Counter-Point: Pornography Isn’t a “Moral Threat” to Society

No, Pornography Isn’t a “Moral Threat” to Society.

No, Pornography Isn’t a “Moral Threat” to Society.

Five years ago, the Republican Party released their revised party platform that markedly differed in a number of ways from their 2012 platform. One of the ways in which the platform differed was its increased fearmongering about pornography, labeling it a “public health crisis.” In addition to the usual “this time it’s different” diatribes and moral pearl-clutching, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) recently called for the Department of Justice to investigate the website (a content subscription site that is known for and is used most often for buying and selling adult content) for supposed “immoral” and “illegal” activity related to its services. And so begins yet another right-wing crusade against pornography and the desperation for government intervention into an outgrowth of the world’s oldest profession.

While pornography is hardly a modern invention, I will grant that perhaps there is something different this time around. Ever since the advent of the Internet, pornography has become largely democratized: the people who make up the porn industry have become more diverse while access to and use of porn has skyrocketed, especially after the world went into lockdown after COVID-19 began to spread across the world. Anyone with a webcam or camera can make porn while anyone with a decent Internet connection can find it. In articulating the libertarian view about pornography, I will not comment on the morality of pornography as I don’t think it is germane. Rather, I want to focus on the typical arguments against pornography, that it encourages/enables/normalizes violence, that it is responsible for the sexual dysfunctions in our society, and that it is inherently tied at the hip to human trafficking, before suggesting some solutions that will alleviate some of the problems that conservatives are really concerned about.

One common argument against pornography is that it has been supposedly linked to interpersonal violence and other social ills. The argument is that pornography depicting violent treatment of porn actors–usually women–leads some people–usually men–to replicate this violence in real life. With this argument, we would expect to see rape rates increase along with the accessibility and usage of porn. While pornography usage has skyrocketed (one report found that 77% of Americans view porn at least once a month), rape rates have actually decreased in the last 30 years. A meta-analysis from UTSA and Stetson University failed to find any strong link between nonviolent and violent porn and sexual violence over the past 50 years. Ironically, some researchers have found that increased porn consumption has been linked to decreased sexual violence. Some researchers have theorized that this link is due to individuals using porn and not rape as their “release.” Interestingly, in a 2006 study from Northwestern University, states with the least Internet access (and therefore, limited access to online porn) saw increases in reported rapes between 1980 and 2000, while states with the most Internet access saw decreases in reported rapes.

While some would point out that correlation does not equal causation, I think I can safely say that pornography is not responsible for increasing sexual violence because the evidence suggests otherwise. I’ll go a step further and point out that other issues that some conservatives worry about–sexual irresponsibility, abortion rates, STD transmission, teen sex, and divorce rates–have seen decreases as well. The CDC has documented a 41% decline in abortions and even steeper declines in syphilis (74%) and gonorrhea (57%) since 1991. Additionally, since 1991, teen sex has declined by 7%, teen condom use has increased by 16%, and the teen birth rate has fallen by 33%. Lastly, since 1990, the divorce rate has decreased by 23%. Given this volume of data, one might conclude that we’re actually doing much better when it comes to porn and sex, even though the former has proliferated by leaps and bounds in recent years. Elizabeth Nolan Brown from Reason even went as far as to argue that “today’s teens seem poised to take safe sex and sexual consent even more seriously than [previous generations] did.”

But what about porn’s effects on relationships? Conservatives and other anti-porn activists argue that the relationship between men and women can be damaged from porn use, that porn increases sexism and raises beauty standards to ridiculous highs. Elaborating on the first point, there have been some arguments (mainly from the fringes of the conservative movement and the alt-right) that have pointed to some studies that have found that a sizable majority of women have rape fantasies and that some women act out these fantasies through violent porn. It is then argued that this is proof of the “decline of Western masculinity” as well as showing that women have an inherent need to be dominated, which is not being fulfilled. I find this to be one of the most ridiculous arguments put forth from the right, as it blindly ignores more plausible reasons for this phenomenon, such as coping with trauma associated with actual incidents of rape and sexual assault and that increased sexual openness–particularly for women–has led to fantasizing about violent and coerced sex (the reasoning being that, “I’m free, I can fantasize about whatever I want.”). 

