Let’s Agree to Disagree: Calling a Truce to the Abuse

The Claremont Colleges, like nearly every other liberal arts college in America, are a bastion of liberal and progressive thought. You don’t have to read our other articles to realize this; the Claremont College Democrats outnumber the Claremont College Republicans nearly five to one (according to their Facebook page subscribers), with the lion’s share of Republicans attending CMC.

This political imbalance is understandable to an extent; young voters favored President Obama in the 2012 elections more than any other age demographic. Compared to the rest of the country, however, the Claremont Colleges are lopsidedly liberal, a reality on display when students this semester packed Pitzer’s Benson Auditorium to see Martin O’Malley speak, leaving standing room only. The majority of tenured faculty at the Claremont Colleges are Democrats.

Nevertheless, the problem is not necessarily the excessive Democratic numbers. Liberal, even progressive thought, is not inherently opposed to free speech. Rather, the problem is the silencing of opposing viewpoints. Students with pro-life or capitalist views get shot down without being heard, branded “racist, misogynist, and bigoted” for disagreeing with the mainstream Claremont consensus. In the aftermath of the recent protests, friendships have been destroyed and reputations have been ruined. In the discussion on campus racism, it becomes clear that we, as college students, don’t want friends. We want sounding boards and echo chambers.

The intense backlash from overly politically correct culture has gone from present to dangerous. Here in Claremont, students verbally attacked their peers for not joining in on a protest march against the CMC administration, screaming “silence is violence.” We’re no longer allowed to recuse ourselves from the discussion if we disagree; we’re expected to strongly agree with the PC movement. In a world where “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all” is no longer accepted, the PC movement not only polices your words and actions, but also your thoughts. Perhaps President Obama said it best:

“I’ve heard some college campuses where they don’t want to have a guest speaker who is too conservative or they don’t want to read a book if it has language that is offensive to African-Americans or somehow sends a demeaning signal towards women. I gotta tell you, I don’t agree with that either. I don’t agree that you, when you become students at colleges, have to be coddled and protected from different points of view. I think you should be able to — anybody who comes to speak to you and you disagree with, you should have an argument with ‘em. But you shouldn’t silence them by saying, ‘You can’t come because I’m too sensitive to hear what you have to say.’ That’s not the way we learn either.”

President Obama is right. Silence does not educate. The way to convince people whom you disagree with is to engage and debate with their ideas. The PC craze silences the discussion before it even starts. Because the discussion ends prematurely, the “offensive” party never has their opinions changed. They merely learn that their views could be considered racist, sexist, or homophobic. Even if the end goal is progressive thought, silencing the discussion cannot convince someone that their views need to be changed.

Unfortunately, the PC craze has implanted itself firmly in the consciousness of the Claremont Colleges. The recent campus protests are far from the first sightings of political correctness run amok in Claremont. Refusing to engage an entity in discussion, however, does not change anyone’s opinions. Though I’m not about to defend George Will’s remarks, Will and other silenced voices are, if anything, more stubbornly convinced of their opinions. There’s no room to expand students’ horizons by listening to other views, considering the arguments, and agreeing to disagree with peers. In PC culture, if two people don’t agree on a hot-button issue, we are taught not to separate the idea from the person but to link the two inextricably.

I don’t want to equate the PC craze with left-wing thought, especially in light of President Obama’s remarks. Classical liberalism, in its purest form, advocates for universal liberty. The Democratic Party, unlike the Republican Party, yields significant support for legalizing marijuana and abolishing the death penalty. The Republican Party can be just as guilty of silencing minority voices as the Democratic Party.

I remember, as a junior high school student, my pastor would invite a resident political enthusiast up to the microphone. The speaker would talk about the upcoming election, throw in a line about how she had prayed about each and every proposition and had “laid hands on her ballot” and told us how she felt God was leading her to vote. The speaker would instruct each member of the congregation which propositions to vote yes and no. We received brochures with the church’s logo stamped in the corner with a voting guide for the propositions and candidates. The dialogue carried over into the parking lot, and people who didn’t agree with the church’s narrative were looked down on. The right wing can also be guilty of subduing discussion by imposing its own narrative and agenda on people. Nevertheless, in light of recent events (particularly at the Claremont Colleges), the right wing is far less culpable of silencing discussion than the left.

Colleges ought not to shy away from discussions surrounding race, sexuality, and gender. In order to have a healthy discussion about tough, sensitive issues, we need mutual respect between the parties. Calling someone a communist, a racist, a homophobe, a flaming liberal, or any other slur ties the person to their ideas and fosters feelings of bitterness between both parties. Currently, when a student engulfed in PC culture encounters someone whom they disagree with, the response is to either convince them that their opinion is wrong or reject them from friend circles. The third, more reasonable, option of remaining friends with that person and simply agreeing to disagree is completely foreign. If we are willing to reacquaint ourselves with people who hold views that we don’t agree with, we keep an open mind to considering the prospect of being wrong. A friend once told me “If you don’t change at least one belief in college, you’re doing it wrong.”

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Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

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