Dispelling the Liberal vs. Conservative Dichotomy

We talk a lot about dialogue on this campus, mainly, how difficult it is for us to have it. Despite initiatives such as the Day of Dialogue and Amherst Reflects, we still haven’t learned how to respectfully speak with those whom we disagree with as a community. Yet, I think both of those events, and others, show us that it is possible to have these discussions, and for them to be productive. Though the Day of Dialogue was in many ways insufficient, the experience I had with my group in Amherst Reflects was intensely personal and impacting. Afterwards, I felt I had not only a greater intellectual understanding of the ways in which racism manifests itself on our campus, but an emotional understanding of the people experiencing this racism.

What makes dialogues like Amherst Reflects work is that they are based upon personal experience. Participants are encouraged to speak for themselves, and not for others. In turn, others take the statements made as reflections of an individual, and not a group. One of the largest obstacles obstructing dialogue on our campus is the polarization of discussion, especially surrounding advocacy for social justice, along lines of political ideology.

For example, critics and fans of AC Voice describe the publication as liberal, but I think most writers and editors would agree that we define ourselves as advocacy journalists more so than proponents of any specific political ideology. Liberalism and advocating for social justice are often perceived to be not only synonymous, but exclusive to one another, when I don’t think that is true. This is exacerbated by writers such as Robert Lucido, who self-identify as conservative while simultaneously undermining social movements, such as Black Lives Matter.

I mention Lucido by name not to frame this as a personal attack, as I know nothing about him personally, but to distinguish his ideas and writings from those of conservatives on our campus and beyond. Lucido does not speak for the majority of conservatives on campus, and it would be unfair for his ideas to come to represent the ideas of all conservative students.

I will not go into the intricacies of why I disagree with his threepartdebunking” of the Black Lives Matter movement, as Ethan Corey’s article from Thursday has done that far better than I could. But I will say this: by showing such a lack of empathy towards marginalized groups on campus, and your fellow student’s attempts to bring attention to and solve these issues, you not only invalidate your own claims of marginalization, but fuel the very stereotypes of conservative bigotry that you claim to work against. If the Amherst Republicans feel that their voices are silenced on this campus, then they should have been the first to stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. You cannot demand justice for your own perceived marginalization while simultaneously denying it to other groups, with far deeper and more complex histories of oppression than your own.

When the only conservative voice that students hear on campus defends the “All Lives Matter” campaign, attempts to ignore the reality of racialized police violence in the US, and then has the audacity to demand justice for the oppression of conservatives, unfortunately, most students will gain a negative perception of conservatives on this campus.

At the same time, liberals should make sure that they do not confuse critiquing Lucido or his ideas with critiquing conservatives as a whole on this campus. The ideas Lucido has proposed in many of his articles confirm the very stereotypes that he claims to work against, but Lucido is an individual, and it is important to critique him as such, and not paint all conservatives on campus with the same brush. We are all Amherst students, and we should try to let that mean something. We should view each other as individuals, not as representations of abstract political ideologies.

This dichotomy of liberal against conservative serves no one. It does not further the cause of social justice. All it accomplishes is the alleviation of guilt from the “good liberal” through the vilification of the conservative. Opinions on social equality are not, or at least should not be viewed as exclusively liberal or conservative. Many social issues have been forced onto this political spectrum, when I do not think that spectrum is valid when discussing social justice. Whether a woman should be able to marry another woman is not a belief that should fall into party lines.  Neither is closing the gender gap, or consent laws such as those passed in California. And, believe it or not, neither is the statement “Black Lives Matter.” Trigger warnings and political correctness are not signs of the “liberal agenda” infiltrating our institutions. It’s simply being aware of the life experiences as others and being empathetic towards that. There’s no ulterior motive. Those causes are not liberal causes. They are issues of a lack of basic humanity within our society, and they do all exist. These beliefs are simply a part of being a decent human being.

To make the claim that social equality is an exclusively liberal belief is detrimental from both the position of a conservative and liberal. For the conservative, in opposition to these social justice movements, it strips responsibility from one’s opinions. Suddenly, being opposed to gay marriage is a conservative, and not homophobic belief, both giving undue credibility to the homophobic argument and damaging the larger ideology of conservatism. For the liberal, it functions as a way to shield oneself from external and internal criticism, using the logic that if I am a liberal, and liberals advocate for social equality, I am therefore correct and those that criticize me are ignorant and wrong. The discussion of social justice needs to be stripped from this political spectrum that has infiltrated a variety of topics that have little to no intrinsic relation to said spectrum.

Even climate change, a contentious issue last semester, is not something that is inherently political. It is a scientific theory that has been proposed, and its validity discussed at length. Even if you disagree that climate change is real, you are claiming that there is a scientific reason the theory is invalid. Of course, there are various political interests at stake in the debate, but whether or not the phenomena exists has little to do with donkeys and elephants. Our vaccinations have been politicized! How has this country become so divided that we cannot agree to the use of the medicine that has eradicated diseases like measles, which have now returned and are causing measurable harm to our society?

It is unlikely that this will change in the country at large any time soon. But there is no need to replicate that toxic two-party system here at Amherst. We have a wide spectrum of beliefs, and many international students who come from countries with entirely different political climates than America. It makes no sense to clump all these opinions into “liberal” and “conservative,” and to do so damages the nature of our conversation on campus.

If someone is racist, or sexist or homophobic, it’s not because they are a conservative. It’s because of their own flaws. Bigoted people can be conservatives, liberals, independents, communists, green party members, just about anything. Perhaps the best example of this is Bill Mahers appearance on the Jimmy Kimmel show after the Charlie Hebdo incident. While proposing that Islam is an inherently violent religion, more so than others, he claims “I’m the liberal in this debate!” multiple times, as if his repetition of the statement would make it true, or that his political alignment as a democrat frees him of Islamophobia.

Thinking of bigotry or intolerance as inherently conservative beliefs is unfair to conservatives, but also damaging to liberals, and all those in between or entirely outside of that spectrum. As the infamous Avenue Q song goes, “everyone’s a little bit racist.” It is important, for both liberals, conservatives, and all others, that we are more fearful of perpetrating racism than being called racist. Our first instinct should not be to find various ways to dispel that accusation (by claiming we’re “good liberals,” or marginalized conservatives), but to be introspective and recognize our own flaws and biases. The truth is, prejudice in some form exists within all of us. To deny that it is there, or to claim it only exists within those of a certain political belief, is to avoid confronting it within ourselves.

(Image courtesy of Addicting Info)