Just Ask Me Why: A Plea From a Conservative at Swat

To begin I want to acknowledge my privilege as a straight white male.  I will never be able to understand being targeted for my race, gender, or sexuality. Yet, acknowledging all of this – I still face judgement.

I picked Swat very intentionally.

Senior year of high school I was deciding between Lehigh, Villanova, and Swarthmore. Lehigh and Villanova are two schools dominated by straight white male athletes in fraternities. I fit into all of those categories. Would I have been be happier at either one of those schools than I would be at Swat? Hell yeah I would. But would my right-leaning beliefs ever be challenged? Probably not.

As a conservative student, I knew I wouldn’t fit the mold of the typical Swarthmore student. I knew that at times I would feel very alone.

I also knew that I would grow as a person, and my beliefs would be challenged. I would have to argue twice as hard as everyone else in order for my voice to be heard. And at times, I would have bite my tongue instead of being able to have to have a constructive conversation. I knew that I would graduate Swarthmore College knowing what I truly believe and knowing exactly how to articulate those beliefs.

So I picked Swarthmore. Since then…

On the first day of school, another student, now a good friend of mine, performed a rap at the open mic outside Sharples. He talked about killing people that watched Fox News. He talked about how Ronald Reagan was one of the worst things that ever happened to this country.

While this student was very eloquent and passionate — everything I look for in a rapper — this made me feel very unwelcome on campus. I didn’t think that I was going to be able to spend another four years here.

Two weeks later, I wore a Reagan-Bush shirt out on a Saturday night. I went up to a group of people who I had previously become friendly with, and tried to start a conversation. One of the boys told me to “fuck off.” I had no idea what the problem was… until he pointed at my shirt, and the same student said, “don’t come near us with that.” He didn’t ask WHY I was wearing the shirt.

I decided to pledge Delta Upsilon fraternity.  When a girl said to one of my fellow pledges, “Oh wow! You’re pledging DU that’s so cool! You must love raping girls too!” and proceeded to walk away, she didn’t ask WHY I wanted to pledge DU.

On September 11th, I complained to the administration because the flag above Parrish was not lowered to half-mast, and proceeded to wait outside Parrish until the flag was lowered. In response, members of the community posted Yik Yak comments such as, “Lol at the proud Republican pretending to be sad on 9/11. Classic example of misguided patriotism.”

I wish people would just ask me WHY.

The one thing that all Swatties have in common is that we question and refuse to take anything at face value. Everyone here is so smart and open-minded, and I wish all of you would use those traits when you see me around campus.

Many of you may want to call me an ‘ignorant asshole’ but no one ever asks WHY about my beliefs. I want to sit down with you and have a constructive conversation. I want to have my mind opened and beliefs challenged.

I didn’t come here to pick fights. I just want to learn from all of you, and it has not been very easy.

If you had asked me why, I’d say:

I wear a Ronald Reagan shirt because he made most American citizens love America again, and he made our enemies fear us; however, I acknowledge that his economic policies contributed to the horrific gap between the rich and the poor that plagues our country today.

I pledged DU not in order to get drunk and hook up with girls. I pledged DU because I am on the baseball team and my friends are members of the fraternity. I pledged DU because it is my safe space on campus whenever I feel unwelcome; however, I acknowledge that bad things happen at fraternities and believe we need to rethink fraternity culture.

I mourn on 9/11, because I love this country more than anything. I mourn on 9/11 because I know many people that have served or are serving in the military. I mourn because I live in New Jersey and the devastation and horror of that day were so close to my home.  However, I acknowledge that Islamophobia is a disgusting thing, and I even bought the Quran over break to better understand the religion.

The first step towards change is understanding the other side. If you want us conservatives to change, let us in! Instead of always denouncing us, approach us nicely and just ask WHY.

Even more importantly, why not just put politics aside and worry about whether we have other things in common like music, sports, books, hobbies, or anything! Can’t we all just get along?