Additionally, some have argued that porn objectifies and sexualizes women, and that it contributes to more sexist attitudes. A study from Queensland University of Technology could not find a link between consumption of porn and increased negative attitudes toward women (though later research indicated that this overlooked benevolent sexism). Another study from the University of Zagreb found that users of nonviolent porn were “neither more nor less sexually satisfied than nonusers” and “felt the same degree of intimacy in their current or recent relationships and shared the same range of sexual experiences,” though this differed for consumers of violent porn, who tended to masturbate more often, have more sexual partners, and felt slightly less relationship intimacy than their nonviolent compatriots (though I would circle back to my argument about violent porn users using porn as a substitute for sexual crimes). Lastly, I want to briefly comment on the blaming of porn for the reduced birth rate in the United States. I also find this argument ridiculous as there has been numerous scholarship that has pointed to greater work opportunities for women, higher educational attainment, accessible birth control, improved sex education, and lower child mortality that comes with industrialization as reasons for the declining birth rate. In other words, economic conditions better explains why people are postponing having children until much later in life. 

The last point I want to address is the dicey issue of human and sex trafficking, which anti-porn activists argue is fueled by the demand for porn, making both industries closely interlinked. I find human trafficking to be fraught with issues, and in doing research for this article, it’s very maddening to see that the very definition of human trafficking differs markedly from organization to organization. What I found to be common was that some definitions tended to lump together so many different activities and classify it as “human trafficking” when clearly these things did not carry the same moral weight. For example, I do not think that an individual who gets paid to fly overseas to become employed in the porn industry is a victim of trafficking or exploitation (assuming they are of age and fully consent to the activity) and should not be classified in the same group of people that are actually victims of slavery and forced labor. Such an assumption otherwise would indicate that someone would not voluntarily enter the porn industry, that if given the choice, that individual would choose another profession. But here is where I think conservatives show their anti-market colors because this assumption flies in the face of asymmetric information theory, which posits that there is an imbalance of information that favors the seller and leaves the buyer vulnerable to exploitation. This existence of this imbalance has led some to argue that asymmetric information is a token market failure and that this imbalance can only and should be rectified through government fiat. 

However, this argument is deeply flawed as it ignores the very basis for which our economy is successful in the first place: the division of labor. If we just assumed that everyone had perfect information when it comes to market transactions, there would be no need for any social cooperation, i.e., if we could be entirely self-sufficient, we would have no need for any market system whatsoever. But this is not the reality that we live in: we have to have individuals who specialize in specific tasks to make social cooperation possible. Ludwig von Mises argued that this is actually desirable for several reasons: that it is more productive and efficient for people to cooperate rather than be self-sufficient, that people can benefit from talents that they don’t possess, and that almost all production processes require some kind of teamwork. 

The idea that the government, as deeply flawed as it already is, can somehow fix the information imbalances between buyers and sellers is a utopian one at best and a naive one at worst. We should learn to respect the choices that people make, even if they are made in undesirable circumstances, barring any uses of force, fraud, or aggression. Trying to limit the migration of sex workers will only exacerbate the problems of human trafficking as it will further drive black market smugglers underground and leave sex workers vulnerable to actual exploitation and coercion. Additionally, we need to recognize that the sex industry is full of people with diverse motivations: some are using it as a stepping stone to something larger, others are there to make a career, while others want to make some quick bucks and move on. One need only to look through the revenue statistics for content creators on OnlyFans to conclude that a lot of sex workers come from the working class, and that any government action against sex workers is likely to be harmful rather than helpful.

I would be remiss if I did not propose some solutions. This article is not meant to argue that there are risks to porn usage, especially if it becomes addictive. I have no problem with people who seek help for porn addiction, be it psychological or spiritual. As for actual policy solutions, we should start by loosening immigration laws so as to provide alternate means for potential sex workers to migrate without having to go through a smuggler or trafficker. We should also stress the importance of sex education, which would involve recognizing that we should not be treating sex with kiddie gloves as well as providing a suitable alternative for those who go to porn to learn about sex. I will leave open the possibility for those who want to provide moral education through churches and other groups that aims to reduce the demand for porn (as opposed to reducing the supply through legislative restrictions, which will have a trade-off through the increase in sex crimes). Lastly, we should not forget that the easiest solution lies at home with the parents and letting them determine what kind of moral and sexual education their kids should be receiving, providing guidance around a topic that some kids may find intriguing or frightening.

Experts Weigh in on the Importance of the Electoral College

Any attempt to reform the Electoral College will bring seismic changes to American politics and government, and we have to take these reforms seriously and discuss them.

I was in a meeting in November of last year for the TU Election Initiative when the idea of a webinar open to all students and faculty was floated. Several topics were discussed before we settled for something relevant at the time: the Electoral College. Scheduling the webinar for late January, we figured the institution would be a good topic to keep students engaged and give them an opportunity to field questions to experts (we got three experts to attend: Gary Gregg, John Fortier, and James Pfiffer). I volunteered to moderate the Q&A portion, giving myself a front-row seat and facilitating discussion between the panelists and the Trinity community. The only thing I worried about was that students would be disengaged by the time of the webinar, and there would be scant interest.

