Some Holiday Cheer

The articles I’m working on at the moment are either a) fairly depressing, or b) a fair bit of work, which means that a whole lot of a) is coming down the pipe. So I’m going to counter-program that with a little explicit holiday cheer. For instance, this Twitter thread brought a smile to my face.

End of the year Twitter confession: Until recently, I was a conservative. I rolled my eyes at almost all talk of ongoing oppression, systemic racism, sexism and misogyny, microagressions, and any hint that speech could = violence. I considered myself a classical liberal. The right talks of “red pill moments,” in which a person of the left is mugged by reality and becomes rightwing. I prefer the term “paradigm shift,” which describes a fundamental change in scientific disciplines. I went through a paradigm shift starting 5 years ago.

Teaching at Wabash College in Indiana, I spent some time with the students and faculty of the Malcolm X Institute for Black Studies. Learning (and seeing) the experiences of these students in small-town Indiana changed me. Coming from Canada and then Ithaca, NY, it was easy for me to overlook and ignore the oppression other groups faced (though it was still there). But in Indiana, these students were regularly pulled over by cops (I never was), tailed by staff at stores (I never was). They also faced far more blatant acts of racism, like shouts of “white power” from passing cars, etc. There is simply no denying that African Americans face this kind of thing day after day after day. That I don’t is just the very tip of my white privilege.

I began to see the world and myself differently. I saw that I am extraordinarily privileged, that though I do work hard I am starting way ahead of others by being white, upper-middle class, with educated parents, etc. I’m not where I am just because of what I’ve done. Since meeting the students of Wabash College and the MXI, I simply can’t be a “classical liberal” any more. There simply isn’t a level playing field, not in terms of race, educational opportunities, economic resources, etc. To act like there is is cruel and self-serving. Many things have also happened since to change my view of the world (reading Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas, for one…), but in general I now err on the side of not presuming my experience is like others’ experiences. I try to default to compassion and self-awareness.

To end the confession, perhaps too honestly: Only 5 years ago I might have said “all lives matter”; “not all men”; “everything is up for debate”; “I’m a free speech absolutist”; “students need to be prepared for the real world”. Now I say “black lives matter”; “I believe women”; “I don’t get to debate the existence of others”; “free speech absolutism benefits the already powerful”; “marginalised students have already seen more of the real world than I ever will”. That’s my paradigm shift.

If you’ve got a few objections brewing in your brain, check the rest of the thread; Matthew Sears does a good job answering the ones that popped into mind.

What I find notable in this story is the contrast. Red-pilling is commonly an active thing, where someone preaches at you and stuffs pamphlets under your nose until they reel you in. Sears’ story has some similarities to my own: no-one tried to get me interested in social justice. There was no persuasion by others. Both of us just listened to other people with an open mind, applied a little logic, and naturally became supporters of social justice.

Lies may spread quickly and give comfort, but they need to be pushed. The truth quietly sits there, waiting for you to arrive.