Letter to the Editor: In response to “The conservative persecution complex”| May 4, 2017
The article “The conservative persecution complex” by columnist Bhaamati Borkhetaria ’19 questions whether conservatives are being oppressed. In the first few paragraphs, she does an excellent job in setting up the conflict in question: Many conservatives feel hesitant to share their opinions when there is convincing evidence that right-leaning policies are harmful to minorities and foster power structures favorable to rich white males.
But even as a politically liberal student, I could see that when analyzing the motivations behind conservative beliefs and policies, Borkhetaria’s article became more hostile and lacked a holistic view of conservative incentives.
Take the talk on traditional marriage by Ryan Anderson ’04. Borkhetaria correctly says that views like those of Anderson invalidate the legal recognition of gay marriage, and students can even argue that Anderson’s is a sexist position. But there’s an important distinction between the policies that people advocate for and the motivations behind their beliefs.
Many students claim that Anderson’s viewpoint is sexist, but it’s harder to say that Anderson himself has sexist motivations, for a few reasons. First, anyone who was at his talk a few weeks ago can tell that he is a respectful individual. He made his arguments from an academic perspective, promoting studies that argue that a loving man and woman can raise children better than two loving gay parents.
If we give Anderson the benefit of the doubt and say that he truly believes these studies, then it would be hard for me to call his motivations sexist. Granted, the data that he uses is mostly debunked. For this and other reasons, I disagree with Anderson on many of his points, and I think the implications of his position are problematic.
But the point still stands that if Anderson truly believes in his data, his motivations are not rooted in sexism, but come from what he thinks would benefit society. Certainly, I wouldn’t want to give him or other conservatives who espouse similar viewpoints a position of political power, but I also wouldn’t call them sexist. To do so, you would have to call all your friends who oppose gay marriage — and respected leaders like Pope Francis — sexist.
Borkhetaria assumes that the viewpoints people espouse are inherently tied to their motivations. While this is certainly true in many cases, it is too strong of a statement to make as a general claim. As illustrated in the brief analysis of Anderson above, false beliefs about data and facts can cloud a person’s judgment on issues, whether it’s a conservative or a liberal viewpoint.
There is another question that is raised through this discussion: What is to be done? Borkhetaria gives conservatives the green light to discuss their “sexist” and “racist” viewpoints and be called out for it. Unfortunately, arguing in this way is extremely unproductive and usually results in a heated discussion without any progress.
For example, when discussing abortion, most Republicans believe that the life of an unborn child is as precious as the life of an adult. Democrats contend that the right of a woman to choose is more fundamental, even if they concede that the baby is alive in the womb. All too often, I have seen arguments on abortion turn into shouting matches.
If we take Borkhetaria’s suggestion and have the liberal call his debater “sexist” for opposing women’s rights, this hostile statement automatically puts the conservative in a defensive frame of mind. Similarly, if the conservative calls the liberal a “baby killer,” then the liberal will only get angry, resulting in little progress in the discussion.
Instead, there should be thorough conversation on the political policies of abortion laws and lengthy moral arguments about abortions in general. All of this should be done in a manner that aims at making both sides understand the facts and the philosophical positions of their debate opponent — something which I’m sure Borkhetaria agrees with. Simply labeling someone as sexist, however, will automatically impede this discussion by fostering hostile sentiments. The sexism (if it exists) can be called out, but it should be called out tactfully. Maybe there are some instances where racism and sexism need to be called out immediately, but certainly not in all discussions.
Returning to the question of whether prejudice exists against conservatives, I agree that conservatives are not discriminated against nearly as badly as the black and LGBTQ+ communities. But if we take Borkhetaria’s definition of oppression as “unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power,” is it unreasonable to say that being a minority on campus is a form of being under social authority? Is it unreasonable to say that articles in the ‘Prince’ that label conservatives as racist and sexist are a minor form of social oppression from the majority? The “you are free to express your opinions, but we’ll call you a racist and a sexist” sentiments espoused by Borkhetaria’s article are exactly the reasons conservatives want to retreat into the closet, as no one wants to be labeled in such a negative way.
Granted, obvious examples of racists and sexists are present and often easy to find within the conservative movement right now. You don’t need to look further than President Trump, Milo Yiannopoulos, or Alex Jones. But many conservatives at Princeton and in the world have good intentions. Even if racist and sexist beliefs exist within certain ideologies, civil and nuanced conversations are the best way for both conservatives and liberals to be led toward the truth. Having these discussions in an appropriate manner is the best way that we as students can avoid any unintentional forms of oppression.
Isaac Martinez is an operations research and financial engineering major from Peoria, Ariz. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.