That changed when the pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol building on January 6, the day Congress was to certify the electoral votes and cement Joe Biden as the 46th President. While the Electoral College was not front and center in news coverage following the riot, I was hopeful that interest in the Electoral College in the Trinity community was revamped. I saw that that was the case when well over 50 students, faculty, and staff attended the webinar. 

Each of the experts took around 15-20 minutes explaining their positions and opinions on the Electoral College. Each discussed the Electoral College history, why it is the way it is, and possible reforms (e.g., the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact). After they were finished, I took over as moderator and fielded as many questions as I could. I have to give credit to the audience for asking many tough and insightful questions, such as asking about the compatibility of alternative voting systems (e.g., ranked-choice voting) with the Electoral College and any possible bias toward red/blue states. I was impressed with the number of questions that were asked, but I could only get to so many before the webinar was over. 

Overall, I think the webinar went very well. The attendance rate, the expertise offered, and the questions asked prove that the Electoral College factors heavily in people’s minds when they think about politics and voting. Additionally, it is still a controversial institution with serious efforts being mounted to reform or abolish it, although the Electoral College is probably not going away anytime soon. That means we have to continue to have conversations, discussions, and debates about the future of the Electoral College because the institution is more than a method of picking the next president. It represents what kind of republic we want and what values we prioritize.

Any attempt to reform the Electoral College will bring seismic changes to American politics and government, and we have to take these reforms seriously and discuss them. And it always helps to remember our history and know-how the Electoral College has shaped the presidency and how it continues to function today. Its future is certainly up in the air but based on what I saw during the webinar, and I am confident that we will find a way to make the institution more democratic while preserving the republican principles this country was founded on.

Fear Politics is No Longer Sustainable

People often like to think President Trump is the only major politician with a toxic “winners and losers” mentality, where if we do not try to win, then we lose. But this mentality is shared among our politicians from both parties, making us less trusting of one another and more willing to confine ourselves to echo chambers and the misinformation that permeates such places.

Many hot-off-the-press takes have rolled out ever since the Senate’s certification of the electoral votes (usually an unexciting event that garners scant media coverage at best) was briefly shut down after a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol building and proceeding to vandalize, loot, and steal from the property. These takes have ranged from condemnations of the rioters’ behavior (including from world leaders) and calls for prosecution and jailing of the participants to calls to impeach President Trump a second time and encouraging his senior-level staff to resign. Some even believe that the day parallels Pearl Harbor and should live in infamy, while others have been quick to point out the differences in police treatment of the pro-Trump rioters and the Black Lives Matter protesters last summer. Still, others have lamented the worrying number of far-right extremists, neo-Nazis, crank conspiracy theorists, racists, and fringe militia groups that showed up at the rally-turned-riot. 

There is merit to all of this, but they are missing the big picture (the only big-picture take I have seen is people pointing out one of the rioters getting a Confederate flag into the Capitol building, something Confederate soldiers were unable to do 150 years ago). That big picture is something that has been bubbling under the surface of politics for decades now, and that is the tension between the haves and have-nots. The political class is not oblivious to this: politicians, journalists, pundits, activist leaders, and other political elites turn every single thing into a potential or actual catastrophe. Every election becomes “once in a lifetime” and a chance to “save our country.” Every speech given by a politician is influential. Every piece of legislation will have serious consequences. And so on and so on. 

Whether these claims have any merit is not significant. What is important is that our elites, specifically our politicians, continue to exploit our fears and pit “us” versus “them.” People often like to think President Trump is the only major politician with a toxic “winners and losers” mentality, where if we do not try to win, then we lose. But this mentality is shared among our politicians from both parties, making us less trusting of one another and more willing to confine ourselves to echo chambers and the misinformation that permeates such places. Whataboutism becomes commonplace as people talk past each other, versed in wildly different political languages. Coupled with the differences in values that people hold and the increasing perception that the “other side” wants fundamentally different political outcomes to occur, it becomes impossible to find common ground.

With this in mind, it makes sense that Trump supporters, feeling maligned by elites and that the “once-in-a-lifetime” election was stolen from their guy, would go and riot and loot the Capitol building. I am not trying to excuse the actions of the rioters (quite the opposite, I condemn the idea of mob rule as an affront to a nominally functioning political system); instead, I am offering an explanation for the behavior of a group of people whose intentions and political goals are often widely misunderstood. Additionally, it is not a defense of the beliefs that Trump supporters tend to hold. When people are made to feel like they have nothing to lose and everything to gain from engaging in criminal behavior, it is then that respect for democratic norms and republican institutions diminishes. Unfortunately, shunning the political process (in favor of “alternate” means of political participation) when one feels powerless to influence it has historical precedent in this country.

