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Humble Conservatives

Mike Needham ’04 has a thoughtful post on conservatives at Williams.

So fine, a lot of conservative students may have a bit of a persecution complex. Let’s not forget, however, that there are a lot of student groups with persecution complexes out there. The difference is when a conservative says he feels threatened or discriminated against, faculty members rightly call him on the nonsense; when other minority group students do, the faculty tends to trip over itself to condemn the “pain caused to members of our community.”

Note that the link features a letter signed by my classmate Katie Kent ’88. Although I disagree with Katie about this — just as we disagreed about so many things 20 years ago — it is pleasing to see that Williams continues to hire and tenure such intelligent and passionate individuals. [Full disclosure: I am hoping to marry my daughter to Katie’s son 20 years from now. Then we can be in-laws! ;-)]

In any event, Needham goes in to note:

Many of the conservative pieces submitted to the Record, show a complete disdain for opposing viewpoints and it manifests itself in ugly polemics that seek not to convince, but rather to fracture. For example:

That someone may be offended, or feel hated, by a comment or argument doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be made (and if you disagree on that point, please don’t say so, it just might offend me). People need to be held responsible for their own feelings, and as politically incorrect as this may be: if my comments hurt your feelings, and I meant you no harm, it is your own problem.

Do I agree with the substance of this point? Whole-heartedly. Was it expressed in a way that showed any desire to contribute positively to campus dialogue? Absolutely not.

The question conservative students face is whether they are content to be angry and reactionary and feed fuel to the fire or whether we seek to engage ideas in a mature, humble manner.

Although I can’t comment on the typical style of conservative pieces submitted to the Record, the article by Oren Cass that Needham links to and quotes seem perfectly fine, even tame, to me. Then again, my own Record articles were not, uh, “humble.”

I think that Needham, perhaps only a little, undervalues the tone and style of discourse that Cass employs. It certainly isn’t humble. But, if you’re mind is even a little bit open, it does force you to think. I don’t agree with much of what Alexandra Grashkina writes at Rumor, but she writes so well (and in no way humbly!), that I am forced to think harder about my own opinions. Polemics, when done well, are an aid to education and dialogue, not a hindrance.

As always, and self-interestedly, I think that political discourse specifically — and overall education generally — would be better at Williams if there were a greater diversity of viewpoints. The real problem is not that there are too few conservative students (humble or otherwise), but that there are virtually no (outspoken) conservative faculty.