LttE: In response to the Feminist Collective to encourage civil discourse

Matthew Thompson


To the editor,
On February 24, The Observer published a letter from the Feminist Collective (FCC) that expressed how diverse political thought should be stifled on campus to protect the personhood of “marginalized” students. As a conservative, I’d like to offer a counterpoint to the anti-free speech sentiments expressed by the FCC.
They open, “Politics do not exist in a vacuum[…] meaning all policies—from trade deals to abortion regulation—greatly affect our everyday lives.”
Agreed, but I fail to see the connection between policy-making in Washington, which affects all of us, and political discussion on campus, which intellectually stimulates its participants, but, comparably, affect no one.
The FCC then provides a narrow definition for diversity: “The presence of marginalized individuals represents diversity, but variety in political ideology is unnecessary because “political opinions are a personal choice.”
Sasha Issenberg of New York Magazine, argues political opinions may be less of a choice than the FCC would have you think. Citing moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s book, “The Righteous Mind,” she writes that our political thought is simply “moral instinct, papered over, post facto, with ideological rationalization.” James Fowler, a social scientist at the University of California San Diego, believes he has identified genetic predictors of political ideology. Ultimately, political views are a sum of moral instinct, genetics and life experiences. If ‘diversity’ is synonymous with lack of choice, then political differences should be included.
But is lack of choice even necessary for something to fall under the umbrella of diversity? As students, we choose our field of study, and as a biochemistry major, I would argue that being surrounded by more than just biochemistry majors is just as valuable to my education as being surrounded by people of different races, religions and ethnicities. Likewise, diversity of political ideology needs to be encouraged, and per CWRU’s mission statement, “free exchange of ideas” is one of the promises of a Case Western Reserve University education. Notice there’s no caveat reading, ‘free exchange of ideas that you agree with.’
The FCC justifies silencing conservatives by saying the conservative experience on campus is incomparable to the oppression of marginalized groups such as Native Americans via the Dakota Access Pipeline. This is, however, a misunderstanding of what conservatives are asking for. We’re not looking to play the victim card; we’re simply looking for the opportunity to have open dialogue. If you’re convinced your views are correct, you should want dialogue just as much as we do. Political discourse on a college campus might not carry with it any policy ramifications, but it can certainly be used to change people’s perspectives on issues. Rather than silencing us, debate with us, show us where we’re wrong, and convince us that your way is better.
But herein lies the problem. The FCC sees political discourse with conservatives as “unconstructive,” “unhealthy, and abusive,” because conservatives “actively deny and undermine the existence of other individuals.” To pretend that conservative ideology denies the personhood of anyone who isn’t a white male is repulsive and intellectually dishonest. Please tell me where, in the constitutionally conservative doctrine, these people are viewed as less than. And to be clear: The alt-right and Donald Trump are not conservative, they’re nationalist populists. Conservatives grapple with the same problems the left does—healthcare, poverty, crime—they just propose different solutions. Let’s discuss the merit of the solutions, not make unfounded character attacks against all conservatives.
What makes America great is the open exchange of ideas that comes with freedom of speech. This means that everyone gets to express their views without fear of persecution. This includes the alt-right and Neo-Nazis, as repugnant as their views might be. In 1977, Joseph Burton, a Jewish lawyer, defended the rights of Neo-Nazis to peacefully assemble because he knew it was their Constitutional right. So, no, you don’t get to punch Richard Spencer in the face, and you don’t get to riot at UC Berkeley to prevent Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking. When those groups speak, allow them their right to free speech, but let’s you (the FCC) and I stand alongside each other to tell them why they’re wrong. Because those are the people who deny personhood to non-whites, etc. simply based on their identity. As conservative and leftist, let’s learn to engage with each other in respectful political discourse, and let’s acknowledge that we both have a common enemy in anyone who denies the humanity of any citizen of our great country.
Since FCC closed with a quote, I guess I’ll do the same. Here’s the First Amendment. Let’s defend it: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Matthew Thompson