How academia and popular culture stifle understanding and foster hostility.
If you will come to me and say ‘let us sit down and take counsel together, and, if we differ from one another, understand why it is that we differ from one another, just what the points at issue are,’ we will presently find that we are not so far apart after all, that the points on which we differ are few and the points on which we agree are many, and that if we only had the patience and the candor and the desire to get together, we will get together.
— President Woodrow Wilson (D)
I started this piece as a response to the riots last week at Berkley and NYU, but at this point everything I could say about these “protests” has already been said. Instead, I want to address the general atmosphere of hysteria that these events so viscerally captured. The utter divisiveness and near shutdown of productive political conversation has taken place not just college campuses like my own, but all around the country. I believe that the hostility and divisiveness towards those with a different view is due an ideological echo chamber the left has created for itself.
I notice this echo chamber being especially prevalent in my environment at a large liberal university. However, elements extend into nearly every facet of mainstream American culture. Yes, hard-left protesters attempt to literally shut out dissenting voices from their campuses, but the mainstream left, thanks to a culture-wide echo chamber of thought, has removed consideration for views of the “other side” in much the same way. This ideological uniformity in mainstream culture, and especially in institutes of higher education is unproductive, unhealthy, and not getting us anywhere.
Instead of challenging ideas to either strengthen or adapt a student’s beliefs, a liberal student’s preconceived notions and biases are reaffirmed by their professors, mainstream news media, their peers, and celebrity/popular culture. Mainstream news outlets push a narrative that confirms their preconceived notions, and late night comedians make fun of all the people they believe to be intellectually and morally inferior. Those who do not go out of their way to hear truly different opinions can remain comfortably inside their progressive bubbles. In “safe-spaces” students are completely protected from different ideas and opinions, and the only interaction with views of the “other side” through the interpretation of left-leaning thinkers. Casual, non-politically minded liberals are practically only talking to one another, and many don’t even realize it. By contrast, Conservative and libertarian students are acutely aware of their professors’ biases and inaccurate portrayal of those students’ viewpoints.
From as soon as I was taught about the terms in early high school I had subconsciously dumbed down liberal and conservative ideologies as “people who want to make the world better” vs “people who don’t.” When I discovered geniune conservative and libertarian commentary I felt that curtain had been lifted, and realized that I’d only been exposed to one side of the debate.
The real differences in ideology weren’t being portrayed honestly or accurately by my teachers, professors, preferred news sources. I had incorrectly assumed that the conclusions I came to about my political positions were my own. In reality, my politics were based on an incomplete gathering of information and a purposeful neglect to give the “other side” any consideration. I realized that professors, were actively placing their personal biases and agenda above objective truth, purposely misrepresenting other opinions, and conditioning students to believe the same things as them.
Escaping ideological uniformity and entertaining different perspectives gave me real control over my beliefs. I had gained a vitally missing part of my political comprehension, some understanding for the other side.
Two years since “escaping the echo-chamber”, I’ve somehow become the token ‘conservative’ of my friend group. This means I’m often put on the defensive, having to justify my political opinions and reasoning to my legitimately 100% liberal set of friends. I’m often struck by just how little the average casual liberal student actually understands about conservative positions or ideology. Many seem to just “know” it’s wrong.
I’ve had multiple friends confess that in the protection of their public education and liberal colleges, it’s easy to go through their first 22 years of life without having to directly confront truly different ideas head on, or defend their own. I see this as a failure of higher education, and an obvious causation in the breakdown of our political discourse. The problem isn’t that a lot of college-aged liberals disagree with conservatives, the problem is that many don’t know any conservatives.
The Trump Bomb
If the “echo-chamber” is a metaphorical bunker, then the election of Donald Trump was a nuclear bomb going off just outside. As nice as life inside the bunker might be, it’s pretty hard to ignore the atomic bomb that is Donald Trump.
