When I was studying in UCSD, I noticed an unsettling trend which has since been confirmed and reaffirmed by many observations. The students entering as freshmen had, by and large, some system of belief that they grew up with and held fast to. By senior year, their instructors, professors and TA’s had successfully torn down any vestiges of conviction that the students may have had in ANY sort of truth, creating yet another graduating class of rationalist, relativist individuals joyfully joining the ranks of the overeducated minority.

The goal was pure and noble, of course: teach the students to think for themselves, to be able to analyze an issue from multiple points of view and respect different perspectives.

We took the proverbial glass and examined it as half full, half empty, as an illusion, as a symbol of purity, as a vessel of truth, as a chemical substance, as an ecological environment. We took it apart and didn’t put it back together again, we studied it and digested it and reinvented it. And in the end, we were able to both see it and NOT see it, to know simultaneous that it was half empty and half full. We mastered the 101 tricks of the master orator who could turn any fact or fiction to benefit his cause. Yes, by graduation time, we were armed to the teeth. The only thing we lost was our ability to distinguish Truth.

Yes! The only loss was our capacity to actually have an opinion, to actually see something as Right or Wrong.

Most of us do not even notice that small price we paid. We are socially versatile, intellectual, competent. We can hold our own in any political or scientific debate, switching from one side to the other without batting an eye, seamlessly streamlining theories and ideas we picked up in our humanities and psychology courses into coherent conversation. Ideas from books we read merge with TED talks and the latest views posed by pop culture science icons, and everything works splendidly until a lesser educated individual makes the mistake of asking us, “Yeah, but what do YOU think? What do YOU actually believe on this subject?”

Then we are stumped in earnest.

We have not been taught to discriminate. In fact, we have been taught that all views have a right to exist, and if rationally argued, are all equally valid. How convenient.

Recently on another blog a simple question was asked about whether all children deserve to live with the same good living conditions and chances to a happy, successful life. The readership, which represents the cream of the crop in terms of intellectual/philosophical development, mostly averted the question altogether. Some eagerly jumped on the terminology of the question (“deserving assumes merit, and unborn children cannot merit anything…”), others were glad to discuss the various socio-economic repercussions of having too many children living in favorable circumstances. Others still began discussing the finer points of curating such dialogue on social media. When pressed by the moderator to actually answer the question, readers presented more theories and possible relativist answers, but were still hesitant to claim any answer as their own. All the while, the answer is so painfully obvious!

I must confess that I fall victim to this too. When a friend of mine who has not been brainwashed indoctrinated with a post-secondary liberal arts education asks me what I think about a certain topic, I involuntarily delve into the various theories existing “out there” on the issue at hand. He immediately makes the perfectly understandable assumption that I am actually stating my personal view, and starts arguing with it. The conversation falls apart when I try to explain that I was just playing the devil’s advocate, and stating the said view point for sake of argument. This frustrates my friend, who just wants to know what I think, and it frustrates me because I am used to talking in theories and propositions, at a comfortable distance from myself and my own personal action.

On the flip side, as my friend explores different points of view and from day to day adopts a different one as his own, I irritate him in my not-so-humble way by coyly identifying each view as nihilistic, or hedonist, or existential, or absolutist, or what have you, making references to this thinker or that, and thereby nullifying the sincerity and intensity with which my friend believed the view to be transcendent Truth. It is that maliciousness in me that wants to destroy something beautiful (ie. his conviction) that is showing its ugly head. Immediately after I make my blow, I regret it.

But I digress.

The bottom line is a curious one. While reason (logos – that same logos that was there In the Beginning…) is supposed to help us get at truth, most of us end up using it to avert truth for the sake of convenience and dialogue. The tool of reason, handled by inexperienced hands, disfigures Truth to the point of no recognition. Through our ineptly handled ability to reason, we begin to believe the fallacy that absolute truth and, by extension, morality, does not exist.