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The Carletonian

Peacing our politics back together

<lity that is fueled by sameness is not equality.”
― Juan Carlos Chotocruz-Abarca ’17, “My Womanifesto”

Over the past two terms and in various campus publications, Carleton writers have debated the extent to which unpopular opinions and the people who opine them, particularly those linked to conservatism and capital-R Republicanism, are and should be welcome on this campus. Though there are too many voices to fit into this one piece of writing, I have done my best to select a representative sample.

On November 8, 2016 (election Tuesday), in an opinion piece for PolitiCarl, Sara White ’18 urges members of Carleton’s liberal majority to let go of their disbelief at the existence of Trump supporters and reach out to them for the sake of building a better future together. She argues that Trump supporters wrestle with a “complex interplay of both oppressor and oppressed” that could serve as a starting point for productive dialogue.

On February 3, 2017, in a prose poem for The CLAP, Serena Chalaka ’17 affirms a personal refusal to tolerate oppressive views even in the face of efforts to humanize those voicing them, observing that “the worst have always been human.” Chalaka does not name any specific affiliations as oppressive, and she only mentions conservatism once, to reject “conservative views that deny rights”, but she takes a clear moral stance: “I won’t be complicit in the normalization of oppression.”

On February 3, 2017 (the same Friday), in an opinion piece for The Carletonian, Byron Valenzuela ’19 calls on his fellow conservatives to differentiate themselves from Donald Trump, whom Valenzuela dubs a “vile populist”, and to voice what they truly stand for. Valenzuela warns, “If we [conservatives] do not make ourselves known, we allow our liberal friends and peers to remain comfortable with their preconceived caricatures of us”, and expresses an openness to discussion with both Trump supporters and liberal peers.

On February 10, 2017, in a short essay for The CLAP, Rohan Mukherjee ’19, Sarah Leong-Fern ’18, and Jacob Forman ’19 lament that political conversations have morphed into shouting matches since the election of Donald Trump. They claim that “people flout a lack of compassion because they think it is a sign of political purity” and, controversially, link this tendency to the recent suicide of Carleton student Luigi Trenti-Paroli.

These pieces disagree about what needs to be done and who needs to do it, yet underpinning all of them is a strong desire for peace. White’s call for coalition, Chalaka’s statement against oppression (a form of violence), Valenzuela’s desire to emphasize the common good, Mukherjee et. al.’s plea for compassion― they all ask for the hallmarks of a peaceful society.

However, I do not want to brush Chalaka’s refusal to enable oppression under the rug. Concerns such as these are real, and if they conflict with the concerns of others, that conflict must be recognized and dealt with. Compromise, which requires everyone to lose, is not an option. If we do not intentionally address conflict peacefully, we will either have to face it violently or face it unprepared. Differences between people do not disappear simply because we act like we cannot see them. Growth comes from struggle; nothing is resolved until all the conflicting parties address it head-on.

Conflict itself is not a problem. Violence, which arises when conflict is left unaddressed, is a problem. For me, for these writers, and I suspect for all of Carleton and beyond, what is most terrifying about the post-2016 Trump America is the threat of violence, encompassing not just physical harm but also deportation, discrimination, impoverishment, exclusion from basic necessities, harassment, and all the other ways in which humans hurt each other. Some fear violence from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen; some fear it from the federal government; some fear it from the wealthy and powerful; and some fear it from their neighbors. And while being unable to escape from politics has kept that fear alive, we often forget that fearing violence does not need to turn us against each other. For aversion to violence goes hand-in-hand with the building of peace, a process that ultimately protects us.

So how do we resolve conflict without resorting to violence or compromise? The answer is to look for common ground. The members of this community must get together and produce a vision of the future that addresses everyone’s concerns. This process requires time, ingenuity, and a sense of basic safety, but the vision it produces forms a stable, inclusive foundation, a common ground, on which to build our peace.

The reason I have included so many student voices in this piece is to exemplify a written form of this process. The common ground between them is the desire for peace, which I believe is shared by the community.

Indeed, Carleton is dimly aware of its own desire for peace and common ground, but as the tone of some of these writings illustrates, its ability to get there is hampered by the adversarial nature of its usual modes of discussion. I do not know why this is. Perhaps we naturally assume that changing the ideas inside the heads of others to match our own somehow improves society. Or perhaps, at an elite college where the idea of  “ownership” is tied to institutional rewards (grades, approval, etc.), winning a debate can be a form of self-validation. Regardless, ideas exist in the public discourse, not the private mind.

They are artifacts able to be passed around and improved by others. Ideas are most useful in great numbers and diversity, and the best ideas directly tackle complexity instead of avoiding it.

So I urge that we drop this “clash of ideas” mentality and instead see our ideas as combining into something greater. In particular, we must view the ongoing discussions at Carleton as part of an atmosphere, the kind we want to avoid polluting, and hold each other accountable for keeping it clean and healthy. Let us formulate our freshly discovered wish for peace as a new kind of citizenship, a variation on that old rule for cleaning up in Sayles and elsewhere―leave every space more peaceful, closer to common ground, and more knowledgeable than you found it.

In the interest of promoting this new citizenship, I am founding a Carleton club called Peace-Building & Justice (PB&J). PB&J will work to engage Carls in difficult, complex, and necessary conversations through a variety of different means, in the name of building peace, common ground, and a culture of mutual understanding. If you are interested, send me an email at [email protected].

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