Did you like this article? Consider joining the DG! Open staff meetings are every Monday at 6:30 p.m. in Kohlberg; or email us at editors@daily.swarthmore.edu.

33 comments

  1. 6
    Ian G '18 says:

    I for one think it’s great to have differing viewpoints on campus. It keeps us from becoming total ideologues and reminds us that the other side isn’t some 100% pure evil force.

    As an atheist and a Bernie Sanders-supporting socialist, I gotta say that while I disagree with most of Reagan’s policies, hating somebody just for wearing a Reagan shirt is a dick move. Isn’t the whole point of social liberalism to accept people for their differences? If we can’t accept these differences, are we really any better than the Donald Trump supporters who called me a “commie pig” and told me to “go back to Libtard-stan” for wearing an Obama 2008 shirt? If we refuse to even ask why someone’s wearing a political shirt and instead judge the person by their clothes, what does that say about us?

    Well, you’ve got my support, for what I’m worth. 🙂 Pure ideology, from either side, inevitably results in radicalization and civil strife, and we have enough of that already from the militia-movement nuts in Oregon, Trump, and the Tumblr echo chamber.

  2. 5
    Prospective parent says:

    I have read this posting and the ensuing discussion with great interest. We’re about to drive through Pennsylvania to visit colleges (our son is a junior) and have a visit to Swarthmore on the agenda. Our son highly values dialogue and respect between liberals and conservatives, as do I. The discussion here is heartening, though ultimately I do note a certain hostility to alternative (non-“liberal”) viewpoints that Justin Pontrella details. Party and political alliances are complicated; the fact is that we all have many values and interests in common across the spectrum. Kudos to Justin Pontrella for asking that his fellow “Swatties” be less judgmental about labels, and more open to getting to know him as a human being. And kudos to the fellow students who responded positively to that.

  3. 5
    Maurice Eldridge says:

    Dear Justin, I am in your corner and understand well your plea. I hope others hear your voice and open themselves to engage with those who believe differently from them. How else will we learn if we do not acknowledge our common humanity first, then move to the non-judgmental conversation that will help each of us grow. I admire your courage in speaking up so clearly and civilly. Maurice

  4. 4
    Alum '15 says:

    Wow, SN, kudos for proving the author’s point. You simultaneously make unkind assumptions about Justin while trying to (sympathetically) read the minds of the folks who insulted him. Physician, heal thyself.

    He’s not arguing that his explanations prove he’s been right all along. He’s saying that he wants a chance to defend himself before someone’s hostile to him based on something as superficial as his fraternity house.

    And you know what, screw your cynicism, people DO adjust their worldview when they’re outside of an echo-chamber and confronted with challenging ideas. I certainly did. Do you consider yourself one of the few with “intellectual self-honesty,” I wonder? Give me a break.

  5. 4
    Alum '15 says:

    Nice piece. Us Swarthmore liberals need to get a grip and engage with people whose ideas aren’t in lockstep with ours. The whole point of activism isn’t to preach to the choir, after all, it’s to share ideas with people open to adopting them… and listening to what they have to say, too. Stupid how people forget that and act like the assholes they’re trying to denounce.

    Also: the flag wasn’t at half-mast on 9/11? What even? Islamophobia has nothing to do with wanting a national catastrophe to be acknowledged, geez.

  6. 3
    Max Wickel says:

    Well written. Sorry your not having the easiest time, just keep in mind not all liberals are like that (just like not all conservatives are the way they are portrayed in the news). The one thing I would always try and do if I were you is to approach conflict with a Socratic method. Keep a level head, try to find the root of the problem, and work from there. Good luck

  7. 3
    Senior says:

    I admire your courage for speaking up about your experiences and your willingness to listen to others’ points of view. I’ve definitely struggled with voicing my opinions when they fall in the middle of the political spectrum instead of the far left. I sincerely hope more students are able to listen to other points of view instead of shutting out anyone who doesn’t agree with them.

