Tuesday, 27 September 2005

Ideas matter

I was ruminating on the exchange and thoughts below, and I felt a certain sadness at the seeming lack of interest many students and too many twenty and thirty-somethings have in ideas. Have a debate on campus, for example, and unless it's just a rowdy 'abuse-the-PM' handbag-fest, all you get is a succession of blank stares. Ideas are not fashionable. They're uncool. It wasn't always that way on campus.

So I was reflecting on that, and I came across a relevant observation of Ayn Rand's:

There is a fundamental conviction which some people never acquire, some hold only in their youth, and a few hold to the end of their days—the conviction that ideas matter. In one’s youth, that conviction is experienced as a self-evident absolute, and one is unable fully to believe that there are people who do not share it. That ideas matter means that knowledge matters, that truth matters, that one’s mind matters. And the radiance of that certainty, in the process of growing up, is the best aspect of youth.

Its consequence is the inability to believe in the power or the triumph of evil. No matter what corruption one observes in one’s immediate background, one is unable to accept it as normal, permanent or metaphysically right. One feels: “This injustice, or terror or falsehood or frustration or pain or agony is the exception in life, not the rule.” One feels certain that somewhere on earth—even if not anywhere in one’s surroundings or within one’s reach—a proper, human way of life is possible to human beings, and justice matters.

I feel sad for those who've never felt that.


  1. It wasn't always that way on campus.

    There's a time to lament this and a time to do something about it. This state of affairs is in the hands of the campus groups who have hitherto defaulted on the responsibility to reverse it.

    Defaulted? No, actively resisted even! Especially those of the right, whereas those of the left host plenty of Marx tutes amoung their own number. This is true of U Canty and Auck U, I know that much, but I presume Libz On Campus, ACT on Campus, and Young Nats are as limp down there as elsewhere.

  2. Well at Canterbury Uni there is no Libz on Campus.
    But ACT on Campus and Young Nats limp??
    Well, watch the video and make your own mind up :)

  3. PC, I actually agree with you (and Rand) for once. Who'da thunk it? ;)

  4. Wups..

    .. are as limp down there[In Wellington] as elsewhere.

    Yeah Falloon, but that's just it! I take PC to mean that this sort of shouting and hollering falls a little ways short of what students got up to back in 'the golden age'.

    And as if there haven't been enough Ayn Rand quoteing folk for one day...

    "You would only contribute to the general delusion that so long as we keep on yelling "Freedom" loudly enough, we are preserving it and no exercise of it in reality is necessary, since we do not even have to bother to understand what it means; so that it's quite all right to have ration cards, social security, forced labor and confiscation of property, so long as everybody shouts that this is a free country."
    - Ayn Rand

    See what I mean by limp? Hey Andrew, maybe if you spent less time in Epsom and more time in Ilam...?

  5. "ACT on Campus and Young Nats limp?? Well, watch the video and make your own mind up :)"

    I guess that link would take me to one of those rowdy 'abuse-the-PM' handbag-fests that I mentioned, would it Andrew? It's good to see passion, but that's not an exchange of or an interest in ideas, it's just shouting down for the sake of it, just as this stale labelling of "left" and "centre-right" means nothing other than an easy way to dismiss an idea before you've heard it, as if scared you might otherwise have to address it.

    Actually, this criticism of mine is not confined to left or right or north or south, or just to students, as I made clear in the post. I think this is across the spectrum altogether, and true of most 20- and 30-somethings who should be at that stage Rand describes of having the firm conviction that ideas matter. And they do, you know.

    What I've found on campus in the last few years is that ideas, when or if they're raised, are not discussed at all: they're simply presented or asserted, and then if anyone bothers to object they do so by being offended, or by taking umbrage, or (if it's not too uncool) by shouting each other down. But mostly they just stare back blankly and shrug.

    Now, I'm actually not surprised at all to see Richard agree, since I've seen him saying something similar on his own blog (although it must be said he doesn't remember what the campuses were like way back in the 1870s like we oldies do).

    So how do we help to remedy this? Any bright ideas??

  6. "I take PC to mean that this sort of shouting and hollering falls a little ways short of what students got up to back in 'the golden age' "

    ah yes, the golden age

    But seriously, PC at least we are actually out doing something. I mean where is the huge Libz on Campus crew at UC??

    And Rick, thanks for your concern about how much time I spend in Epsom. I think i'm up to five days in the last ten years now :)

  7. Well I disagree, ACT on Campus is mentioned almost every week in Craccum, the Student mag at Auckland. I take this as a reflection of how much weight our ideas hold for those on both sides of the freedom argument.

    Over the last two years we've had Rodney Hide and Richard Prebble engage crowds of hundreds in debate in the Quad at least three times I can think of off hand. Add to that one more I saw at Otago.

    When Andrew Bates layed the Libertarian message out bluntly in the Quad he was met with open laughter.

    I guess people are free to pick and choose which ideas they adopt just as they should be free to pick and choose what they do with their minds and money.

  8. Ah, thank-you, a voice of sanity.

    Keep up the good work Dave!!

    Until of course, our work is made void by the throngs of Libz on Campus members :)

  9. OMG :)

    Well in '02 and '03 anyway the ACT MPs were getting an even worse response than Bates. Murial Newman in the quad, talking to herself...

    But just watch your backs. One day LOC will get its shit together. One day soon I'll be back at UC, and then you're going to wish Friedrich A. Hayek had never been born!!!

  10. Oh FFS, is it really the case that only Richard realises the point wasn't about a pissing contest? Or are you all just trying to demonstrate my point?


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