Susan Jacoby has written a thought-provoking piece on reason and politics in today's LA Times. Jacoby notes that there have been times and spaces in American history where people were drawn to opposing views, and that this environment was a key component of intellectual progress and uplift. She laments that this ethos is largely invisible today.
Jacoby notes that "when Thomas Henry Huxley, the British naturalist who popularized Darwin's theory of evolution, came to the U.S. in 1876, he spoke to standing-room-only audiences, even though many of his listeners were genuinely shocked by his views."
While Jacoby's historical analysis is overly optimistic about the past, ignoring America's repression of voices, she does bring out an important point, and that is, to quote Jacoby, "This spirit of inquiry, which demands firsthand evidence and does not trivialize opposing points of view, is essential to a society's intellectual and political health."