In a previous article, I discussed the centrality of violence in American politics. I think that is no more apparent than last Wednesday’s riot, and it shows how deeply ingrained violence is in our politics. Pundits keep calling the riot “un-American,” but I argue that it is who we are. This will continue unless large portions of the country finally recognize that they are protesting against the wrong people. In other words, the same reasons that pushed the Capitol rioters to act the way they did (minus the cranks) are the same reasons that motivated the Black Lives Matter protesters, the Occupy Wall Street protesters, and the Tea Party types to take action. However rudimentary, people are angry at the status quo: the national debt has gone up, cost of living has soared, student debt has accumulated at dizzying heights, lockdowns have continued without an end in sight, and most importantly, the gulf between the haves and the have-nots has widened. People have every reason to be angry, but while we are at each other’s throats, cronyists in big business and government are laughing their way to the bank. 

Violence is never the answer. Those who directly participated in breaking into the Capitol building should be punished accordingly and proportionately, being mindful not to add any more incarcerated individuals than we have to. And while the state continues to perpetrate acts of violence on Americans every day, we should recognize that private individuals and groups can do so as well. We should oppose all of it because the current state of politics is unsustainable. 

Oregon Voters Battle ‘War on Drugs’

Arguably, the most important choice on some people’s ballots was not who to pick for president or who to pick for state-level offices, but whether to double down or scale back the War on Drugs. Seven states had ballot measures that would relax their prohibition laws to varying extents, and all of them passed. Even conservative states such as Mississippi, South Carolina, and Montana voted to relax their marijuana laws, showing that the War on Drugs days are numbered.

The state that took the most significant leap forward was Oregon. In a 58.4 to 41.6% vote, Ballot Measure 110 was passed on Election Day. The measure does quite a few things–redistributing revenue from marijuana taxes, promoting drug addiction treatment–but most importantly, the measure will decriminalize small possessions of any and all drugs, including heroin, methamphetamine, Oxycoton, marijuana, cocaine–you name it. Essentially, any small possession of a federally illicit drug–say 20 pills of Oxycoton–would be a civil offense. 

In less complicated terms, Oregon will be the first state to take a Portugal-like approach (where full decriminalization led to a decrease in overdoses, drug-related crimes, and teen drug use) to treating the “drug problem” as a healthcare issue, not a criminal one. In passing the measure, Oregon voters rejected a failed policy that has only served to bolster a broken criminal justice system and has disproportionately hammered people of color. Hopefully, we may also see a decrease in the steady flow of people being shoved into Oregon’s prison system (which is also in desperate need of reform). 

It is important to note that Oregon only decriminalized drug use and did not legalize it. You can still get a $100 fine if you are found with a much larger quantity of illicit drugs, but you can skirt around the fine if you agree to complete a health assessment at the newly created Addiction and Recovery Centers being set up around the state to connect addicts with healthcare services (the measure will redirect funds earmarked for prisons to fund these centers). 

June 26, 2020 file photo from video provided by the Yes on Measure 110 Campaign shows volunteers delivering boxes containing signed petitions in favor of the measure to the Oregon Secretary of State’s office in Salem.

Why Does Trinity Need the Tower?

I think The Tower has the potential for positively contributing to debates on campus and bringing voices that are not usually heard in everyday discussions.

Last year, The Tower saw a drastic increase in its readership. With this spike comes a natural stream of criticism that carries the same undertones. “Why not just write for the Trinitonian?” “Why create an echo chamber for Trinity conservatives?” I want to address those criticisms in this piece.

The underlying assumption in these critiques is that campus discourse should belong exclusively to campus-sanctioned publications. To deviate otherwise is to disrupt the flow of campus discourse. Before I move forward, I want to clarify that I am only speaking for myself, not for The Tower editorial board or for the other staff writers. Personally, I think the arguments against The Tower are unsubstantiated but fair criticisms.

I chose not to write for the Trinitonian, but not because of any incompetence or unfriendliness at the paper. My interactions with the Trinitonian staff, though few, have been nothing but positive, and I have nothing but respect for people who put themselves on a strict timetable for writing and publishing articles. I’m willing to give the Trinitonian staff the benefit of the doubt and assume they are good people that I can respect. 

Nonetheless, there are reasons I choose to write for The Tower on a regular basis over the Trinitonian. For one, generally speaking, I can write longer opinion columns for The Tower, which allows for a more in-depth discussion of whatever issue I am writing about. I tend to prefer longer columns as they tend to avoid the shock-inducing one-liners that usually saturate shorter columns. I also joined The Tower as an opinion writer because there were no other regular non-conservative writers at the time. There still aren’t. Finally, the editorial board has a very flexible timetable for its writers and is more lenient with late articles, giving us busy, unpaid writers the space and time we need to write good pieces–though, to be frank, I don’t think every article we’ve published has been superb.

