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7 May 2002 (Tuesday): you over there, on the right

Thank you, Salon. I've found a conservative I don't mind reading: David Horowitz. He's provocative as all hell, I realize, but at least he makes me think rather than shake my head in disgust at yet another example of narrowminded idiocy.

His latest column attacks the woefully imbalanced representation of the political spectrum on college campuses: everyone on the left, no one on the right. It brought back a few memories of my own undergraduate experience. Real political dialogue seemed dangerously absent -- not so much in the information we were given, as Horowitz complains, but in the mindset of my peers.

I went to school in California, and "No on Prop 209" was the party line my freshman year; anyone who wondered aloud whether affirmative action was really a good idea was promptly branded a racist. When Dinesh D'Souza debated Jesse Jackson in the main auditorium, D'Souza was booed and hissed throughout while Jackson was cheered with standing ovations every other sentence. Everyone who came with me thought that D'Souza was a jerk, but that his arguments actually made sense, while Jackson's speeches were mostly MLK Jr. wannabe theatrics. None of us dared to say any of this above a whisper.

Later when I was studying American history and race relations, I took a seminar where we examined primary source documents on early 20th-century California. The discussions tended to follow a pattern: ridicule the silly white people, venerate the struggling minorities, shake heads over how people could ever have been so terribly ignorant and intolerant. I was uncomfortable with this. No one seemed to notice the striking similarities between people then and people now: the way we tend to simply swallow the ideology we're fed, the cultural assumptions we're surrounded by and encouraged to adopt, because it takes so much courage and conviction to do otherwise. In that room full of ultra-liberal students, I wasn't brave enough to suggest that maybe some of the Issei were more loyal to Japan than to the U.S. in 1942, that maybe if it came down to it they would have served their mother country. That as horribly unjust as the internment was, maybe there was good reason to be afraid. I imagine there was someone in that military conference room back in 1942 who wondered whether this internment was a rather un-American and racist thing to be doing, and didn't say anything.

I know, I know: we're young, we're college kids, we're supposed to take up radical causes and half-unwittingly change the world for the better through our naive enthusiasm. We're here to offset the Silent Majority, that still wants high fructose corn syrup in its Twinkies and nine miles per gallon for its SUVs. Perspective comes later. Everyone gets cranky and conservative in their old age, right? But I'm squirming because I'm often asked to wave a flag for something I don't quite believe. Affirmative action does strike me as misguided, reparations for slavery even more so. Corporations aren't all perfect but they aren't all evil either. And we had to do something about the September 11 attack. I'm looking for people who give voice to these nagging sentiments in me -- who give voice to them eloquently. I want to hear what the other side has to say.

posted by enjelani @ 08:57 PM PST

Replies: 4 comments

Funny... I, too, went to school in CA, but there was a huge Republican faction at SDSU. Of course, San Diego is still pretty Republican.

I agree that what is missing from most of our editorial media is balanced argument from either side. I guess I am a bit biased in that I find a grossly disproportionate number of intelligent arguments on the liberal side of the spectrum (as long as one doesn't go to close to the edge...walking the edge on any issue is bound to bring out baseless dogma). Engaging debate can, like nothing else, strengthen and inform a sound opinion and change and augment a weak one.

I do try to remember, though, how important the extremists are in some ways, though, even when I am frustrated with them. Without the KKK, we wouldn't be half as aware of even the lesser bigotry that exists. Without PETA, the plight of animals being unfairly used and abused would be nearly invisible to us.

I, too, enjoy (tho am often enflamed by) Horowitz, and am a proud Salon shareholder - the only shares I have, which were bought as a show of support when stocks were plummeting.