  8. 3
    Conservative Staff says:

    I agree. I am also a conservative working on this campus and feel like I need to keep my mouth shut because when I try to engage in political conversation I am made to feel like an alien. Everyone should be able to feel comfortable speaking about their political views and we should be open to a good relevant conversation from both sides. I love this country and want what is best for all of our citizens.
    Let’s truly be an inclusive community as we profess!

  9. 3
    Conservative, '17 ( User Karma: 3 ) says:

    I agree. I’m a conservative here as well, but keep on the DL because of the negative experiences I’ve had with liberal students my Freshman year here. Best of luck, and kudos for speaking up!!!

  10. 1
    Black Swattie, 2017 says:

    I appreciate you having a willingness to engage in dialogue, but I just want to respond by saying often times I have an issue with people who pride themselves on being “proud republicans” because so many republican stances are rooted in the oppression of people of color, LGBTQ people, women, (basically anyone who isn’t a wealthy, straight, white, male).

    By telling me you are a proud republican you are representing a party that literally does not want me to exist or thrive in this country. I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, my hesitance to engage in these types of conversations isn’t a personal attack on you, its more of a defense mechanism that i have adopted from carrying the burden of someone who does not feel safe around people who you seem to have the same beliefs and ideals as.

    So if you feel attacked at Swarthmore when people disagree with you, just think about how I, a black woman feel just by existing in America.

  11. 1
    SN says:

    Believe it or not, dude, your beliefs aren’t that complicated. I don’t think anyone who insulted you would be remotely surprised at your reasons for holding the positions or doing the things you do.

    For example, I (and I dunno if I’m representative of normal Swatties regarding this) find the fact that Reagan made Americans ‘love America again’ to be a pretty negative thing. Reagan strongly reinforced the same notion of American exceptionalism that has caused the U.S. to wreak or aid in the wreaking of massive horror upon various corners of the globe, from Sudan to East Timor to Kosovo to Iraq. Making ‘our enemies’, presumably the Soviet Union and its millions of citizens, fear us is hardly something to be proud of, either. The record is clear on this — Reagan vastly increased the risk of nuclear war during his presidency, and he mostly did so out of sheer ignorance. He stopped the jingoism after watching the TV movie “The Day After”, which made him realize the possible consequences of his policy (he wrote about this in his diary).

    Mourning on 9/11 also has implications beyond Islamophobia. The day will live in infamy not only in America, but in nations like Iraq and Yemen, who have seen vast portions of their populations come under attack from an imperial power using the that event (whose seeds one could easily and persuasively argue America planted itself through its actions in the Muslim world over the preceding half-century) as justification for their criminal ends. But these events are never discussed on that day. Perhaps they should be, you might respond, and I agree. However, as you and I, and anyone sensible and honest with themselves, know, the “National Day of Service and Remembrance” has very different connotations.

    And perhaps the girl who made that (highly offensive) comment to your friend had had some experiences of her own, or knew those who had. Maybe it’s you that should have asked her why she so hated DU…

    I think this whole notion that you’ll end up being more rationally certain of your beliefs by the time you graduate if you’re a conservative at a liberal school or vice-versa is a bunch of hooey. You’ll probably get better at arguing your position, sure, and you’ll almost certainly hold onto your beliefs much more tightly because you’re largely defined by them for many people (externally if you choose to speak up, internally if you keep to yourself). But whether or not you’ll actually have seriously considered positions besides those you’re sympathetic to (there are more than just two, you know) is a totally different question, as this requires a pretty high level of intellectual self-honesty — one that I don’t think a huge number people have in general, for whatever reason. In fact, I think you’re actually more likely to dismiss potentially good arguments that come your way, since you’re used to all the facile nonsense most people throw at you.

    On the surface, your article is easy to agree with. I mean, it literally ends with the words “Can’t we just all get along?” But instead of wishing everyone else asked you “Why?” when their assumptions were probably correct, maybe you should try and read the subtext of what others are trying to say. The Yik Yak quote is a good example — clearly that person was speaking to an audience that had some idea of why your patriotism was misguided. Instead of assuming such comments are attacks, it might serve you well to consider why your positions seem so offensive to most. They certainly do to me.

