It finally happened. In the process of arguing a moderate political position, a friend of mine less than affectionately dubbed me "Republican Rob" simply because I had not taken the blue pill for Liberal Politics 101.
Now I am not one for partisan politics, as it has a tendency to corrupt the mind and weaken otherwise strong arguments. My friend certainly was aware of this, which made her comments all the more confusing. Since I don't recognize myself as a Republican, much less anything else, I had to try and understand why arguing moderate political points suddenly made me Bush's right-hand man.
Name-calling similar to what my friend did would seem to be the resort of an uninformed and immature dissenter, but in this case, it was much more than that. She knew my point and understood why I was making it, but rather than attack it on its grounds and merits, she criticized me because I "used to be cool," and by that she of course meant "liberal."
Apologies to my friend, but this kind of reaction is indicative of a greater problem on campus, which stifles actual discussion and creates a false consensus on issues where actual debate is necessary. This silent censorship that results from attitudes much like my friend's has been around for years. But the last place you would want or hope to find it is on a university campus, least of all, one that professes itself to be open-minded, tolerant and diverse.
However, it is readily apparent that at the University of Wisconsin, the only thing students are open to is liberal ideas; the only thing they are tolerant of is dissent on just how liberal policies should be, and the meaning of the word diversity is superficially limited to skin color and culture.
The right will often charge that this mentality is the result of universities rife with liberal professors and administrators who indoctrinate their students into Democratic Party peons. But, in this case, the professors and administrators are hardly the source of the problem. It is actually the students: students who argue so loudly that their opponents' points cannot be heard, who create an environment where conservative ideas are not even discussed and who won't even tolerate the ideas of their conservative counterparts when voiced.
What is lost in this is a genuine chance to change people's minds. If liberals so firmly believe their stance is correct, they should encourage genuine debate and listen to the ideas of their counterparts who have the ability to make strong, genuine contributions to discussions.
If you are already right, then you will have nothing to lose by listening, and if you gain nothing else from your conservative opponents, you will have at your disposal the ability to find new ways of approaching people whose minds you are so desirous to change.
However, as a prerequisite for discussion, you must be open to and listen to your opponent's ideas because without this you are certain to get one thing from your conservative adversaries: nothing.
Liberals tend to reject conservative ideas, because, and I am not the exception on this, most of us come from places that are considerably more conservative than Madison.
However, even if you do hail from Waukesha County, chances are someone has an idea or a political position that you have not heard and you could benefit from hearing. To see liberals silently censor ideas is certainly discouraging, especially given the lengthy history of conservative censorship of liberals.
While what liberals do on campus is not illegal according to the First Amendment, it is hardly within the spirit of the law, which has protected liberals and their ideas for so many years. Hypocrisy is certainly not a liberal or conservative value, and we should avoid making it one now.
Consequently, liberals on campus should face a choice: Either embody the mistakes of the past and censor your opponents or take the high road and avoid becoming what you apparently fear the most.
The best path to take: Just listen.
Robert Phansalkar ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in languages and cultures of Asia and political science.