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

11 thoughts on “Let’s Agree to Disagree: Calling a Truce to the Abuse”

  1. Here we go again, another rich white male telling ME what to do!!! Maybe if republicans weren’t always oppressing minorities then we’d listen to you!

    1. Clera, as a conservative Latinx student on campus, I am offended by your statement that all Republican / conservative supporters are white and male. Your comment silences and oppresses people like me who support these ideas but are forced to remain silent in order to fit in. How are all POC’s supposed to feel comfortable on these campuses when you issue demeaning statements like that?

    2. Here, take it from a (unfortunately, rich) ‘minority’: he’s right. Maybe if you stopped politicizing your already ad hominem argument, we’d listen to you!

  2. I think this article has some good points. For conversation to happen, all parties need to be open to listening to the other side and have a respect for individual’s opinions and beliefs. On both sides, people need to get off of their soapboxes and “holier than thou” attitudes. However, I disagree with the comparison made with the church. While people may have been getting judged harshly for having different opinions, that is not systematic oppression of marginalized communities. What I’ve found works best for me when talking to people who’s beliefs are different from my own is to ask them why they think that and try and get an understanding that leads to conversation. Back up the statements and opinions you have with evidence, and then have a discussion and try to find common ground. But both parties need to be open for this happen, which is, more often than not, not the case.

    I think it is also important to know when having an opinion on something is appropriate . If a group of people is telling you what they need, why should there be any disagreement? “We _____ don’t like the term _____ and would like to be called _____.” “Okay.” Why does that have to be labeled as over PC? If we replace the words “Politically Correct” with “Being a polite and decent human being” how does the message change? How hard is it to listen to viewpoints that are different? Or to accept that there are some experiences that you will never experience or understand?

    1. “If a group of people is telling you what they need, why should there be any disagreement?”

      Ugh! Thank you! We white people need the POC on campus to describe actual examples of institutional racism they experience on campus before acquiescing to a POC wish list of demands that will cost all students tens of millions of dollars in increased tuition. Put another way, each solution should be matched to a problem.

  3. I just want to clarify that this author, and many others of the opposition, have failed to understand the phrase “silence is violence.” Furthermore, they have perpetuated their misinterpretations. This phrase refers to the institutional silence that has and does serve as the only answer to marginalized students asking for help and validation. By silence, it is meant lack of support and action to help people who are being discriminated against. If you see something wrong happening, something that hurts people in your community, something like institutionalized racism, and you do nothing, you enact violence on those people. The phrase DOES NOT mean, if you speak in favor of this movement publicly, you are being violent. Rather, it refers to the damage that silent onlookers cause when they allow themselves to be complicit in the harm of innocent others.

    If people against this movement were willing to engage in real dialogue, as they so often say they wish to, they would be willing to ask that others clarify this phrase. Instead, you have taken it and mutilated it for your own ends.

      1. That’s exactly what you just said though. You literally just claimed that silence about perceived injustice constitutes violence against the supposed oppressed. You and the author are in complete agreement about the meaning of the phrase. Under your ideology choosing not to engage is no longer acceptable. You’re either with them or against them.

        “If you see something, say something” has the potential to lead to unpleasant scenarios . Call out culture can turn very ugly very quickly and lead to mob rule.

  4. I appreciate the last paragraph of this article and your suggestions towards remaining cordial despite differences. While individuals may live out different paths and express different degrees of commitment and/or rejection to particular topics of life or politics, I agree that we should be able to live amongst each and every person as fellow human beings without attacks on character or threatening of safety. I think the complexities begin at that point: What do people define as attacks on character and threats to their own safety?

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