      1. 1
        Ian G '18 says:

        Having had personal experience with several people (on both sides, but it’s more hypocritical when my fellow liberals behave this way) who don’t comprehend the idea of valid points of view other than their own being held, I can personally tell you, anon, that you are factually incorrect.

    1. 2
      William F. Buckley says:

      “Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other points of view…and then are shocked and offended to discover that there ARE other points of view.”

  12. 0
    Liberal 26 says:

    “The day will live in infamy not only in America, but in nations like Iraq and Yemen, who have seen vast portions of their populations come under attack from an imperial power using the that event (whose seeds one could easily and persuasively argue America planted itself through its actions in the Muslim world over the preceding half-century) as justification for their criminal ends.”
    That’s like saying women deserve to be raped because they wear short skirts. Nothing justifies the mass killing of innocent people on 9/11.

    1. 2
      SN says:

      I would have to be insane to call the 9/11 justified, and never suggested anything of the sort. In fact, I pointed out that it has led to egregious consequences. I’m not trying to assign various degrees of blame to different participants in the event, only to better understand what happened and how such events can be avoided in the future. I think it’s pretty obvious that the War on Terror is going to create a lot more terrorists than it eliminates.

      That being said, I have to point out that your metaphor is ridiculous. It’s absurd to compare American foreign policy to something as victimless as wearing a short skirt.

  13. 0
    Just A Thought says:

    I would just like to suggest that there’s a reason people make assumptions about republicans: for the past couple decades, it is the party that has allowed the oppression of women and queer people in this country. I don’t want to make specific judgments of you, but being a member of both communities, when I hear someone identify themselves this way, I figure that they are complicit in the party’s current anti-gay and anti-woman agenda, and I feel unsafe or unwelcome around you.

    It’s not you in particular. it’s whom you choose to identify strongly with. Queer people in particular, we have to protect ourselves all the time, which is something you might not realize from your position of privilege.

    1. 2
      GD'18 says:

      Please realize the fact that political stances are incredibly complex and a simple linear dichotomy of “Democrats and Republicans” or “liberals and conservatives” could never do justice to all.

      I’m a liberal, yet I’m strongly opposed to the concept of “cultural appropriation” and think the usage of that term is untenable at best. I both strongly support and strongly oppose PC, in different aspects. I’m pro-life but flatly against banning or restricting abortion. Racial or regional profiling is absolutely fine for me (provided without mal-intent) even when I am affected. I don’t even think Western Europe (Germany and Merkel in particular) was being sane last year when they were basically laissez-faire towards migrants/refugees. I not only was sympathetic to some views expressed in Eastern Europe, but also thought those were just among the rational ones. One of them was otherwise labelled “Islamophobic” and thus condemned; I also object to the commonplace inappropriate and excessive usage of the term. Yet still, I identify with the Democratic Party strongly and would vote for Bernie Sanders with not a slightest doubt. Why? Because DP in general is a better option for me than RP, and in my case significantly so. Even though e.g. Sanders is completely supportive of more relaxed immigration policies, I still strongly support him because of his education and health care policies.

      To think that “conservative” means automatically “Republican” or “fully Republican” is simply mistaken. Same goes for “liberal” and “Democrat”. And, even if the person is Republican, that is still far from being equal to “supporting or at least implicitly endorsing the oppression of women and LGBTQIP people”. The real political dimensions are just far more complex than those. I would just like to say that the assumption, although it makes sense and is often understandable, is just a mistaken one.