But speaking as a non-conservative writer for The Tower, I will say that accusations of a lack of intellectual diversity are unwarranted (though it shouldn’t shock anyone that a conservative magazine is staffed predominantly by conservatives). The Tower editorial board has been nothing but friendly in bringing and retaining me on the opinion staff. Many of the other staff writers have spoken positively about my articles.

I will conclude by inviting those who are more liberal-minded to consider writing for The Tower. I am dead serious about this invitation. If The Tower is willing to have me, I imagine it would not be a problem having a few liberals become regular columnists. If that is too much, people are more than welcome to submit guest columns to the editorial board. If anyone has any doubts about what The Tower is willing to publish, check out my arguably progressive column that takes a personal angle in the debate about transgender people (which was published alongside a conservative counterpoint). And if that is not enough to attract more left-leaning writers, The Tower is open to publishing non-political articles. At any rate, I doubt that The Tower is going anywhere soon. If anything, I think The Tower has the potential for positively contributing to debates on campus and bringing voices that are not usually heard in everyday discussions. 

Violence in the American Tradition

We should never forget the consequences of turning to violence. Innocent civilians have died, businesses have been destroyed, and the state is giving multiple indications that it wants to escalate the violence with serious displays and uses of force (as if it has not already).

As I watch the protests and riots over George Floyd’s death enter into its second week, I cannot help but feel sympathy for the protesters and the rioters. A few months back, I was having a conversation with my sister. She predicted–and I agreed–that there would be widespread discontent over the coronavirus lockdowns and the economy slumping and thought there would be riots once the American public was finally fed up with the current state of affairs. We were half right: there are riots, but not catalyzed by the coronavirus. Another shocking death of an unarmed black man at the hands of police officers, while nothing new in this country, proved to be the match to the tinderbox. Video footage of a black man crying out that he cannot breathe as he is slowly choked to death by an unempathetic white police officer angered a country already on edge. And people have a right to be angry: there is a lot to be angry about nowadays and a lot of that has been channeled into protests and, sometimes, devolved into violence. 

Violence is in our genes. It forges and defines us as Americans. Many Americans grow up in abusive households, and many more will grow up to witness or experience sexual violence, shootouts, domestic violence, suicide, violent car accidents, robbery, or being sent abroad to fight in an overseas war (of which there has been no shortage in American history). 

Looking at American history, it seems that nothing important ever happens without something violent occurring before, after, or alongside it. This country’s founding was born from a revolution against the most powerful empire in human history. The Southern economy was built on enslaved labor, propped up by vicious slave masters, a rigid social hierarchy, and a political and legal system designed to protect it. And that ended only after the bloodiest conflict in American history, where hundreds of thousands of American soldiers and civilians died and entire states left in ruin. Massive technological, cultural, economic, demographic, and political changes followed the two World Wars. Vietnam and subsequent wars in the Middle East hammered in the American psyche a permanent distrust of the idea that democracy and freedom could be spread through wars and conquest.

And of course, violence seems to be the only thing that catalyzes political change and discussion in this country. Trump’s family separation policy galvanized public opposition. Discussions about gun control spike after a mass shooting. 9/11 forced a mass reordering of federal law enforcement agencies and forever changed airport security. And every time an unarmed black person is killed by the police, protests usually follow in their wake. Sometimes, they become violent or spread nationwide, or both. 

Now, the protests over Floyd’s death are a combination of multiple factors. Many states are just now lifting lockdowns that have lasted for months, and only partially. The unemployment rate is skyrocketing amidst a sputtering economy where wages have flatlined and inequality has worsened. Not to mention that we are still in the middle of a global pandemic that has claimed the lives of over 100,000 Americans and is showing few signs of dissipating in this country, all overseen by a president whom a conservative pundit once remarked: “couldn’t collude with his own left foot.” And given that police brutality has been a serious issue that we have not given proper attention, it is understandable that people are angry and want to express that anger in forms of violence. 

There is something within me, a combination of anger and boredom from quarantine, that wants these riots to continue, to see buildings set aflame and protesters get heckled by police. The thought sickens me, but it is not without precedent. Rome entertained its citizens with its gladiator arenas, enticing free men to fight for glory and social status and forcing slaves to fight for their freedom. Romans cheered as gladiators hacked each other and wild animals to pieces in an all or nothing fight to the death. Gladiators who survived achieved all that they fought for and then some. Similarly, the American media casts protests and violent riots as a spectacle to behold, with the protester entering the American mind as a faceless person with almost godlike status as they fearlessly face down the omnipotent agents of the state, satiating our never-ending appetite for action and violence. The protesters, like the gladiators, have a myriad of reasons to do what they are doing. Some want to see genuine change, but others want glory and honor, to be able to proudly look their children in the eye and say “I was there. I braved rubber bullets and tear gas in the name of racial justice.” And still, others do so out of boredom, desperation, shame, or out of a want of adventure. In a way, these riots are a source of cheap entertainment. We are all watching the arena right now, with the protesters facing off against other civilians or the police. 

