Embrace debate on campus
We have a problem here at Bowdoin. We are ostensibly preparing ourselves to lead the fight for the common good, to charge head on at the engines of oppression, injustice and inequity and fight without cease until they have been razed to the ground. But in our hurry, I believe we have failed to consider the best means to wage our war. Our fearless floral leader has pointed out a flaw, but he meets resistance. He calls for fearlessness, and I think he’s exactly right.
When was the last time you had a discussion of abortion rights at Bowdoin? I mean a real discussion, in which people actually disagreed. It’s terribly good fun to say, “Abortion should always be free and easy, right?” and hear your friend say, “RIGHT? Oh my god the Republicans! It’s disgraceful!” But this is not a discussion. Think back to the last time you sat down and really thought to yourself, “When do I really believe that a fetus has become a person?” or “What sorts of rights does the father of a fetus have over its fate?” or “Are people on the other side of this question thinking about it in the same terms that I am?” When was the last time you engaged with somebody else who disagrees with your answers to those questions? I haven’t done that at Bowdoin and I don’t believe I’m alone.
These are questions that need answers, and they are still up for debate as far as the rest of the country is concerned. The views that prevail at Bowdoin are not the only ones. Professor of History Patrick Rael brought up an invaluable point that must not be ignored, but these are not questions about whether the Holocaust happened or why there are still monkeys if I “evolved” from one. (Checkmate, atheists). There are dozens of live, unsettled questions being debated by our society. Hate speech, gun control, the nature of religious rights or gay rights or trans rights, police violence, national security, privacy, trade deals, financial regulation, the Electoral College, who should be president—all these questions are not settled yet. They seem settled at Bowdoin, and that should be cause for worry if you believe (as I do) that there are right answers to these questions and that these answers matter.
A fighter trains in many ways. She runs, she lifts, she practices her form, she watches “Rocky.” She punches a punching bag. Most importantly, she spars with a real, live human opponent. This is essential, because a punching bag will just hang there and let you hit it. A human will block your blows, dance around the ring and strike back at you. At Bowdoin, we are woefully short of intellectual sparring partners. This will stop us from being the best fighters we can be.
To give an example: there are people on this campus who voted for Trump. The ones I’ve met didn’t do it because they hate everyone who’s not white and straight and born in this country. I have fundamental disagreements with them and with the president. Nobody is served by creating an atmosphere in which they’d rather just shut up. If we are to affect positive change in places where there aren’t OneCards, we will have to convince people. Better by far to start to practice that skill here and now than there and then. We will have to understand arguments we disagree with, consider our opinions as subject to change and believe the same in other people.
Educating people is a very hard thing to do. I hope no one reads this piece and thinks that I don’t respect the work put in by all the people that make our Bowdoin experience possible. I believe the above outlines a flaw, but I would be remiss not to acknowledge that our education is one of the best anyone has ever received. This is not an easy problem to solve, and I contribute to it myself. I believe that acknowledging it is an important first step. For God to win a just trial, the devil needs to be provided a good lawyer.
James Boucher is a member of the Class of 2019.
On the drowning of finches
A call for more intellectual diversity on campus through considering opposing views.