In the Feb. 5 edition of The Emory Wheel, Jonathan Warkentine, a fellow staff member, expressed his frustration with the phenomenon of vitriolic liberals, those dastardly straw men, attacking his expressed beliefs in ways that range from dismissive to hateful.
Mr. Warkentine’s main thrust seems to have been that, within the ideology of American liberalism there exists a contradiction in what he posits as its highest value: tolerance. He finds that a sweeping tolerance towards all things leads to an intolerance towards those who, like himself, express allegedly intolerant ideas.
I have heard similar sentiments from various individuals, and I would like to offer a clarification before proceeding further. The tolerance Mr. Warkentine expects and the tolerance Emory’s liberal body offers are quite different. Speaking in generalities, American liberalism’s mode of tolerance is one wherein those who are victims of structural oppression and/or exist as minorities within American society are returned to their rightful status as human beings. Furthermore, it “ought” to work towards identifying the structures of oppression and tearing asunder their places in society. Thus, those who possess ideas that reinforce these structures are, indeed, enemies of tolerance and must be combated.
This is opposed to what is often understood of as tolerance: a casual shrugging of the shoulders. I feel comfortable speaking for Mr. Warkentine when I say that, in his heart of hearts, he has moral backings for his claims. He may have many beliefs that require no such backings and are effectively harmless. Yet some of his beliefs may be found by others to be morally reprehensible and thus are deserving of criticism.
Thus, I must concede to Mr. Warkentine that “liberalism” is not a wholly tolerant ideology; it seeks to create greater freedom by fundamentally changing society and scorning those who would prevent this move. Though I am loath to saddle myself with such a meaningless identifier, I will, on behalf of Emory’s “liberals,” apologize for the misunderstanding.
I will now address the concern of how these discourses take place. I am guilty of exploding in anger in a few conversations on matters such as race, gender, politics and so on. Though I’ve vacillated on the issue, I recognize that a more peaceful discourse is a better way of communicating. But there is value in considering that these issues are not “issues” to be discussed idly as intellectual playthings but are active forces working upon great swaths of society’s lives. Passion is an asset, depending on its goal and execution.
In saying this, however, I recognize that Mr. Warkentine almost certainly feels the same way about his own ideas. I would hesitate to call it ironic, for that is such a painfully misused word, but it is certainly an impasse. Confronted with this situation, I can offer up only the feeble virtues of education, compassion and a willingness to cooperate. But we mustn’t be shocked when those who have suffered under the status quo are outraged by those who would defend it. To be shocked is to be dismissive of their experiences and perspectives.
Though I feel comfortable saying that Mr. Warkentine and I are of different minds, he and I do find common ground on the issue of uninformed beliefs. He criticizes a trend of peers groping towards easy liberalism at Emory. I suppose that, being in an environment that is bent towards the left, it is much more difficult to be an uninformed conservative, whereas to be a liberal in college requires a mere repetition of talking points from last night’s drunken escapades. I call on all readers, particularly liberals, to take up the task of learning more about their own positions and thinking them through from the most abstract starting ground to the most particular manifestation of their ideas. This will be found, in the final analysis, to be the best means towards a cohesively improved society.
Rhett Henry is a College sophomore from Lawrenceville, Ga.