Something that stuck out to me watching my friends and family’s reaction to the fateful 8th of November was a feeling of confusion. From inside the protected bubble of traditional academic/liberal discourse, a Trump victory seemed impossible. In fairness, if your only sources of information were the mainstream outlets, you’re justified to be shocked at the results. The left’s monopoly on mainstream culture creates a false equivalence of information. If everyone is getting the same information from the same sources, it would reason that the only people who disagree with the accepted narrative either aren’t paying attention or might even be racist-sexist-bigots who are just afraid of a woman in the white house.
Wasn’t everyone watching John Oliver? Wasn’t everyone reading Huffington Post? Didn’t everyone see how much of a sexist old white man Trump was? How could anyone vote against the “most qualified person” to ever run for president? She was going to continue Obama’s legacy, and doesn’t everyone love Obama?…
While I didn’t support Trump myself, I had interacted with and read enough of his supporters that I understood why people were voting for him. They had their own logical reasoning and personal understanding of issues that just wasn’t being related to most of the casual liberals caught up in mainstream discourse.
The lack of understanding for the views and rationale of the other half of the country quickly manifested itself into anger. A lot of this anger seemed focused on intellectually dishonest, low-effort ideas like “white America”, “sexism”, or even the “patriarchy.” This kind of “explanation” for the Trump victory is a massive oversimplification/distortion of the very complex political and cultural underpinnings that determine elections. When you don’t take the time to consider other peoples perspectives, it’s easy to become angry at a world that looks ignorant, hateful, or outright evil.
From inside the echo chamber of casual liberalism, it’s easy to see anyone who doesn’t think the same as simply not being as educated, ethical, or intellectual as yourself. I’ve seen some of the most non-political people I know openly slander Trump supporters (who they probably don’t even know) on Facebook and Twitter. It’s become so culturally accepted to label people who don’t agree with you as horrible things and to openly regard those people as intellectually or morally inferior. I don’t care what you think about Trump, this is not way to have productive dialogue.
I’m not here to defend Trump. I was just as repulsed as many of you were by some his statements and he never earned my vote. Still though, I understood some key reasons for his support. It’s clear from the reaction to his election that few else did. The hateful, sometimes violent reactions seen at Berkely is a perfect example of the larger societal problem with an ideological echo chamber. The left’s near-total monopoly on mainstream culture isolates itself from anyone who doesn’t think the same. The casual liberal doesn’t just disagree with the Trump voter, they don’t know the Trump voter.
Do you think the rioters at UC Berkley have any right-leaning friends? Do you think they actively engage with people that hold a ‘radically’ different political opinion than themselves? Do they listen to someone like Milo Yinnapolous, Gavin Mclinnes, or Ben Shapiro speak?
Speaking of… do you?
The only way to break out of this comfortable world of accepted thought is to make a conscious effort to challenge yourself. Listen to what those who think different than you are actually saying, not just what is being interpreted for you by late night comedy. You’re not going to become a free thinker on the left or the right unless you trust yourself to come to your own conclusions, rather than being swept along in the intellectual and cultural currents of our time.
I’m not telling you to agree with me or anyone else, but I know that everyone benefits by taking an objective look at the root of their beliefs, and engaging with a larger and more diverse set of ideas. I lived inside the padded walls of liberal academia for the first 19 years of my life. While the outside world is a lot more complicated, it’s also a lot more interesting.
Why not challenge yourself? Either you’re going to strengthen your own beliefs or change your beliefs to better fit with new information presented. Most importantly though, you will gain an understanding for the other side. If you’re going to change anyone’s mind, you have to know what they think in the first place.
I’ve linked some of my favorite twitter accounts. Not all “Right-wingers” by any stretch — but all interesting, intelligent people with something different to say.
Many of the above people have a YouTube presence, but here are some especially good channels linked for easy viewing.
Thanks for reading. This is a hugely divisive time in American politics, but it doesn’t have to be. I’m trying to do my part to bridge the gap and provide something new to the conversation. I’m really hoping to get feedback and continue writing over this next year. If you have a comment, correction, criticism, or want to tell me I’m an idiot, put it below or message me on twitter. I’m more than happy to have a conversation.
PS: Please follow my cousin Peter Milionis on Medium as well.