But we should never forget the consequences of turning to violence. Innocent civilians have died, businesses have been destroyed, and the state is giving multiple indications that it wants to escalate the violence with serious displays and uses of force (as if it has not already). We should always ask ourselves if violence is worth it if its costs outweigh the costs of the issue we are turning to violence to solve, and then decide whether to pursue that course or not. If history gives any clues, we already know the answer, though I should add that the American public tends to view protests more negatively when they happen but more positively in hindsight after they occur. But as some commentators have noted, protests and riots can sometimes be the only way the downtrodden can make a statement and be heard. In the end, perhaps we should ask ourselves not if violence is justified or not, but why it is so ingrained in the American tradition and why we turn to it so often to solve our problems and normalize it. If violence was a language, Americans would speak it fluently.

Photo credit:  Lucas Jackson/Reuters

In Defense of Civil Discourse, Free Speech, and Friendship

Shutting down hate speech only makes those speakers become martyrs for their causes and paves the way for more polarization. In that sense, those speakers become stronger, not weaker.

I have always been predisposed to defending the idea of civil discourse, defined as a discussion between two or more people where emotions are tempered and reason is emphasized. I could not see how anyone could oppose such an idea. I brushed off any criticism of the idea and I thought no less of it.

Of course, nothing is free of criticism. There are those who would argue that civil discourse and free speech allow for the dehumanization and marginalization of minority groups. The main criticism is that free and open discourse allows for–and even endorses–hateful opinions; for example, opinions that deny someone else’s existence (e.g., forced conversion therapy should be legal). Similarly, those who advocate for civil discourse (usually free speech “extremists”) operate from a position of privilege – these people have never had to deal with the consequences of free speech, which is being on the receiving end of hateful and spiteful opinions that may not call for violence against individuals or a group (which I think everyone can agree is the line between acceptable and unacceptable speech), but allow for marginalized people to be further marginalized. Allowing such hateful speech and opinions to be said opens those opinions to normalization, or for their positions and sentiments to be watered down, presented, and therefore more gullible to moderates. 

I am not going to argue that this argument is wrong; rather, I think it is a legitimate argument that warrants assuaging, not falsifying. If anything, it is not really an argument at all, but a cry for addressing genuine concerns about who participates in political discourse.

To begin, I am what some would call a “free speech absolutist” with very few ifs or buts. I am very skeptical of those who harass or shut down other opinions because “they are not worth wrestling with.” I do not find any value in deplatforming certain people other than those who would openly call for violence (as for hate speech, most opinions that get labeled as such are not really hate speech). There are more nuances, but you get the point.

Moving forward, I think the issue is the foundation upon which virtually all modern political discourse rests. That foundation is the assumption (and the fear) that it is acceptable to use the awesome power and violence of the state to impose our political beliefs on others. Personally, I think this assumption needs to be challenged, as I feel that most people are inclined to shut out other opinions because it would involve the creation of a reality that is unconscionable: a reality that is defined by people being forced to do something against their will.

Realistically, I do not think many people will accept this argument, as many political ideologies are heavily reliant on using force (read: the state) to enforce its public policy prescriptions, which is why I think we should return to the defense of civil discourse. The purpose of it is quite simple: it is designed to create equanimity where there is none. It is purposefully designed to create a space for people who normally get left out or are very easily left out of a conversation (in other words, people who are excluded). 

Besides, shutting down hate speech only makes those speakers become martyrs for their causes and paves the way for more polarization. In that sense, those speakers become stronger, not weaker. Alex Jones is still around, championing the cause of free speech to the mainstream even while being barred from multiple social media platforms. Milo Yiannopoulos only gained more notoriety when more calls were made to shut him down, and he only fizzled out after a combination of financial trouble and public comments defending pedophilia. 

It is easy to get emotional in politics, especially when there are objectively bad policies out there, both enshrined in law and floating around in public discourse. But there is no reason that we cannot reasonably deconstruct prejudiced policies in a fair and respectful manner. To reiterate, I think that the breakdown of civil discourse is likely to lead to more polarization, dehumanization, and tribalism, which has a greater chance of exacerbating extremism. It may well be the case that civil discourse marginalizes oppressed people by allowing “harmful” opinions to float around. However, shoving those opinions into a dark corner does nothing to eliminate it and has the opposite effect. Those opinions gain a following, unencumbered and unchecked by any rational counter-viewpoint, and become more radical and violent. 