    2. 1
      Libertarian'16 says:

      Ok, just so you know, it is not a fact that the Republican party is anti-gay and anti-woman, that is simply your opinion of the party based on the literature and media you choose to consume. I am a woman and I have never felt targeted by Republicans as a whole any more than Democrats. As a libertarian on campus, this is the problem I’ve encountered with liberals on campus: they see their views as unequivocal fact, so therefore if you disagree or identify differently then you MUST be dangerous and offensive. Liberals need to accept that the way they see the world is an opinion as much as they think conservative viewpoints are a “dangerous” opinion. SN you’re doing the same thing to, by the way. Your opinions on Reagan’s legacy are ONLY opinions, not facts as you seem to assume they are. All the OP wants is for non-liberals to be treated with as much respect as is given. By the way, I might think your viewpoints on Reagan are pernicious, but I’m still going to respect you because I’m humble enough to admit that I am only human and my opinions are not facts which I should treat like doctrine that justifies intolerance.

      1. 2
        SN says:

        Actually, they’re not opinions, unless you call descriptions of events taken straight out of Reagan’s diary “opinions”. What have I said about Reagan that isn’t based soundly and solely on fact? Reagan absolutely reinforced American exceptionalism during his time as president. Nobody denies this. He provided an unprecedented number of arms to Suharto during the nadir of the horrific East Timor genocide. He famously illegally funded an unspeakably brutal insurgency (which had almost no popular support) against a government in Nicaragua which was elected fairly and democratically according to all observers. He illegally invaded Grenada. Just a sampling of his crimes. I haven’t even talked about his administration’s role in the drug war.

        These are not opinions. These are facts. Educate yourself. I also had a very high opinion of Reagan once.

        Let me be clear — I am not a liberal, and I oppose liberal views strongly. I have views, but I don’t see most of them as facts. I am clear on the distinction here, while sadly, you are not. For the purposes of arguments like these, my opinions are irrelevant. Those of international courts, however, aren’t, and they have condemned Reagan and the United States again and again.

        As a libertarian, you should oppose Reagan, unrepentant interventionist and master of deficit spending, and who, in the words of Secretary of the Treasury James A. Baker, “granted more import relief to US industry than any of his predecessors in more than half a century”. Reagan imposed huge tariffs on Japanese goods like cars and semiconductors, as well as Canadian lumber. He forced a huge number of countries to sign agreements to reduce their steel exports to the US, and greatly expanded the size and role of the Export-Import Bank. He was one of the most protectionist presidents since the 30s. He continued to enforce sugar import quotas, too. Again, none of these are opinions, all facts, easily checkable.

      2. 2
        Maria Rogers '13 ( User Karma: 14 ) says:

        Dear Libertarian ’16, There are clear, policy-based reasons to consider the Republican party anti-woman. It is not simply a matter of opinion. Your perception that women aren’t being targeted doesn’t matter when republican leaders and representatives across the country are voting, speaking and implementing policies against abortion rights, health rights, family leave etc. (not to even touch the ridiculous amount of both rhetoric and action taken against LGBT citizens). You might look at anti-abortion movements and not perceive them as being anti-women, but that would mean we’re disagreeing on a fundamental interpretation of facts and have nothing really productive to learn from each other.

  14. 0
    Liberal 19 says:

    The fact that you felt the need to defend yourself against allegations of Islamophobia just because you wanted 9/11 properly memorialized makes me sad.

    Islamophobia has nothing to do with that. Both liberal and conservative Americans love their country and want that tragedy to be remembered. Good on you, Justin.

    1. 1
      SN says:

      Bravo, congrats on believing in the secular State religion. 9/11 has caused NO islamophobia, and a lowered flag obviously makes everything right.

      As if anyone’s gonna forget that 9/11 happened. The consequences are far too great for that.

      1. 1
        Alum '15 says:

        That’s not what they said, though. Mourning 9/11 doesn’t automatically mark a person as Islamophobic (it had better not, considering the number of Muslims who remember the attacks on that date.) By saying this, we’re not somehow ignoring the obvious presence of 9/11-related Islamophobia– that’s just not necessarily around when some guy wants a flag lowered.

        We’re also not saying that a lowered flag “makes everything right,” what the hell dude, take a deep breath and quit beating up on that straw man.

