The culture has changed a lot in the last couple of decades. Some of the changes have been so subtle as to be almost undetectable. But one change has been so dramatic that few people could deny or ignore it –although opinions vary as to the desirability of its effects on the larger culture. The change I am talking about is the increasing tendency of people (especially men) to share their feelings instead of their thoughts when discussing intellectual matters.
This trend is especially noticeable to those of us who grade papers for a living. Recently, I was reading a case brief in which a student kept telling me what he felt the Supreme Court case meant and what the Court felt about the legal issues at hand. In his defense, part of the problem is that Supreme Court Justices do sometimes inject their feelings into Court decisions. Some, like Anthony Kennedy, mindlessly emote about one’s right to “define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and the mystery of human life.”
But the problem extends far beyond the study of the law. English department are becoming increasingly entrenched in a postmodern worldview that considers the endless study of personal narratives to be a legitimate source of intellectual inquiry. The disdain for generalizations is rooted in a professed belief that there simply are no general truths. I say “professed” belief because the English professors don’t really believe what they are saying. They believe that at least some of the things they say are generally true. Otherwise, they would not be professors.
Even today’s honors students are prone to back their positions with thoughtless emotion. A student in one of my honors classes justified her support for affirmative action by saying “I just feel so strongly about issues of social justice.” I asked her whether she thought it reinforced racist notions of black intellectual inferiority.” Her response: “But I just feel so strongly about issues of social justice.”
This endless emoting colors the debate on a variety of issues outside the classroom. Speaking of color, I recently joked that we are on the verge of bringing back “colored” restrooms as our campus becomes more and more segregated. This prompted a call from a black female student who went on and on with a detailed emotional account of what it felt like to be black on a predominately white campus. After about fifteen minutes on the phone I just hung up. I wasn’t being rude. She was yelling. Besides that, I felt like I was going to puke. I guess I have feelings, too.