In the end, politics is and always will be a toxic forum for discourse. Not a minute goes by that someone in the political world does not receive a death threat online. By extension, there is so much hate and divisiveness out there. The solution I would offer is this: more friendship. Friendship allows for more mutual understanding to take place between people of differing opinions. Personally, I’ve benefited immensely from befriending both liberals and conservatives, sometimes even outright extremists. A few of my friends are libertarians, and I’m okay with that. The goal is not to insulate myself from other opinions, but to expose myself to wildly different opinions and figure out what motivates people of different ideologies. I’ve found that I’ve grown in my understanding of politics and subsequently become more tolerant and understanding of different opinions. I think if we had more people doing the same, we could come to conflict resolution more quickly, safely, efficiently, and effectively. 

Inclusion Cannot Be Comfortable

Where was the compassion when I had to comfort my sister during her mental breakdowns because she had nowhere else to turn?

Those trying to be inclusive embrace people of different races, ethnicities, religions, creeds, genders, sexualities, abilities, and ages. However, they usually do not include those with different ideas. In other words, diversity is great, except for diversity of thought (or, for that matter, diversity that includes “privileged groups”). Some have even chosen to sacrifice genuine inclusivity on the altar of political correctness to make others feel comfortable. This is not inclusion. This is exclusion.

Only one side can really claim openness.

Take my transgender sister. Although she used to be a self-identified Bernie Sanders supporter just a few years ago, she recently became a staunch libertarian and has warmed up to President Trump and some of his policies. My question to the LGBTQ+ and PRIDE groups out there: would you welcome my sister with open arms to your support groups and activist meetings? I imagine not, because of two main reasons: the hostility that exists between queer individuals and the broader political right, and the polarized nature of today’s politics. 

I find it upsetting that basic principles of inclusion are ignored for the sake of politics; individual traits and characteristics have become so political that people who have commonalities cannot be associated with one another because of political affiliation. Personally, whenever my sister is suffering from mental health problems, I try to help her out as much as I can. Even though I have gotten many recommendations from others to get her to seek help from the LGBTQ+ community, I ignore them because I know from experience how those will go. The last time I went to a transgender group therapy session with my sister, I got tossed out of the meeting and “re-educated” for saying that I could not wrap my head around the idea of there being an “infinite” number of genders.

Inclusivity comes at a price, which is the sacrifice of the comfort that comes from echo chambers.

To whoever claims to be “inclusive,” “accepting of diversity” and “compassionate,” I ask: where was the inclusivity when I was tossed out of that meeting? Where was the diversity of thought when I was hounded and berated for merely questioning the idea of infinite genders? Where was the compassion when I had to comfort my sister during her mental breakdowns because she had nowhere else to turn?

Now, I will accept that there is some argument to be made that inclusivity’s intent is compassion. Some might argue that my words at that support group were harmful to those present, and therefore I cannot claim the mantle of being “inclusive” and “compassionate.” However, it is those critics themselves who I say cannot be inclusive. Even if it is for the sake of keeping some people ‘in,’ it is exclusive to keep certain thoughts and ideas ‘out.’ 

You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Inclusivity comes at a price, which is often the sacrifice of the comfort that comes from echo chambers. Some people try to dismiss certain ideas to make others feel comfortable, but we do not have to set aside the diversity of ideas for the sake of inclusivity. 

Some will still claim that we must fight to include certain marginalized groups. While this is true, the fight for inclusivity is not a zero-sum game. Fighting for one group to have a spot at the table does not inherently mean that another group must lose theirs. Everyone ought to have a voice. Just because one group historically had power over another does not warrant marginalizing either group. Power dynamics do not warrant mistreatment to anyone. Rather, it should be a catalyst to ensure equality among all. 

Where was the compassion when I had to comfort my sister during her mental breakdowns because she had nowhere else to turn?

Do not claim the mantle of inclusion if you actually are exclusive. Do not masquerade as something you are not. Be honest with yourself: what would an inclusive society look like? Would it include everyone at the table, or would it keep some out to make others feel safe? The former is objectively inclusive, the latter objectively exclusive. Opening up to other people of different backgrounds is the way forward. As for my sister, my advice to those who would like to help her is this: keep politics out of the conversation. If it does enter the conversation, be open-minded. Above all, just listen. I guarantee that you will learn something and  be much better off if you do not jump to any conclusions. 

