Why We Should Respect Each Other’s Politics

Author- Vladimir Zark

Partisan pieces, no matter whether they come from low-rate sources or the most reputable out there, suffer from the unfortunate and inevitable drawback of presuming the other side ‘guilty’ before the claim is even made. Productive conversations surrounding politics are often derailed by insults and assumptions, and every attempt at getting the ‘truth’ as opposed to only a ‘side’ is overpowered by the weight of bias and, in my opinion, intellectual laziness. The Left will continue to despise Trump and the Right as though we’re the progenitors of all this country’s problems, and the Right, rather than using our newly acquired power to take action, will continue poking fun (though justifiably) at the many unprofessional and outright distasteful acts by the Left – sometimes even becoming violent, if the proper anti-fascist groups are involved. What this leads to is the need for a call to peace, a call for resolution, not a call for insults and slander. Why are we a nation divided, at this point a world divided, and what can we do?

Conflicts with factions were warned of in Madison’s time, in Federalist #10. This piece was written in 1787, yet the immediate aftermath was the formation of the two parties we know today. A country of more than three hundred million, sliced in half by party lines. What do those party lines stand for, anyway? Are our interests so different? I’ve been on both sides, talked to persons on both sides, understood the points of both sides – it’s reasonable to say that both sides have their established ideology, philosophy, system of belief. And yet we face this calamity, this rift that continues to expand further with every passing day. Is it the instinctive desire in us to fight against an ‘other’, or is it the need to find those with whom we can relate best, isolating all of those who cannot and do not validate our beliefs? There are so many questions, but no answers. We must uncover the answers.

It becomes tiresome at some point to explain the ideologies of the Left and Right, as though we know the finer subtleties of the question – all we can say for sure is that the Left, liberalism, is for movement forward, and the Right, conservatism, is for preservation. That’s the most clear and objective definition that I can give. The libertarian mentality is different, and not identified by either side, but as a philosophy, it stands for individual liberty, minimal government intervention, and hands-off capitalism. There are good things about all of these ideologies. Most of us are familiar with some offshoot of the modern Left, progressivism. We are also aware of the radical sides of the spectrum, as communism, socialism, and some forms of anarchism for the Left, generally, and identitarian fascism for the Right. All of these views in themselves deserve our attention, but for civility’s sake, we seek to figure out why people are ideologically in conflict, not what system is necessarily best. It might be helpful to think about which system is the most productive for the sake of improving our country.

Liberals in New York City have a very particular personality. They encourage people from their side to tell their stories and be open and brave, but rarely do they encourage the opposing side to tell its story. I’m as cynical of anecdotal evidence as anyone, but for the sake of honesty, I want to tell you the experience of being a conservative student at Hunter College. Often, you feel that you have to ideologically ‘censor’ yourself, at least if you want to keep a decent reputation or maintain friends. This is a problem. I’m a student at a majority-Left university, and the only people I have with whom I can speak honestly about politics are other conservatives or libertarians. I can also be pretty comfortable with classical liberals and some progressives who aren’t too obstinate. This makes for no more than 30 people out of many thousands with whom I can talk about politics. I’m very happy that I have even that many, of course, but you often get the oppressive feeling that the college atmosphere, which was supposedly engineered for free speech and ideological expression, is becoming a small-scale police state from within, and the students are becoming their own police. This makes us some of the most vacuous students in the history of education: our generation has effectively neutered the thrill of controversy, dark humor, dissent, and nonconformity. It’s not as though I’m conjuring this from nothing. Academics, PhD’s, will tell me that I must join in the machine’s thoughts and ideas, or else I’ll surely be rejected. How does that feel to a visionary, to hear those words?

But I have my politics, and thankfully, we haven’t quite reached an epidemic at Hunter yet – no one has threatened us, and no one is preventing us from expressing ourselves. However, we know very well that in parts of the country, pro-Trump rallies and pro-free speech rallies have been attacked, mostly by paid groups of protestors. There is violence resulting from politics. That’s why some of the more impartial minds try to completely detach themselves. There are many of us, I think, both on the Left and Right, who fall into a pack mentality of ‘us versus them’. In a general sense, I’m more on the Right because of its support for individualism and freethinking than anything else, but I acknowledge that the Left had once been for such things just as well – which is why I respect classical liberals very much. I veer towards the ideology that seems most rational and reasonable. My politics have changed drastically over the last few years, and I’m sure they’ll continue to change, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

We damage our credibility when we hear that there’s a communist in our classroom and we lose our minds. It’s the same reaction as when a Trump supporter expresses his support and we lose our minds again. One needs to stop wearing the infamous ‘ideological lenses’ that Critical Theory talks about. One needs to stop presupposing the truth about a person before we even hear them speak, and even after we hear them speak. One can have what’s called a ‘reasonable conclusion’ that’s drawn from past experiences and evidence, but one cannot know for sure what a person’s motivations are unless they themselves tell us. Besides, I’ll offer a caveat to all of us who think we’ve won out over the other side. To the Left: why was Trump democratically elected, and why do the three branches of government belong to the Republican Party? To the Right: why don’t we have the schools or the media under our purview, and why isn’t conservative philosophy required reading? We all have our flaws, I suppose. And I’ve considered every position, communism and far-right fascism included, and I’ve seen grains of reasonableness in all of them. I think that only the unity of ‘the best’ from all systems can create a proper state.

But the people under that state must at least agree to some degree on what is needed for our prosperity. Famous treatises like Plato’s Republic decided on aristocratic authoritarianism, which ensured stability and prosperity so long as the tenets of the system were adhered to – this was incorporated from a top-down perspective, from one philosopher-king to the most common farmer. Then there are more democratic arrangements like in Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man, a response of praise for the French Revolution and a call to a people-made state, bottom-up. How can we possibly know what’s best for us? After all, most of us, who are either in college or working, do not have the political power or resources to effect meaningful change. Most of us are hopeless, and find no recourse in arguing about what we want for others or ourselves. But imagine the first day when each of us, out of our own free will and direction, go to our classrooms and friend circles with a new face. Imagine if we begin discussing these ideas with others, finding consensus, being pragmatic, and achieving something.

Politics are a means to an end, not an end in itself. Every system has the right to exist, just as every state does, by natural law. If we want to change the flow of natural law, we will have to change ourselves entirely and mobilize everyone we know. We should seek to integrate the best of ourselves with the best that others have to offer, and reform the misfortunes that seem to hurt us day after day. All I’m really saying is: be cordial to everyone who you’ve sworn to help and protect. Be good to those who deserve it. Use your politics to build a barrier of safety and productivity, where everyone is free to express themselves. If anything, we ought to train ourselves to fear nothing and say everything, and help others do the same. Politics is only in jeopardy if we let it be in jeopardy – I, for one, am not ready to give up on mine.

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