        1. 1
          SN says:

          What I was responding to was the quote “Islamophobia has nothing to do with that (9/11 being memorialized)”, which it clearly does, as is evident in his next sentence about R’s and D’s “loving their country”.

          Also, I obviously don’t think anyone believes a lowered flag makes everything right. It was a sarcastic comment meant to point out the emptiness of the flag-lowering gesture, and the nationalist implications that accompany it. I haven’t been arguing against any strawmen.

          Also, nobody accused Justin of Islamophobia for wanting the flag lowered.

  15. 0
    SN says:

    Being outside of an echo chamber is one thing, being a conservative at a predominantly liberal school is another. My point is that it’s pretty damn hard to escape the echo chamber that is your skull.

    I never suggested he’s arguing that his explanations prove he’s been right all along. It’s obvious what he was saying, and that he wants a chance to defend himself. As I wrote above, the girl’s comment was offensive, and I don’t defend her making it. I’m just pointing out that saying “I wish she asked me WHY I was rushing” after the fact is being obtuse, willfully or otherwise. I also hardly think making a rhetorical comment (clearly qualified with a ‘maybe’, I should add) about someone’s motive in making a comment I considered “highly offensive”and pointing out an obvious contextual cue regarding the Yik Yak he mentioned is “sympathetically reading minds”. And what unkind assumptions did I make about Justin, exactly? I only based my comments on the article’s content, I don’t know him at all.

    It seems like you misinterpreted my comment as a response to imagined points the author was making about his beliefs. It’s my fault — I wasn’t clear enough. I was trying to point out why Justin’s ideas, as laid out in the article (terse as his words are, probably to make his positions seem as reasonable as possible), are offensive and might justifiably be reacted to with hostility. I don’t believe everyone’s opinions should be treated with respect, particularly when they appear to be as unaware of their consequences as Justin is. Speech should be protected, of course, but people have got to be held accountable by their peers for their views. I don’t agree with the majority of what Swatties think on most issues, but I certainly think it’s better than valuing Reagan’s contributions to American nationalism, or his making America’s “enemies” (whatever the hell that means) rightfully fear us. Reagan’s foreign policy, driven by a manufactured mandate built on cynical jingoism, bears enormous responsibility for a considerable portion of the worst human rights abuses of the last century.

    An additional note here is that when I encounter a conservative here at Swat, or in most liberal places, or if I encounter someone from the far left from the south, for example, I’m much less likely to change their mind on any given political issue than if I encounter someone from the mainstream. (I have no proof of this, and it’s not the case for several issues, like abortion, so disbelieve it if you want to.) This isn’t because their rhetoric has been sharpened, but because their opinions have hardened due to their having had to defend them all the time and for that reason assimilated them into their identity. The only thing that tends to change minds then is years of gradual shifting or some major shock driven by random life experience (like Reagan seeing The Day After), not reasoned argument. I’m sure there are exceptions, but I’m not familiar with many. There’s nothing cynical about this, I do think there are situations in which people can change their minds, but it’s more likely to happen with mostly apolitical or generally mainstream people who haven’t felt the need to make their political beliefs a part of their identity.

    1. 3

      SN, can I observe that embedded in your thinking is the following:

      a) that your job is to change minds through persuasion, and therefore that you feel some obligation to allocate your labor efficiently. Hence, you don’t want to bother with people whose minds are too hard to change.

      b) that people who are not hardened due to being on defense all the time are open to persuasion and having their minds changed through reasoned argument.

      What both things require as an implicit statement is that you believe that you yourself are holding to some reasoned convictions which are so strongly preferable to all other convictions you encounter that your job is always to change the minds of people you encounter. Meaning, you do not describe yourself as having any obligation to potentially have your mind changed by any conversation.

      The statement also implies, in a rather contradictory way, that people who are part of a majority consensus in any given community are the most open to reasoned persuasion that will change their views. If that were so, that kind of consensus would be quite unstable, wouldn’t it? It would mean that majority convictions were constantly mutable, while positions or convictions shared by only a small number of people would remain highly stable (because they were held defensively against a majority consensus).

