Welcome to the thoughts, rants and passions of a young Muslim woman seeking soulful enlightenment in cyberspace.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Know-it-alls on Campus

I was talking to a good friend of mine the other day, and she said something that astonished me. She said she was confused because she had no precise view on the world. Even worse, she had no clear conception of how she would like the world to be and how to achieve it. Her uncertainty was unexpected because she’s one of the most intelligent and insightful people I know. And she has always offered very intriguing points of view on how the world should be.

I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised by her comments; I know exactly what she’s talking about. There are too many know-it-alls on campus – students who raise their hands in lecture and start pontificating on the theoretical as opposed to the practical application of a Hobbesian state of nature. And mind you, these are not just students who walk around in pleated pants and polyester shirts. Even the decidedly “un-nerdy” of students have joined in. These are people who achieve that emotional high by climbing onto soapboxes during tutorials, always ready and confident to express wondrously inventive points of view – at least, in their eyes.

One day – while becoming thoroughly disgusted at some students’ pathetic attempts to impress the professor with profound statements that were really just complicated versions of what he had already said – I came to the realization that the people who seem to know exactly what they’re talking about are often the ones who have no idea at all. In the grey area that typifies life, it is extremely difficult to hold strong and clear-cut views on anything. Yet too many people try to act smart in university. After all, that’s how people get good grades. If you act the way you expect to be treated, some sort of twisted psychology claims you’ll get it eventually.

Acting as if their opinion is king, they will argue ferociously until the other side steps down in mere frustration. I’m pretty sure that’s what happened to my friend. She’s not a Pollyanna – just not as cynical as most people our age. When I first met her, I was shocked by what seemed like a naively optimistic point of view. Over time, I came to realize that calling someone naïve is a way to justify one’s unwillingness to deal with the positive ideas being proposed. It’s very easy (and much safer) to be cynical. Since one’s expectations are never high to begin with, one will rarely feel let down. Most university students find comfort in their cynicism. On the other hand, people with hope dare to believe. They take a chance. And it’s a pretty vulnerable situation to be in. That is why I have so much respect for people who aren’t afraid to express their optimism in a world drenched in the hopelessness of cynicism.


  • At 1/26/2005 05:07:00 a.m., Blogger ephphatha said…

    The generalizations you make about the motivations of know-it-all's is probably right if I had to guess. The only difference between your friend and most know-it-alls is that your friend is more honest with herself and others.

    But not all know-it-alls are like that. Some of us really DO know it all. I have been known to pontificate in my philosophy classes, but I do it, not to impress the teacher, but because I think the teacher is nuts. Professors command a great deal of respect, and often a student will buy into the teacher's statements, often only rewording them to sound smart, in order to win their approval, and the admiration of the other students. And I see the power my philospohy professor has had over his students, and I think it's sad.

    You see, my philosophy teacher has a very low view of logic. He is what you might call a post-modernist, and he holds an irrational point of view about the nature of reality. I debate with him and with the students because I think their views are clearly wrong, and not just wrong, but irrational to the point of being crazy.

    Most things in this world, I would say that we don't know. Other things, I would say we have some degree of belief that falls short of certainty. But there is a small handful of things I think we can know with absolute certainty. I know that if two statements contradict each other, they cannot both be true at the same time and in the same sense. I also know that I exist. I don't think it's even possible that I could be mistaken about these things. But I find myself defending these things in my philosophy classes.

    It might seem like these are such banal issues that they shouldn't be debated. There's no practical application. But I beg to differ--especially on the issue of the law of non-contradiction (stated above) and logic in general. You see, it's impossible to reason with somebody who doesn't believe in reason. EVery time I've tried to advance an argument, rather than taking issue with my reasoning or my premises, issue is always taken with my use of logic to begin with. You can't advance an argument without the use of logic. If you remove logic, you remove any basis upon which to reason about anything with anybody.

    Since logic is a necessary part of reality, it's impossible to think without it, so even those who claim to deny it still end up using it. You have to. No matter what worldview you believe in, we all still have to live in the real world, and logic is part of the real world. The problem with people who deny logic, even though they don't live consistently with their denial, is that in the abandonment of any explicit use of it, they lose their ability to think carefully. They become sloppy and irrational in their beliefs, and consequently they become pray to every kind of nonsense that comes along. I pontificate on what I know because I think ideas matter, and because I just can't sit back and let that nutcase brainwash his students, stripping them of the ability to think carefully, to distinguish between true and false.


  • At 1/27/2005 02:21:00 a.m., Blogger Safiyyah said…

    Your comments are fascinating. Thanks for sharing them.
    I have never had the pleasure of meeting a post-modern philosopher, but perhaps that's a good thing;) I'm not sure how I would cope with someone who rejects the use of logic. I study philosophy too, and I do think there is a certain point where logic fails to satisfy and belief must take its place.

  • At 1/28/2005 09:17:00 a.m., Blogger ephphatha said…


    I'm not really sure what to make of this dichotomy you make between logic and belief. It's almost as if you think they are mutually exclusive. Maybe if you could give me an example of how belief can take the place of logic I might have a better idea of what you mean.



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