without a trace of irony, invented a shorthand for the phrase “Too Long, Didn’t Read” (The rational explanation is that four words strains the attention span). One thing that seems to be sacred is the incredible length to which we are all correct, and to question that is personally offensive. These two factors have contributed to a national discourse that is stupider, shallower and more toxic than ever before. The cure for this is found in the study of Philosophy. It is the road to a better understanding of oneself and the world around them. Philosophy is by definition a search for objective truth. Unless you’re an existentialist after which, there is no truth. Philosophy demands a more than surface-level examination of any concept, and a deeper examination of anything will demonstrate that there is no perfect human ideology. Marxism (socialism) sounds great on paper. Who is not in favor of perfect equality? However, it’s never worked in practice and it assumes that moral good is determined exclusively by wealth. It also sacrifices individual freedom. Existentialism is total freedom, there are is no singular objective truth, no objective morality. But if there’s no objective morality, one can’t say that killing is morally wrong, we can just agree on it. Before anyone response “but philosophy is so boring”, people apparently get really passionate about accounting, insurance, sociology, the impact of policy on minorities and poorer people and, if you’re into guns, tactics and the problem of evil. Learning about it is less exciting than talking about it. But talking about it without having learnt about it is how the discourse got to where it is today. The difference between all of these is that philosophy, just by involving ethics (to say nothing of the rest of the field), influences all of these subjects.
Study it to dispel the notion of a perfect human ideology. Starting with the fact that none of those ideologies carry with them any obligation to behave in this way, and some don’t restrain the individual’s worst instincts at all and others, like Marxism, don’t acknowledge the dark side of humanity at all. Human philosophies are merely suggestions as to how one “ought” to conduct themselves between the cradle and the grave.
Some people cop-out entirely and have fallen behind the phrase “all opinions are valid”. They are not. In this country, they have the right to exist and be expressed, their validity is only proven later on. One final note, validity is not determined by popularity. Consensus is a false security. All I need to do is suggest that, looking at the Republican Congress and White House, the Republican platform must be objectively correct as it is the dominant belief in Washington. Deep philosophy is missing from today’s discussions.
When you have learned a great deal and you move to explain what you learned, please keep what you have to say simple. A lot of what’s here was redundant and useless. But redundancy and uselessness aren’t exclusive to subject matter, but also language. Intelligence can be simplified. We’ll talk here about three ways of speaking: The Academic way, the Pauline Approach, and what I’ll call the Safelite approach
It seems the academic way of speaking on a topic is one that says “I’m way too damn smart for my own good, please allow me to demonstrate”. I remember an economics class where the same 5 points had been repeated several times (and it’s importance stressed in separate sentences). The professor would say something, say “this is important” and repeat what he’d shown in 4 different ways with some variation on “This is important” in between, and his language never really deviated. A 20 minute lecture on found a way to say “the church is not just about pastors” for about 12 of the 20 minutes. There is a marked difference between assuming your audience doesn’t know anything about the subject you are there to teachand believing your audience doesn’t know anything at all.
Second, we have the Pauline Approach. In 1st Corinthians 2:3 Paul write “I came to you in weakness and fear, with much trembling. My message and preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith would not rest on men’s wisdom but on God’s power”
Break this down. First, “coming in weakness and fear”. I don’t think this means he comes to them expecting to get eviscerated. We talk of the “fear of God” but that doesn’t mean we’re afraid of Him like he’s against us and just waiting for us to fail so he can justify striking us down. Paul comes relying entirely on the power of the Spirit to convey the message. He felt, by himself, completely inadequate to deliver his message
“My message and preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom”: This is not a theological dissertation, this is a lecture.
“So that your faith would not rest on men’s wisdom but on God’s power”: In other words, “I’m not looking for fans, I’m looking for disciples”. Verbal gymnastics are about the speaker not the message.
Finally, the Safelite approach. This is named after auto-glass company Safelite. They engaged a few years ago in what can be adequately described as “By golly” marketing. Here’s an example, a woman who had some piece of glass damaged would come, chipper but exhausted (you can almost envision the woman strumming her whole arm across her forehead just so the audience in the back gets the point) An employee who just discovered how to be happy overuses this newfound skill saying “We’ll take care of it, with our special resin” in a manner a guy in a panel van might tell a child he has “special treats”. It’s creepy, it’s condescending, and it assumes that adults can be appealed to with an after school special.
Study whatever you desire, become an expert at it, but know that simple, honest language is the middle ground between “That’s really nice, and I’m sure that’s great, but what the hell did you just say” and condescension bordering on baby talk. So find the middle ground, stay there, and be a beacon to draw as many there as humanly possible.