      I think you might benefit by being more open to the question of why any given individual holds to the values they presently hold, and the degree to which those values are potentially negotiable or mutable. I think that might particularly be important in those cases where you feel certain that you’re right and someone else is wrong. Even if your suggestion is correct–that feeling besieged or like an outlier hardens a person’s convictions–the implication is that if you believe those hardened convictions are in error, you yourself ought to do what you can to soften that individual’s feelings of defensiveness.

      When you naturalize the idea that majority factions are reasonable and outliers in any community are unreasonably wedded to their views because they are on the defensive, you inoculate that majority from having to introspectively test or explore their own views, and you describe them as being reasonable and open to persuasion without any evidence that this is true. You also absolve yourself of doing the one thing that by your own argument might actually persuade a conservative outlier in a liberal community, which is to soften or ameliorate the degree to which they are compelled to defend themselves under duress on a constant basis. Which suggests to me that you don’t have a very fully thought-through vision of persuasion, reason and conviction. What is the endgame of opposing Justin’s views if the method of your opposition by your own account makes them stronger and more obdurately held? If you actually oppose his views and think them harmful, isn’t the real job in front of you to engage him or someone like him in a way that invites him into a potentially persuasive dialogic conversation that eases the exclusion that you agree produces a hardening of conviction?

      1. 0
        SN says:

        Changing minds is less important than organizing people so they can more effectively express their own points of view. It’s just that the former is frequently a prerequisite for the latter. People today are highly atomized and jaded, they feel like the change they want is too radical to have any hope of being enacted. At least this is my experience from doorknocking, tabling, phonebanking and organizing in a couple of American cities.

        I also didn’t say that people who aren’t hardened by constant defensiveness and argument are open to having their minds changed, just that a larger portion of them are than those who have been.

        Neither of these positions requires a belief that my convictions are preferable than all others. My opinions change pretty frequently, in a lot of areas. I just happen to see opinions like those in the article for what they are (particularly since I once held them, and other very similar ones, myself) — offensive and profoundly pernicious. The spectrum of convictions in the space of the mind is quite broad, and I find a large part of them defensible. Just not most of those in the mainstream.

        “The statement also implies, in a rather contradictory way, that people who are part of a majority consensus in any given community are the most open to reasoned persuasion that will change their views. If that were so, that kind of consensus would be quite unstable, wouldn’t it?”

        This is quite an interesting statement, as it’s an informal fallacy I would particularly hope a History professor wouldn’t make. You’re totally overlooking the fact that those in a majority consensus, while relatively open to views outside the typical matrix of the region, are very unlikely for both individual and structural reasons (cohort, the nature of the media, etc.) to be exposed to those views at all, much less in a setting where they would be presented fairly, or by someone sympathetic to them.

        What seems to be implicit in your suggestion that I try and soften peoples’ feelings of defensiveness is that my own views are somehow more in line with the consensus. I can assure you that isn’t true. I’m not remotely interested in persuading a conservative outlier in a liberal community to be a liberal, since I don’t find liberal views congenial. Also, I am quite interested in why individuals hold the views they do, and in many cases, my lay theories about these matters (individualized to every case) have turned out to be correct. I also have a long-standing interest in political communications, so I’ve surveyed and continue to survey the academic literature on this type of stuff in some detail, and it has led me to the conclusions above. Here’s just one such (pretty directly relevant) paper I think supports my view: http://www.hpl.hp.com/research/idl/papers/opinions/opinions.pdf

        Another implicit suggestion of your comment is that the best way to affect change (the goal of my persuasive activities) should persuade everyone who disagrees with me to change their minds. I think the consolidation and organization of those plausibly sympathetic to one’s cause (who ought to be a sizable majority of people, in my view) with an eye towards future confrontation with groups who act for material reasons against that cause’s interest is much more effective. I think my own experiences and historical events have largely shown this to be true.

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