“You must force yourself to consider opposing arguments. Especially when they challenge your best-loved ideas.”
— Charlie Munger
Recently, Charlie Munger commented that when he reads the New York Times, he pays special attention to Paul Krugman—with whom he very often disagrees—in order to expose himself to opposing political and economic viewpoints. His methodology is akin to that of Charles Darwin, who described, in his autobiography, his tendency to immediately note observations that seemed contrary to his prior beliefs.
Munger is not the only one. Malcolm Gladwell, in his recent AMA, wrote:
A lot of people wondered why I went on Glenn Beck’s show. I don’t agree with a lot of what he says. But I was curious to meet him. And my basic position in the world is that the most interesting thing you can do is to talk to someone who you think is different from you and try and find common ground. And what happened? We did. We actually had a great conversation. Unlike most of the people who interviewed me for David and Goliath, he had read the whole book and thought about it a lot. My lesson from the experience: If you never leave the small comfortable ideological circle that you belong to, you’ll never develop as a human being.
You can’t really have an informed opinion if you can’t state the other side of the argument better than the smartest person who holds the opposite view.
On May 29, former New York Mayor and Chairman of Bloomberg LP, Michael Bloomberg, gave the commencement address at Harvard. The gist of his speech was that liberal ideology has so pervaded high level American education that conservative voices are being silenced by popular fervor. His speech made some excellent points about the nature of free thought.
Modern Day McCarthyism
There is an idea floating around college campuses—including here at Harvard—that scholars should be funded only if their work conforms to a particular view of justice. There’s a word for that idea: censorship. And it is just a modern-day form of McCarthyism.
In the 2012 presidential race, according to Federal Election Commission data, 96% of all campaign contributions from Ivy League faculty and employees went to Barack Obama.
Ninety-six percent. There was more disagreement among the old Soviet Politburo than there is among Ivy League donors.
That statistic should give us pause—and I say that as someone who endorsed President Obama for re-election—because let me tell you, neither party has a monopoly on truth or God on its side.
Role of Universities
The role of universities is not to promote an ideology. It is to provide scholars and students with a neutral forum for researching and debating issues—without tipping the scales in one direction, or repressing unpopular views.
Requiring scholars—and commencement speakers, for that matter—to conform to certain political standards undermines the whole purpose of a university.
… As a former chairman of Johns Hopkins, I strongly believe that a university’s obligation is not to teach students what to think but to teach students how to think. And that requires listening to the other side, weighing arguments without prejudging them, and determining whether the other side might actually make some fair points.
Always remember, you must consider your own ideologies as intensely as you consider those held by others.