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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Ethicist Column: Carleton’s Political Monoculture

<ften said that diversity on campus is a good feature to foster at a college because it “expands students’ intellectual horizons.” So says Carleton’s admissions website, and intuitively it is not a difficult position to justify. The presence of a variety of viewpoints on campus, seems at the very least, to be a necessary (but not a sufficient) condition for the exploration and development of ideas. For if all of Carleton’s students came from exactly the same background and thought in exactly the same way, then it would follow, by most accounts, that we would all have a very strong tendency to agree on most things. Consequently, the scope of our intellectual inquiry would be limited because no one would challenge us, make us think differently, or offer intellectual resistance to our views.

Including people from a variety of racial, ethnic, socio-economic, religious, sexual, and national identity groups on campus certainly goes a very long way towards diversifying the worldviews present on campus. But for a college, so focused on political activism, does it not seem as though a very significant variable is missing from this equation? Absolutely – it’s called political diversity.

It is unclear why political views are so often excluded as a viable form of diversity. After all, is not the rationale for assembling a diverse campus at least partially justified because it engenders an atmosphere of diverse ideas? What could possibly serve this end more than directly encouraging the diversification of political beliefs on campus?

A predictable response to this line of reasoning is to argue that we already encourage a diversity of ideas on campus by encouraging a variety of people from different backgrounds to come to Carleton. To this I have two responses.

In the first place, I will say that, while I grant that our current diversity policy is good, this in no way diminishes the argument that an additional, properly utilized, diversification variable can do nothing but increase the diversity on campus. Secondly, I will say that having a student body of diverse individuals is not logically sufficient for creating a campus of diverse ideas. That is to say, a diverse student body does not guarantee a diversity of ideas in every relevant realm of inquiry even if it greatly contributes in some realms.

Beyond the failure of the political monoculture to stimulate the growth and development of political ideas, there are relevant social implications. The political monoculture at Carleton is heavily liberal. The fact that it happens to be liberal and not conservative is irrelevant. What is relevant is that the culture is heavily dominated by one side. So thorough is this domination that the few conservative Carleton students are often afraid to openly discuss their beliefs. Their fear is not entirely unjustified as conservatism is frequently met with resentment and ridicule. Though, as disturbing as the frequency of these occurrences is, the general acceptance of such behavior is yet more disturbing.

Take the following example. About two weeks ago, I was talking about politics with a floor mate. He asked me who I was voting for; I indicated that I will be voting for John McCain. Upon hearing this, he said, “I have lost all respect for you,” and walked out. While this did not offend me personally, few would blame me if I did feel offended. What’s more, let us imagine what would happen if the conversation were instead about religious and not political beliefs. If upon learning what my religious beliefs are he had said, “I have lost all respect for you.” Not only would this not be socially acceptable but there is a strong possibility that he would be subject to disciplinary action if I chose to report it. Why is it acceptable to mindlessly assault one set of beliefs but not the other? The answer I believe has to do with the nature of monocultures.

When everyone, or nearly everyone, in a small group of people shares one trait in common, often times they feel it is acceptable to mock people who do not share that common trait. This can lead to widespread unreasonable and cruel behavior. It appears that this may now be the case at Carleton.

To fix this problem, we should look at the measures that the college currently employs to create a more diverse and tolerant culture on campus. Radically shifting our admissions policy is probably unnecessary. However, at the very least, there should be some discussion of tolerating people with different political views. Presently, the college sponsors organizations and events dedicated to accepting people from a variety of different backgrounds. Why not do the same for political beliefs? Based upon the conduct and attitude of many students, this seems warranted.

The political monoculture is a problem for all of us, liberals and conservatives alike. For liberals, the lack of expressed political diversity on campus effectively stifles any meaningful resistance to their ideas. Arguments and ideology which are unchecked in this way often become substandard in their rigor. For many conservatives, a hostile environment makes it difficult to feel comfortable expressing one’s views publicly. For everyone’s sake, Carleton needs to change from an oppressive political monoculture to one of political tolerance. Civil discourse and the free discussion of ideas should never be a problem on a college campus.

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