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Intellectual condoms

Last time I checked, scientists had not documented any conversationally transmitted diseases. Yes, despite a culture of rampant diversity and multiculturalism set in an era of unprecedented information flow, it remains safe to entertain mind-altering discussions with any number of different partners night after passionate night. And yet, instead of experimenting with new and unfamiliar situations, instead of rolling the dice on the chance of intellectual ecstasy, we are content to trade exotic romance for another night of cold pizza, cheap beer and old friends in a symbiotic circle-jerk. While there is a certain comfort in familiarity, at a certain point one must question the motivation for continued abstinence from new experiences, especially given the apparent lack of consequences. Why, then, do we continue to practice safe syntax?

Could it be fear that keeps us from putting the moves on a new ideology? Surely any rational person, when teetering on the verge of intellectual exploration, would be afraid of getting shot down as soon as he exposed himself to the world. Everyone acts under the assumption that outreaches will be met with hostility, and given the state of discourse in the world today, I am not surprised. Not only have most of us formed into collectives of like-minded individuals, but most of these groups establish part of their identity in opposition to other groups. The adversarial nature of group formation leads to the conclusion that any inter-group mingling must be conducted under conditions of consummate safety. We accomplish this by trafficking in the broadest and most easily defensible paradigms of our group and mentally shielding them from any suspected outsider subversion. We wear intellectual condoms.

To the extent that each group fears being infected by influence from another group, the usage and strength of intellectual condoms increase. What we experience in effect is an arms-race of adversarial ideas. Even if we would be willing, in theory, to toss out our condoms and engage in unprotected intellectual intercourse, we fear that our partners are wearing protection, that the sacrifice is uneven and the discourse therefore cheap and hollow. Convinced that experimentation results only in abuse, we have developed a disturbing pattern of intellectual assault in our society. In an attempt to satisfy urges for out-group contact, we whip out our paradigm, fully sheathed, and attempt to force it on our adversaries. They, however, being appropriately condomed themselves, take little notice of our assault, other than to note its sadistic impropriety and use it as fuel for future attacks. No information is exchanged except the notice of continued malice and the deepening of adversarial divisions.

Free love may have died in the ’70s, but its demise was motivated by the spread of disease and the necessity for increased public awareness of sexual health. When it comes to sex, the condom has become a beacon of responsibility and respect for the safety of prospective partners. While we may never have experienced an era of widespread conversational orgies and displays of risqué intellectual activity, in the words of Jonathan Larson, “there’s no day but today.”

A successful attempt to discourage the use of intellectual condoms must be rooted in a commitment to debunking those aspects of group formation which rely on demeaning outsiders. For most groups these aspects are not crucial to the group’s mission and could potentially be eliminated without substantive changing core beliefs. The goal of intellectual discourse, after all, isn’t necessarily change but open and honest experience. Most of us are probably lost as to how to convince others to abandon condoms. Fortunately, generations of sleazy guys have compiled a vast sea of anti-condom literature for us to cross-apply and fit to our peculiar situation. For example:

“I’m too big for a condom.” This excuse isn’t so much about reality as it is about persuasive ability. In a situation of limited information, your potential partner is probably unfamiliar with the size and scope of your intellect so you will have to convince him that your ideas are big and exciting enough to warrant the risk of relinquishing protection. Explain to him that your conversational method is so cerebral and intricate that any protection wielded against it will surely cause you to break concentration and result in a sub-par intellectual experience for both of you. Only in a state of complete vulnerability will you be able to employ your tools towards a state of mutual benefit.

“It’s against my religion.” To use this argument you must not be concerned with boasting of the intricacy of your methods or the size of your intellect. Rather, you must be concerned with communicating to your partners that you are truly committed to the ideal of free and open discussion. You must convince your partners that, constricted by ideological commitments (be they to a god or any other abstraction of moral force), you have no choice but to conduct relations without using protection. This strategy provides your partners with a complete set of information, allowing them to make their decision with confidence. If they lie to you and you get screwed, no matter—you can take solace in your beliefs and rest assured that they will be punished for their impiety.

If both of these attempts fail to break the condom, and you are still desperate for a wild night of unprotected intellectual stimulation, you can always rely on my old standby: “C’mon baby, it just feels better without one.”


Andrew Waugh is a Trinity senior.


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