I’m back at my alma mater, once again named America’s top liberal arts college. I had come out here for the fall meeting of the executive committee of our Society of Alumni to which I was elected last year, and stayed for a few days in order to address the club I founded when I was an undergraduate, the Garfield Republican Club.
If you’re in western Massachusetts, please feel to stop by tonight at 8:30 PM in Williams College’s Griffin Hall Room 6 to hear me address the question, “Was the Bush Administration the Golden Age for Gays in America?”
As I visit the campus, talking to professors and students, preparing my remarks, I recall so many things, but notably the conversations I had here, not just with my philosophical confrères, but also with my ideological adversaries. I recall the respect that most showed for my ideas, how we each strove to respect the other’s arguments. My favorite political science professor here was a Marxist who taught a course in conservative political theory. It remains to this day the best class I ever had where I perhaps worked the hardest and certainly learned the most.
And I recall how after Phyllis Schlafly spoke, students asked her tough questions, then engaged each other in thoughtful, though sometimes, heated exchanges about the arguments she made and the conclusions she reached. My fellow Ephs offered a civil response to a controversial speaker.
I believe my concern for civil discourse begun here, beneath the peaceful shadows of these purple mountains. As I recall the conversations that took place — and apparently still take place here — I wonder if this medium (blogging) sometimes compromises our ability to comment in a civil manner. I note how my own tone has become snarkier since I first started blogging.
Now, to be sure, some of our critics, do respond to our points, but all too often they merely attack us not for what we say, but for what they believe conservatives would say. And, alas, some of our defenders respond in kind.
Perhaps, the difference is that at Williams College, we looked our interlocutors in the eye when we took issue with their points, but in this medium, we don’t see the faces of those with whose arguments we take issue.
Whatever the reason, I am grateful to be back and grateful for the reminder of the respect for opposing viewpoints this environment engendered.
NB: Added a sentence to the post.