Socrates was a master at calling out bullshit.
Comparing himself to a gadfly, he observed that his role was "to sting people and whip them into a fury, all in the service of truth."
The Greeks rewarded his truth seeking with death.
Fortunately we no longer execute our citizens for heresy. And we still quote Socrates.
Some of what you'll learn in college will be invaluable. Some of it will be bullshit.
Here's my advice, right from day one: Be a gadfly. Speak up if you think what you're hearing is bullshit. Never tone it down or talk baby talk. Never mumble or apologize in the defense of reason. Don't bow to the sensitivities of others. Don't cower to political correctness.
Repudiate bullshit wherever you find it. Reason is worth standing up for.
But be smart about it. Instead of telling people they're espousing nonsense, ask why they believe what they believe. Then really listen. Be genuinely open to changing your mind. Ask thoughtful questions. Examine the reasoning process that led to their conclusions. Keep your cool. Probe. Then hone in and expose instances of unreason.
What we want to do is create a culture where we take responsibility for what we say, what we think, and what we do. Education isn't just about you, it's about the environment around you. And here's what no one tells you: You can make students and professors more rational, more reasonable, and more thoughtful.
I've made a career of calling out bullshit of all kinds, from claims of alien abductions to belief in Jesus rising from the dead. When challenging people's beliefs, here's one thing I've learned: People will respect you more, not less, if you're blunt, honest, and direct.
This will make people uncomfortable. When someone's thinking is damaged, they'll want to damage your thinking. They'll try to slap you around. They'll want to test you. They'll want to see what you're made of. They'll want you to give up.
How you respond to this matters. Use Socrates as a model. Seek truth. Be persistent. Toughen up. Take a punch and give a punch.
You're in college. This is your time to grow up.
Peter Boghossian teaches philosophy at Portland State University. Couldn't win a coveted spot in one of Dr. Boghossian's classes? You're not alone. You can follow him on Twitter (@peterboghossian) or Facebook. Join his mailing list to learn about upcoming public lectures and debates, from your mobile phone text "DELUSION" + your email address to 22333.