When it comes to politics, pick a fight

Loyal Opposition

Last semester, The Daily Californian ran a front-page story titled, “Life in the political closet: A glimpse into the Berkeley College Republicans.” The article examined the experiences of young conservatives at a university famous for its left-leaning ideology. As a member of BCR since my freshman year, I am quite familiar with many of my fellow conservatives’ assessments of life in the political minority. But, while UC Berkeley is famous (or infamous) for its liberal culture, it is by no means unique — or even unusual — among universities in its political disposition. Having spent most of my formative years growing up outside Sacramento with friends who were either liberal or apolitical, and having come of age during the current administration, I have considered what it would be like to be a young, liberal Democrat, surrounded by a majority of people who share my views, during the Barack Obama presidency.

How utterly, indescribably boring that must be.

I suppose there must be times and places where young conservatives are equally surrounded by like-mindedness. But young people — those most likely to be carefree, pay little or no taxes and possess an innocence unspoilt by the harsh actuality of the world — are largely liberal, at least until, in the words of Irving Kristol, they are “mugged by reality.” They also played a significant role in the election (and re-election) of Obama. Such tendencies would seem to indicate that young men and women, especially those in the clutches of academia, are more likely to find themselves surrounded by liberals than by conservatives.

There is certainly nothing wrong with having friends and peers who share your political beliefs. Even on their respective sides of the aisle, the ideological beliefs of individual conservatives and liberals can vary a great deal, and there are benefits to discussing politics with those who share the same values that you do.

But one must always be careful to avoid creating an ideological echo chamber. When you surround yourself entirely with those who mostly agree with you, there is no challenge to your beliefs. If you and all your friends make the same arguments in support of the same ideas, then there is no one to give the opposing arguments or point out the flaws in the ideas. If we are never challenged, we can never develop an articulate defense of our principles; like a muscle we never exercise, our political arguments and our defenses of our beliefs become weak. By never facing a real opponent, we instead fight straw men. We become dismissive of opinions different from ours and of those who hold them, seeing them as silly, deluded and foolish.

I have found that if I am not careful, I can create my own echo chamber: Between my friends in BCR, my conservative family members and the publications I enjoy reading, it is easy for me to listen only to that which reinforces my beliefs. When I catch myself doing this, I remind myself to listen more closely to my liberal friends and to seek out and read sources that challenge what I believe. But I imagine that it is easier for me, as a member of the political minority at UC Berkeley and in California, to break free of my comfort zone than for a liberal at a liberal university, in one of the bluest states in America, under the Obama administration.

This is where I come in. Beyond the occasional op-ed or article about the activities of BCR, there has not been a strong conservative or libertarian voice at this paper since my freshman year. I intend to change that. Once a week, I hope to add a conservative view to the overwhelmingly liberal atmosphere at Cal — a metaphorical “voice crying in the wilderness,” if you will. In a sense, an editorial version of the loyal opposition: adversarial toward, and opposed to, the campus’s dominant political ideology, but not toward those who share it.

My hope is that my writing will foster reflection, debate, a bit of excitement and the occasional laugh among those who disagree with me politically (and those who agree with me as well). If I force even one person to reconsider their position on an issue — even if they only reaffirm what they believe — then I will have succeeded. A university and a republic whose students and citizens have been forced to defend their principles is a better and stronger one.

Therefore, I welcome your thoughts and reactions to what I write here — torches, pitchforks and all. I earnestly hope for spirited debate (and, if I’m really lucky, maybe a bit of hate mail). As a reminder, I write as a conservative and libertarian, not for them; my thoughts and positions are my own. And not everything I write will be strictly adversarial, or even political. But I do hope that both you and I will be forced to think.

This is going to be fun.

Jacob F. Grant writes the Thursday political column. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @Jacob_at_Cal.