Ryan Anderson is a dangerous man.
So says the student body and administration of Stanford University, one of America’s “premiere” institutions of “higher education.” Anderson is one of a few intellectuals brave enough to make the case that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. Though nationalized same-sex marriage by judicial fiat will likely come upon us in a very short time, nevertheless the best and brightest of the Millennial generation at Stanford cannot tolerate Anderson’s willingness to stand on the “wrong side of history.” After all, his clarity, logic, humility, poise, and courage might reveal the hollowness of what is arguably the most successful social movement in American history.
The situation reminds me of a conversation I once had with a former boss. He was a health nut: every meal involved some combination of arugula and garbanzo beans, and he would often glare disapprovingly at the Coke on my lunch tray. Often we traveled together, and he would always invite me to join him at the hotel gym for 6:00 am workouts (invitations I declined).
During this time I got engaged, and decided to begin a LGN (“look good naked”) workout routine. After a few weeks of sporadic jogging I proudly announced to my boss that I was getting into shape.
“Don’t run,” he said. “You should lift.” Noticing the puzzled look on my face, he explained: “In America we have men with these chicken legs, while our women can crush rocks with their hands.
Good health is an end unto itself, and running was better than nothing, but my exercise routine wasn’t designed to maximize my body’s potential. Neither was I preparing myself to serve my family as a man by carrying the furniture, loosening the bolts on a flat tire, and throwing my future children into the middle of the swimming pool. In the unlikely event of an intruder entering our home to hurt my family, I was preparing myself to run – not to fight in their defense.
Higher education is supposed to develop young minds to think creatively, critically, and honestly, so that graduates will enter the workforce and contribute to the flourishing of their family and the wider community. For those with the capacity to wrestle with ideas and arguments at the highest level we have places like Stanford, where the best and brightest propel one another forward. That’s the theory anyway.
In such an environment, failure to give ideas their due consideration is fatal. Not that every idea ought to be taken seriously – there are real constraints like time, and no shortage of dumb ideas – but the dangerous ideas are often the ones that enable us to better understand and defend our own beliefs. Fear chokes the process. An illiberal education that allows for no dissent will suffocate and die.
If the pursuit of truth and beauty is an exercise – and it is – Ryan Anderson can crush rocks with his hands. Too bad all the students at Stanford can do is run.