When I was an undergraduate at Williams, given that few other conservative students were as outspoken as I, I was a frequent guest on the “Community Affairs” program on the college’s radio station, WCFM. And there, I experienced the worst and the best of liberal ideas and left-wing attitudes toward then-President Reagan and the policies of his Administration.
The worst experience was when, at the last minute, I was asked to debate a professor from Smith College upset that her school had invited then-United Nations Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick (another Athena figure) to address that all women’s college’s graduation. In our discussion, the professor repeatedly misrepresented Mrs. Kirkpatrick’s views. And when I called her on it, she refused to budge, insisting that Mrs. Kirkpatrick held the views she didn’t have. That woman spoke highly of Joan Didion’s Salvador so I suggested that I read that book and she read Kirkpatrick’s book Dictatorships and Double Standards and we meet again to consider the issue. She refused, saying she already knew what that good woman “stands for,” even as she continued to attack not the real Jeane Kirkpatrick but the villainess of her imagination. (In the end, Ambassador Kirkpatrick did not address Smith’s graduation ceremonies.)
The best experience was when we were debating whether students staging a hunger strike in favor of the college’s divestment from corporations doing business in South Africa were leaders. I maintained that these these students were short-sighted and put forward an argument in favor of institutional neutrality (supporting the college’s policy) but also making clear how investment benefited South African blacks, then living under the horrible system of apartheid. Michael, a left-of-center classmate, having not previously heard the case in favor of investment in that troubled land, came up to me afterwards and told me how impressed he was with my argument. We left together and after stopping in the snack bar for some sodas, walked back toward our dorms.
At the point where I had to turn off, we stopped and continued the conversation even as the snowfall increased. A few days later, we met for lunch and talked until they started setting up for dinner. We rarely agreed, but each came to respect the other’s point of view. It was the first time Michael had engaged a peer who dared to defend Ronald Reagan. We remained friends until he decided to transfer to St. John’s in Annapolis.
When I joined GayPatriot, I had hoped that by posting to a blog with an open-comment thread, we might generate the kind of discussion that began that snowy night in the 1980s, where, when we rationally put forward ideas at odds with those of our left-wing peers, our critics would come to appreciate our arguments, even when they disagreed. And we have seen a good deal of that kind of discussion in the comment section. To keep such a conversation going I have occasionally e-mailed critics who have put forward thoughtful dissents to encourage them to keep contributing.
But, alas, too often, our critics, and sometimes, even our defenders, are like that professor from Smith, persistently attacking ideas (and the “offensive” ideas’ proponents) which they refuse to understand. One of those civil critics (with whom I correspond) e-mailed me frequently during my very busy phase to complain about the tone of some of our defenders. Following up on his e-mail, I read the comments in question and saw how, those defenders often compromised their own solid arguments by calling our critics names.
Friends, you make a better case when you leave out the ad hominem.
I could go on and on (and on) about the number of our critics who use our comments section not to take issue with our ideas or engage us in serious discussion, but to bait us, issue outlandish (and inaccurate) broadsides against Republicans and conservatives in general and the president and gay conservatives in particular. One of our more thoughtful defenders e-mailed me last night to say he will no longer contribute, observing:
For far too long now, your site’s actual debate on issues has been hijacked by trolls who have shown no willingness to actually debate. The obvious result is a site largely dominated by liberals who simply cannot tolerate the mere existence of a conservative worldview. The end result are comment threads largely dominated by responses to trolls who refuse to answer any substantive questions put to them.
He makes a valid point. Too many of our critics do refuse to tolerate the mere existence of gay conservatives. They see us as delusional self-hating dolts, eager only to be embraced by those who (they claim) hate us. Theier own comments make clear they have no idea who we were, what we believe or even those with whom we socialize.
I have wondered sometimes whether we should delete these angry comments. We have banned a number of individuals from this site, critics who regularly insulted our readers — and us. I am generally loath to ban critics, believing that their own diatribes discredit their causes. Their comments show that many on the Left refuse to take conservative arguments seriously, particularly those of gay conservatives. Moreover, the angry vacuousness of their comments proves they are running on emotions, not ideas. In short, they simply don’t understand the gay conservatives they belittle.
I put extra care into most of my posts because I want to make solid arguments and want also to address concerns that our critics might bring. I strive to eliminate any expression which might be offensive to responsible people — or easily misunderstood. And to put forward facts about my own experience as an openly gay man in conservatives circles (and an openly conservative man in gay circles.) I delight in the exchange of ideas and make every effort to put mine forward in most readable means possible.
Given the effort I put into my posts, I would hope that others would respond with a similar care. And sometimes they have. All too often, alas, they have not.
On that snowy day in the 1980s, I discovered the true pleasure of a serious discussion with an intellectual adversary. In the spirit of that evening, I hope you will join me in showing respect for those with whom you disagree and for the ideas we put forward on this blog.
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com
* I previously posted on the topic here.
WELCOME INSTAPUNDIT READERS!
UPDATE: Please note that I made a minor correction in this piece since initially posting it. Thinking that this phrase (in the original post), “persistently attacking ideas (and their proponents) which they refuse to understand” might be unclear, I modified it thusly: “persistently attacking ideas (and the ‘offensive’ ideas’ proponents) which they refuse to understand.”
UP-UPDATE: A reader writes in to share his experiences with friends who become “absolutely unhinged when Bush’s name, or any conservative for that matter comes up.” I thought the e-mail so good, I publish it here (with his permission):
I am most amazed at their willing ignorance. For example: a few were positive Saddam had no terrorist ties. Fine, there’s plenty of kool-aid!! (After having read Stephen Hayes’ excellent book, AND parts of the 9/11 report) I decided to just present a few facts: Salman Pak, Ramseh Yousef, Ansar al Islam, Ayman al Zawahiri, etc., etc., and they refused to believe any of it. In fact, the response was, “Saddam was secular, bin Laden a religious …”
“The same Saddam who offered UBL asylum in 1999?”
Silence. (Not surprising!!)
“Oh, and Hitler and Stalin signed a pact. Imagine that, fascists and communists…”
I kid you not, they really asked that.
Civility comes from knowledge, having a base of knowledge upon which to base your ideas. I do have one colleague, who is liberal, but was a lawyer and is very well educated and scholarly. We discuss many things, politics to philosophy, etc., and while the debate fierce, always civil. Why? Because he’s arguing from a position of knowledge, as am I, and we know that about each other.
Where does hatred, of gays, of blacks, of Jews, etc., come from? Ignorance. Same with hatred of Bush and/or all things Republican.