April 20, 2006
Trial By Fire
Interesting FrontPage Magazine interview with Travis Rowley, author of a new book called Out of Ivy: How A Liberal Ivy Created A Committed Conservative. Says Rowley:
[...]I arrived at Brown with very little political knowledge or interest. I was a straight-A student, but I was an athlete more than anything else. I was equipped only with the values I had learned through Catholicism and athletics, but my personal belief system was something that I had never really thought too much about. I was never really forced to defend it, but at Brown that's exactly what I found myself doing. In many ways, my alma mater endorses the exact opposite of everything I was brought up to believe in. Being so politically and intellectually ignorant on so many popular campus topics, I was forced to sit back and keep my mouth shut-which was difficult for me because I was also a very opinionated and competitive individual. Somehow I ended up as a controversial opinion columnist for the university newspaper, and I thought my story would make for a pretty interesting book. I was a young, opinionated, right-minded athlete who was unexpectedly thrown into one of the nation's most passionately liberal institutions. Out of Ivy is not only an inside look at elite academia, it's also a microcosm of America's ongoing culture wars. It's an opportunity for people to better understand the sharp contrast between liberalism and conservatism.
Heck, I could have written this book twenty years ago. While the Glorious People's Soviet of Middletown is not an Ivy, it and its Little Three compatriots certainly count as Ivy Wannabes. As for the politics, well I first saw the expression "politically correct" in the campus newspaper in the fall of 1983. It was presented as part of a jokey guide for incoming
freshmen frosh, but I quickly realized that one laughed at it at one's peril.
The irony at Wes was that while "diversity" was in theory the alpha and omega of the school's philosophy, in practice it promoted the kind of lockstep elitist liberalism Rowley talks about. And for a small-c conservative coming out of the South Texas backwater, it was quite the culture shock. I recall thinking my first semester that the entire world had lost its collective mind and felt an enormous sense of relief during Christmas break when I realized that no, in fact, it was just the campus.
As it happened, I lived at Base One of the Fanatical Left (West College, in case any of you are familiar with the campus). Since everybody else there dressed the same, thought the same, listened to the same music, did the same drugs, etc., etc., while at the same time telling each other how wonderfully different they were, I reckoned it was time to start jerking some chains by demonstrating that no, I was in fact the most "diverse" person in the place. Indeed, I could have moved to another dorm, but I wound up staying there all four years just because I couldn't resist this irony.
Rowley's thesis is that the attitude of the campus and the hostility he faced from its political elites were actually beneficial in the long run, in that they forced him to toughen up:
And because I suddenly found myself in the middle of campus controversies, I was also forced to quickly define my own values in order to argue effectively against them. Here is where readers are able to follow the political development of a politically naÃ¯ve student, armed only with gut feelings and his own personal sense of right and wrong.
I certainly found that to be true as well. I never got myself into the middle of a campus controversy, but I did draw cartoons for the conservative paper and occasionally would get threats or comments about them. (The night of Walter Mondale's electoral massacre, apparently somebody wanted to find me and break my nose. However, he was too drunk to manage it.) In general, though, it was more a day to day matter - lots of little things that could mushroom up into political discussions in an instant. I quickly learned that I had to be instantly ready to defend virtually anything that came out of my mouth.
Did all this make me more of a conservative like Rowley? No, I was pretty much on the way to begin with. But it certainly made me think much harder about why I was one. In the long run, I think this experience was very good.
Interestingly, Rowley was also a varsity athelete and this affected his political participation and outlook as well. My own belief is that playing a varsity sport was most beneficial in giving one the correct perspective on things. Among the crew, there was certainly a wide variety of political philosophies. But we all dedicated so much time and effort to rowing that we came to see most of the "issues" that rocked the rest of the campus as so much penny-ante bullsh*t. I don't recall a single instance of politics spilling into the boats.
'Course, as I say, this was all twenty years ago. God knows what goes on now. Rowley's story would be a useful update.
Yips! to Rachel.