To learn what is “relevant” is to acquire deeper knowledge about a subject. You do not have to learn something for its own sake, you are gathering information in the hopes that you can make use of it. That you now have the ability to seek out that relevant information should be embraced.
First, the necessary acknowledgement that what I’m about to say “don’t do”, I am very much guilty of from time to time. For whatever thatmight be worth, I’d like to ask how much time you spend, if any at all, on contemplating political issues or getting angry about them solely on the information you already have. Between rounds 1 and 10, have you learned anything more that might be useful? If the answer to this is no, you are in dangerous territory. In a 2006 speech at the University of Toronto, Christopher Hitchens noted “It’s always worth asking what would you do if you met someone (who disagreed with you)? How can I prove the earth is round? Am I sure about the theory of evolution, here’s someone who says it’s all intelligent design. How sure am I of my own views?”
More to the point, passion without direction is anger. In his book “On Guard”, William Lane Craig notes that if you have good arguments in support of your belief, you’re “less apt to become quarrelsome or upset. If you have good reasons for what you believe and know the answers to the un-believer’s questions or objections, there’s just no reason to get hot under the collar” The people becoming most frustrated with the opposition in all likelihood have no real deep understanding of what it is they’re angry about. To put it another way, loudly announcing someone else is wrong helps nobody. Loudly repeating what you just said doesn’t do anything either. (Where does this fit better, here or with the other blue spot?) Now, there is no secular call to grow in knowledge, however there is a Christian one. In fact there are several. First, we’ll address the cliches with only a passing nod to Phillipians 4:8 (Whatsoever is true, good, beautiful etc, think on it) focusing instead on 1 Peter 3:15. 1 Peter 3:15 calls Christians to always be ready to make the case for Christ, “the hope that is within you” while adding that we must do so “with gentleness and respect”.
As Dr. Craig pointed out to us, these things should go hand-in-hand. That people rarely seem ready to give a fuller case for what they believe could easily be seen as a reason for the angry manner in which people conduct themselves in conversations about today’s issues. When someone becomes well-versed in their subject, they may find that they are able to withstand criticism and not flee the challenge by ignoring it or the person espousing this belief. How does one becomes an expert in a given subject? By actually studying the issue. However, the danger of the term “relevant” is that it can be subjective. This is not a license to further research your beliefs on a given issue while not reading a word of the opposition, or setting up strawmen and seeing how your ideas stack up in comparison. The opposition’s research is just as relevant as yours. There is no silver bullet argument. (There’s a bit from “The End of Reason” that mentions this, you didn’t have the text, just the audio.) When we discuss what is “relevant” to a given issue, we mean the issue itself. If your view is not challenged by your research, you are not growing in your knowledge of a topic.
If you’re wondering what it looks like when one does not understand something new, deep and different, I could point you to the end result in John 3. Jesus is talking to Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council and a Pharisee. As we know, the Pharisees were known for their fanatical adherence to the Mosaic Law. Jesus tells him “no one can see the Kingdom of God unless they are born again.” Nicodemus is puzzled so Jesus expounds more on being born of the Spirit. To which Nicodemus exclaims “How can this be?” Jesus response “You are Israel’s teacher, and you do not understand these things?” Now, we can say Jesus was speaking in vague terms, or in metaphors to a person who did was much better off being spoken to directly and literally, and yet, we understand the metaphor. Still though, just look at what Jesus is saying here: “You’re supposed to be the expert, how do you not know this” and it only took seconds to get to this point. Imagine how someone today would take such chastisement. All this to say; when you do not know what you are talking about beyond the surface-level of your argument, you will either find yourself embittered or embarrassed. Philippians 4:8-9 brings us to our final term
As much as I personally would love to lay most of this at the foot of the academic citadel, most of what we’re trying to oppose here has become a cultural keystone. College students since at least 2004 have grown up in what George Carlin derisively called the “Self-Esteem movement”. The movement began, debatably well-intentioned in 1969, but it really took hold in the 80s and 90s. It was this instilment of how special and right everyone was. Blowing off failure as “minimally exceptional”, it gave one the ability to brush off their mistakes or even their insults with “nobody’s perfect” or a robotic, insincere apology. We are living in the result of that movement. They have been told from age 4 to at least 17 (but no later than 21 unless you went to BYU in which case it might be 60) that success is inevitable, shortcomings are just always going to be there and everyone else needs to adapt to you.