posted by Moonpuddle @ 07 05 2002 09:53 PM PST

[insert usual cynical rant about the commodification of "news", issues, war, scandal ... a balanced report would be too bland, after all can't sell ads if your product's dull! ... and the resulting idiocracy and utterly moronic attempt to create a less educated, more malleable and vulnerable consumer pool for the sake of *this* quarter's profits ... !grrrr! ]

sorry. my real comment was that while i agree that a balance of ideas should certainly be fundamental to a college curriculum, i don't see Horowitz's essay as anything other than a complaint that most of higher ed students and faculty isn't conservative and that he makes less money than his liberal peers on the circuit. and franky, i don't feel much sympathy for him. i mean ... sorry! *shrug* what are you gonna do? there's a correlation between liberalism and higher education. i'm not sure which way the causality works there, if it's as simple as that, but i could do a bang-up job complaining that most of corporate and agribusiness America is the "ideological subsidary" of the Republican party, and that if those institutions had their way, we'd all be cancerous, lobotomized slaves to the wealthy one percent. oh, wait ... :p

and anyway, it sounds to me like Vanderbilt's Student Finance Committee is doing its job: "to fund activities that will have broad campus appeal ...." well, if your campus is mostly liberal, liberal speakers will probably have a broader appeal than conservative speakers.

but yeah, i know that's the problem, and that's what you're on about, enjelani. we all find comfort in the reinforcement of our worldview and prefer to avoid challenges to it, which is what college is supposed to be about. and as you know i relate to what you said about the pressure to conform to the "anti-conformists." there is a problem here, that Horowitz's essay can remind us of, but i don't think it has anything to do with left-wing or right-wing. it's polarization and rigidity. imbalance, i suppose.

i actually wrote a longer comment than this originally because i got annoyed at Horowitz's immaturity, his tendency to make indirect accusations and intimations, the inflammatory, sneaky sophistry of his essay. but i'll spare your comments page from more of my emotional, unbalanced rants. :) he might've hit on something true, but it was as a means to his ends, rather than the end itself. i think "provocative" was the right word. his is not good writing, balanced thought. it's just more entertainment, another commodity, i suppose. sigh.

posted by Zach @ 08 05 2002 01:19 AM PST

College is a bit like high school in that you really want to fit in even if you don't realize it at the time, and even if you're a dork like I was. A good way to meet interesting people and hang out with pretty girls is to be The Good Liberal. Being a liberal also gains access to social events, makes for easier and more open, intelligent conversation with peers in dorm rooms, and makes you feel as though you're gaining a sense of purpose in your campus existence, which is really the whole point of higher education.

Conservatives have a tough time on campus. They give their opinion and it's like they have thumbs growing out of their foreheads -- no one wants to be around the freaks.

I like to get all sides on an issue before deciding what my opinion is. This is tough on campus when the cool kids only go to Earth Day and anti-war rallies. You don't see too many hot babes at the pro-NRA rally. I don't mean to say that the only reason people have left leanings is because of a need to fit in. But it's true that peer acknowledgement (something quite different from 'peer pressure') is a factor.

I wonder if this is one of the reasons people tend to get more conservative the more removed they get from college. They start exposing themselves to the other side and their support group is gone, so everything that was suppressed when you were 20 years old suddenly comes pouring out. If there was more of a balance in college, and more respect and (yes) social acceptance of the right side of the spectrum, people might not be so enticed to drift over to the dark side of the spectrum. Balance is always a good thing.

And yes, I still hate George Bush. :)

posted by soren @ 08 05 2002 10:40 AM PST

on the issue of what "sells" when it comes to news: your cynical rant is definitely valid there, Zach. and i think the way to fix it is...well, to put it arrogantly, to create more intelligent people. more people who participate actively in civic life and who are interested in the real issues, interested in hearing all sides of the issue and more in-depth analysis than the usual soundbites. the reality of democratic societies is that they become what the people want them to be, and if the people want Hollywood, that's what they'll get.

(hell, i know i'm part of the problem. i'll still gravitate toward critiques of Oscar night dresses at the magazine rack, and ignore a text-only analysis of the economic crisis in Argentina. shame on me, shame. :)

the only way to change that is through the educational system -- starting from preschool on, of course, but it's equally critical to foster truly independent thinking on college campuses. the academic world is one place where popularity and appeal should not be the deciding factor in whether something gets airtime. if students are going to get Aaron McGruder's opinion on America, they should get David Horowitz's too. sure, Horowitz is being shrill and taking it all more personally than maybe he should, but add him to the mix and things get more balanced out as a whole. i shiver every time i see a flyer for a lecture on how there's actually no environmental crisis -- but viewpoints like that need to be heard, and challenged after they've had a chance to speak their piece.

all right, bring it on. tell me where i'm wrong here. :)

posted by enjelani @ 08 05 2002 03:20 PM PST