Dennis Prager was on the college lecture circuit recently. The occasion? “Islamo-fascism Awareness Week.” The Left’s response was to spearhead a drive to discredit him and the other speakers on the subject with a favorite insult: racist bigots.
It’s interesting to see how charges of racism and bigotry, once reserved for those who unfairly targeted an entire group of people on the grounds of race, religion, and/or ethnicity, have now come to be leveled at those who fairly target part of such a group. As far as the Left is concerned, it has become almost impossible to speak in terms of any such ethnic, racial, or religious categories for any reason—unless, of course, the group in question is being pitied and/or rewarded for victimhood.
But Prager persevered. Strangely enough, he found that he was well-received at the University of California at Santa Barbara, where he addressed 300 students on the subject, about a fourth of whom were Leftists originally opposed to him. Afterwards, he received apologies from some, including a student journalist who had written a column (prior to hearing him speak) that compared him to members of the Ku Klux Klan.
Instead of a white-hooded, hatred-spouting firebrand, they found—much to their surprise—a reasonable and reasoning man who was not bigoted at all. Prager writes:
….ad hominem labels are the left’s primary rhetorical weapons. So when leftist students are actually confronted with even one articulate conservative, many enter a world of cognitive dissonance. That is one reason why universities rarely invite conservatives to speak: they might change some students’ minds.
This coincides with my own experience, not in the university, but in my personal encounters with liberals and those on the Left. Their misconceptions about the Right are rife, and include the very bunch of attributes Prager lists as visions the Left has of virtually everyone on the Right: “mean-spirited, war-loving, greedy, bigoted, racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, homophobic, sexist, intolerant and oblivious to human suffering.”
The fact that I don’t seem to demonstrate these characteristics and yet I’m on the other side of many arguments tends to throw my listeners into a sort of turmoil that leads them to yell a bit and then close the conversation down, perhaps because it is just too threatening (some of them have actually said as much). The sort of cognitive dissonance that Prager describes is a very unpleasant sensation, one that most people will avoid like the plague.
And I, likewise, have come to shy away from such conversations these days, not because of cognitive dissonance or the idea that my mind will be changed—the arguments I encounter on the Left are hardly new to me—but because I’ve learned that these exchanges almost never lead to anything constructive. Perhaps this is because those with whom I tend to engage are usually quite a bit older than the average college student, whose ideas are still in flux—in fact, they are usually more or less my contemporaries. By that age, the vast majority of people have political beliefs that are set in stone.
And the only cognitive dissonance I experience when talking to them is one I’ve finally adjusted to, although it shocked me at the outset: the fact that liberals/Leftists, for all their vaunted open-mindedness and tolerance of different attitudes and opinions, are every bit as closed-minded as they presume the Right to be, if not more.
It’s a sad commentary on university life that what Prager calls “articulate conservatives” are so rare on the university lecture circuit. This fact, if true, would indicate that the Left can’t feel so very confident that it would win the argument in a free and open marketplace of ideas.