This dawned on me as I was watching the 2016 election spiral into the perfect demonstration of this advanced society really is. The first sign was from about July through the election, I saw people on both sides come after the moral failings of their opposed candidate with greater vigor and ever increasing volume while coming up with hordes of justifications and deflections regarding the flaws of their own candidate. I remember seeing people I knew use as their first salvo “Well you just don’t care about people who aren’t you”, “People getting killed just doesn’t fuckin’ matter to you, does it?” and that Aristotelian rebuke, “you’re stupid”. And in about October, I had a minor epiphany. I had seen this exact same style in high school. Y’know, ages 16, 17, 18.
One problem: while the tone of the argument hasn’t changed since high school, the ones having these exact same arguments were now 27, 30, 35.. Adults today are indistinguishable in many cases from 5 year old siblings having an argument in front of their mother. They may actually be raising kids with the belief that the system is out to get you, that pain can be avoided if you stay away from the wrong people, and that the only reason someone might disagree with you is not a different philosophy, or a better thought-out philosophy, or because your ideas are wrong, it’s because they hate you and everyone that thinks like you. The academic world has done little to stem this tide, and some colleges and universities have actually surrendered to the idea that every grievance is first and foremost, if not entirely, someone else’s fault and the accuser is always telling the truth. The result is the adaptable term “microagressions”, the “safe space” where college students stay away from differing opinions. Sometimes with coloring books provided surely by someone at the college who is mocking those who don’t know they’re being mocked, and what has become known as the heckler’s veto; the act of shouting down a speaker to the point where they cannot get their message out. Adam Corolla and Ben Shapiro went before Congress to address the problem of grown adults resorting to violence to hear views they had a strawman’s understanding of.
You know what’s interesting. From their parents the academic world, it is evident that these people have never been given a firm understanding of what they actually believe. A survey from the Reason Foundation showed that 42% of millennials think socialism is a good idea. Only 16% could define it. Those more likely to support bigger government only do so if they aren’t getting taxed for it (which they inevitably will because how else do you pay for the healthcare, housing and employment of 316 million people?
There is not, or at least, doesn’t appear to be, a secular mandate to know what you are talking about and to be able to present it in a calm manner. There at least appears to be an encouragement that not only do you not have to know what you are talking about, but if you can shout about it more loudly, or even create and occupy your own moral high ground, then you don’t have to concern yourself with the opinions of your moral inferiors.
Christianity is the only restorative belief system and movement in the world. In Philippians 4:8, Paul to think on whatever is true, noble, right and pure among other things, to be discerning in our thinking. Verse 9 says whatever we have learned, we should put into practice. In other words, we are to think on what is restorative to being the work of restoration.
But I want to make one major point clear when it comes to countering the world around you. You are not the one who changes the world. 2 Timothy 2:25 sees the Apostle Paul note that “opponents must be gently instructed so that God in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.
Observe three things here. One: “Opponents must be gently instructed.” This is anathema to today’s discourse. The idea of seeing a person who disagrees with you as merely a disagreeing opinion and not a mortal enemy is simply not practiced in the public square anymore. One of the first things that happens is that some poor soul inevitably digs up something from 10 years in the speaker’s past and tries to personally discredit the person so they do not have to face the argument.
We must fight on reason alone, but do so from a place of respect. A place that sees the other side as just as human as we are. I’d argue that is why the movements of today are so useless. What part of the Women’s March, BLM, Antifa or the movements headed by Bill Maher, Milo, Maddow, Kaeprenick, Shaun White and most recently David Hogg seems based in, or even consists of, love for the other?
Second point: “So that GOD will grant them repentance, leading them to a knowledge of the truth.”
It is not your job to change hearts and minds, and it won’t do you one damn bit of good to force the issue. You must hope that you are able to just plant a seed that grows. Part of what is lost today is that people believe the truth is not strong enough to stand on its own. I believe it is, the problem is that both sides seem to exist believing their own lives, and they will sacrifice the other sides humanity to protect it.
ONE LAST PLATITUDE
Lastly, I do want to go back to take out one last platitude you will hear at commencement. “You will do something great that will change the world.”
The issue here is simple: “Great” is subjective. It should be a measurement of how one perceives their own work. Being able to build, write, create something or do a huge favor for someone. Doing something “great” for someone i.e. just one person. That’s not the “great” these people talk about. No. Whenever this line is croaked from some well-meaning windpipe, it seems to imply that you will be the center of some revolutionary magnum opus. The low-hanging fruit is in the country’s racial climate, poverty problem or whatever the social ill is this week that everyone decided last Tuesday to dedicate their lives to.
