North Carolina, despite its reputation for conservatism, is a swing state. That means that, for better or for worse, it is a state without a prevailing political view. You might find a particular political bent in the mountains and another in a college town, but on the whole, North Carolinians are a mixed bag. As a result, you must tread carefully when talking about politics because you never know, even when talking to friends, what political opinions you’ll encounter. After the Chick-fil-A controversy this summer, for example, I was surprised to which of my friends and acquaintances starting sharing anti-Chick-fil-A Facebook links and which of them started professing their continued alliance to chicken sandwiches and waffle fries. Socially, fiscally and everything in between, North Carolinians are a mixed bag.
By contrast, when I visit more liberal states like California and New York, I am almost certain I’ll be met with particular political views. For me, this means I can more easily express my own views because, more often than not, I am met with approval. But that’s not necessarily a good thing: In such environments, disagreements — and the interesting, attentive discussions that result — rarely occur. Instead, what usually happens is that I get a nod of agreement or a murmur of approval, and that’s that. Discussion over. No debate, no probing questions, no challenge to weigh competing values.
In other words, homogenous political environments leave little room for discussion, while uncertainty about others’ opinions stimulates debate and forces me to reconsider and strengthen my own values.
How does this compare to Princeton? In many ways, Princeton — often labeled the “Conservative Ivy” because it doesn’t lean quite as far left as its peers — has the same advantage as North Carolina: more, and more diverse, political voices. Last spring, Teddy Schleifer and Regina Wang wrote an article entitled “Conservative comfort at the ‘Conservative Ivy’ ” in which they described the relatively accepting climate Princeton conservatives find on campus. And I’ve personally met more than one student who chose Princeton over a peer school because he or she felt his or her right-leaning views would be heard here. So often marginalized in the university system, conservatives at Princeton are, if not the loudest voices on campus, at least recognized and listened to.
This level of tolerance is something to be proud of, regardless of our own political affiliation. If used correctly, it allows us to actively engage with other viewpoints, to start real and meaningful discussions. On an individual level, taking advantage of the “Conservative Ivy” means sinking your teeth into a political debate with friends every once in a while. On a campus level, it means maintaining an open and accepting political climate that ensures that competing ideas are listened to rather than silenced. As Election Day creeps closer, there’s the risk that what manifested itself last May as “conservative comfort” will quickly degenerate into name-calling or simple close-mindedness on both sides. And that, quite frankly, would be a shame.
Or, worse still, Princeton’s political diversity could have the opposite effect this election season: no debate at all. It would be easy for members of both parties to recede into their own self-enforcing pockets, reiterating to one another what they already believe. But that’s not constructive — and besides, it’s no fun.
Last year, for example, I was lured by Indian food and curiosity to an Anscombe meeting with a friend. The meeting was about gay marriage, a topic about which I already have fairly developed and decidedly liberal ideas, and yet I was surprised to find how compelling its argument was, perhaps because I haven’t really listened to the other side in so long. While I didn’t leave the meeting with changed views, I did leave with a new point-of-view. I was forced to really think about and so strengthen and renegotiate my own values, and my beliefs are better for it.
My hope thus is simple: that Princeton students take advantage of our school’s unique political diversity this election season, engaging with — not talking past or slinging mud at or ignoring — one another. You don’t have to change your mind, but try listening to the other side. It’s as simple as accepting an invitation to an Anscombe meeting or starting a dinner discussion withthe Communist in your economics precept. Encourage political discussion that forces you to defend and reconsider your own views, and see what happens.
This September, I watched the DNC catalyze debates and discussions on both sides of the political spectrum. Let’s bring some of that back to Princeton. After all, we don’t need to agree; we just need to talk.
Cameron Langford is a sophomore from Davidson, N.C. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/09/24/31215/