No, I’m not talking about silent leftist professors. Indeed, most professors – myself included – have trouble staying silent whether they are on the left, right, or anyplace else (I’m not a big fan of the left-right spectrum, btw).
I’m talking about two separate but interesting posts by Thomas C. Reeves. I don’t really know who Reeves is, and I don’t remember ever having come across any works by him until today. But one piece by him on why professors tend to be on the left is making its way around the internet. It is worth reading if you like this genre. It brought to mind Robert Nozick’s own contribution to the debate, “Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism?”
I was actually more interested in another post by Reeves which talks about silence. Reeves argues that “people all over the West and industrialized Asia today, perhaps especially the young, cannot abide silence” but that “In fact, silence is necessary for many achievements in civilized society, especially meaningful and thoughtful study (as opposed to mere memorization). Concentrated minds need to focus without interruption.” He ends with his approval of the Vancouver-based Right to Quiet Society’s move to recognize “the right to quiet as a basic human right.”
I’m not sure there is a basic right to quiet, though the common law gives property owners the right to the “quiet enjoyment” of their property and thus to be free of nuisances, including sounds (and yes, I understand that “quiet enjoyment” means a heck of a lot more too).
But more importantly, Reeves raises the basic problem of being surrounded by so much noise. Indeed, the modern world is so noisy that it is hard to think – which some people would say is entirely the point. Noise allows us to escape or be distracted from our innermost thoughts and questions, many of which are uncomfortable or even frightening the more and deeper we think about them.
But despite the escapism noise allows – and sometimes we do benefit from this, I think we would be rewarded if we found more quiet time and quiet places to think and also just to relax. Noise can certainly interrupt thinking. But I also find too much constant noise to be anxiety producing and destructive of true relaxation. This is one of the reasons I love getting outside of cities and suburbs and into the country. And since cars are one of our biggest sources of noise, I think that solving the problem of auto emissions is only half of the battle in terms of dealing with their negative externalities. So, for those entrepreneurs out there, find a way to cut auto noise (which is mostly tire/road noise) and you’ll be doing us all a big favor.