First issue: it simplifies the problem. If a college grad telling the country to stop being mean to each other is the solution, it’s a wonder nobody has asked “Why can’t we all just get along” in the last 20 years, isn’t it? The simplification of the problem is one of the issues with today’s activism. We just need to march X number of miles (and break Y number of windows) we will raise Z amount of awareness (Marching does nothing, breaking stuff hurts the cause and awareness can’t be quantified) and if we do enough of it things will have to change eventually. The results
If a person is the center of this revolution, the temptation to make the movement about the person and not the cause is that much greater. If you think it can’t happen to you, that may be true, it’s just happened to everyone else. Let me rattle off a few: Shaun King,, Pat Robertson, Hilary Clinton, Donald Trump, Amy Schumer, Lena Dunham, Colin Kaepernick Milo Yianopolus and Tomi Larhen.You know why none of these people are agreeable? Because their entire livelihood is based on prolonging the problem, the movement is entirely about them and how great they are. This is where the book deals, the columns, the regular guest spots on Fox and CNN come from. And yet, nobody can name what these people have done for their chosen cause outside of that trite idea of “raising awareness”.
Here’s the thing on raising awareness: it has become the American substitute for action. People dump ice buckets on their heads, do 22 push ups, put a red X on the back of their hand, lie in the street, all these symbolic things to “raise awareness” but never to forward a conversation or suggest where one might go to get involved. It is the equivalent of staring at a house that is on fire, telling someone it is on fire and walking away, content with the knowledge that you have raised awareness and thus, done your part to put out the fire. It’s up to that other schmuck to do something about it.
So, what things are truly irrelevant, shallow or destructive? 90% of what you learned here (80% is as low as I’ll go), surface-level platitudes, unexamined beliefs, and an exaggerated belief in one’s ability to be a catalyst for change. The alternative is the opposite: to pursue what is relevant, deep and restorative. Take what’s useful and learn even more about it. Challenge your beliefs, knowing that along that journey, being wrong might just be a sign of progress on the road to objective truth, but is never an indictment on your intelligence or character (that comes in the denial of overwhelming evidence against your original belief system.) How do you know what you believe is true? Has it ever been truly tested? Have you ever had to really consider things like the logical extent of your beliefs? Have you ever had to marinate in your belief systems most difficult pitfalls? If not, you probably haven’t been tested at all by yourself or others. It must be repeated, as it is often the hangup, being wrong in the face of new information is not an indictment on who you are. To maintain a belief in the face of evidence however, does say something about you.
None of the above will be a part of the commencement speech you may hear. It’ll be a mixture of platitudes, soaring anecdotes and somewhere in there, a suggestion that maybe, just maybe, there exists a dark side that you’re probably more familiar with than the speaker is letting on. Commencement is, ultimately, the academic world’s way of congratulating itself on how they did everything they were supposed to do. But they don’t really have to deliver what they promise, or perhaps we should be more honest and just say “sell”. It is a condescending, arrogant, occasionally 3-hour sendoff reminding you behind all the slogans and platitudes of how much better off (not better) they are for having you and that they get paid whether you succeed or not, and that the citadel is indeed notdesigned to help you become who you might need to be.
So now you have the chance to be whoever you were designed to be, and you have a toolbox full of stuff to, one assumes, help you do that. Problem is, for some 80-85 percent of the shit in that toolbox doesn’t work. I’ve heard graduation be referred to by others colloquially as “getting out”, “escaping” and “Being sent into the ocean without a paddle”. This is where we find ourselves.
Now, I am, as you’ve probably found out by now, not capable of ending on some optimistic crescendo. I hate crescendos, they always feel mandatory, especially in sermons that deal in brokenness and sin. All I can say is that what is deep, true and relevant is the only light we have, and it is way too easy to say “God is truth, pursue him” and leave with that. I want to emphasize “truth” on the ground level.
There is no perfect human ideology, your beliefs on economics, crime, society, everything around you will have flaws and may have an Achilles heel you’ll never be able to answer for, in which case you’re probably dead wrong. Pursuing truth, and preaching it with calmness and respect, is the key to detoxifying the political climate, improving relationships with those who hold other views and improving the world around us, and we have the opportunity now to do that. However many years we have wasted avoiding challenges to our views, that needs to end. Leaving the academic world is leaving the safe space. I wish you luck in whatever field this place claims to have prepared you for. But a greater challenge today will be your pursuit of truth, and related to that, well-stated and reasoned opposing views. It is something I imagine has only been encouraged by those who have or want nothing to do with the academic world.