As an aside, I will say that many conservatives and Trump supporters that I have told about my sister’s transition have been nothing but open-minded and receptive about it. Often times, they do not argue with me but just listen to what I have to say. I can name only one or two incidents when someone was genuinely hostile to me because of my sister. On the other hand, every person on the political left whom I have talked to about my sister always talks about how gender is a spectrum or how my sister is another case of the “oppression of transgender people.” Make what you will of that, but it goes without saying that only one side can really claim openness.

Not listening to one another causes an inherent lack of distrust of the “other.” You never know who has an agenda. What we really need nowadays are people who listen and are upfront and honest about what they want. When I talk to someone who might be hostile to the idea of my sister transitioning–conservatives and Trump supporters, for example–I do not take the opportunity to “educate” that person. I just talk about my sister’s story and leave it at that. If they want to talk politics, so be it; I am not the kind of person around whom others have to walk on eggshells. Still, there are times when politics and agendas must enter into the equation and there are times when they need to be left aside. Otherwise, it simply breeds mistrust, and nobody’s the wiser at the end of the day. When I do leave politics aside and just talk frankly about a sensitive subject, I find a receptive audience. The personal does not have to be political.

Reflections on Visiting Dachau

The Holocaust is a story about what it means to be human, both for those who were prisoners and those who were executioners.

As Holocaust Remembrance Week comes to a close, one Tiger remembers.

Nine and a half years ago, my family went on a trip to Germany with one of our stops at the concentration camp in Dachau, Germany. While my eleven-year-old self did not completely comprehend the history behind the concentration camp, it gave me the opportunity today–almost a decade later–to reflect on the experience.

I do not remember seeing much. Most of the buildings, except for the foundations, were gone; only the administration block and a large sculpture dedicated to the victims were points of interest. The crematorium and a part of the barracks were still up, almost frozen in time. Other than that, you would not be able to tell that one of history’s biggest atrocities unfolded on that ground. The surrounding area was developed, in a sense moved on, but the camp was a window into an awful past, a past that needs to stay remembered.

I think what I took away from that experience was not something tangible, like a collection of photos I can show to others, but the idea that people just like ourselves can run a brutally monstrous operation. I remember briefly talking with a postgraduate student at Trinity about the Holocaust, and she wondered aloud how anyone could be capable of such despicable evil. I knew the answer: people who wanted to gain power did so by stoking and inflaming ordinary people’s prejudices. They sold the public on the idea that their problems came from the presence of a group of people and that only when that group is gone will everything be fine.

We would be foolish to think that Dachau is simply an artifact for the public to walk around on, stare at, and take pictures of. We would be missing the whole point of why Dachau and the other Nazi concentration camps are preserved to this day. To me, Dachau stands as a testament to what happens when people refuse to see or hear evil, while others exploited people’s fears and anxieties to carry out unspeakable atrocities. Judging from what was uncovered when the U.S. Army liberated Dachau, ordinary people are clearly capable of truly terrible things. 

It is easy to look at history as something that someone else did, that under the same circumstances, we would never do the same thing. We are mortified at the idea that the Nazis were capable of such evil, when, in fact, a lot of their most brutal tactics were adopted from other countries. But fundamentally, the blame game can only be played for so long until we realize that other people are just people. They behave like us, they act like us, make decisions similar to ours. The Holocaust is a story about what it means to be human, both for those who were prisoners and those who were executioners. It’s a story about ourselves, a story of hatred, and a story of survival.

I am not trying to build sympathy for the camp staff. My only point is that if we cannot see ourselves as capable of doing evil things, we are simply shoving demons into a closet. The Holocaust is not the only instance in history where national compassion toward a particular group of people evaporated. We have to recognize that actual people perpetrated this hatred and not disconnect ourselves from this uncomfortable fact. What we can do is learn from others, learn from history, and make sure that something like the Holocaust never happens again and continue to fight the injustices of our time.

Racism’s Antidote

“You know you’re a mud person, right, Zach?”

Ease, not discomfort, should be our aim.

“You know you’re a mud person, right, Zach?”

During my senior year of high school, one of my friends asked me this question point-blank during lunch. I was caught slightly off-guard, but looking back on it now, I am amazed at how composed I was while answering the question.

“Yes, I’m aware,” I chuckled, half-confused. “It’s the KKK term for non-white people.”

My friend, a staunch conservative and a white guy, asked me again, to which I gave the same response. After that, I recall him asking me the question again, although with less interest than the first couple of times. I did not think much of the incident at the time—the guy in question was a long-time friend after all—but reflecting back on it, it was only part of a string of racist insults that I took from that same friend during my senior year of high school, including “anchor baby” and “beaner.” I tolerated the insults because I am admittedly very bad at making friends (I am a hardcore introvert), and I was afraid if I ditched my friend group, I would not be able to find another group of friends to hang out with. I traded racial tolerance for social acceptance and comfort.

When my friend “jokingly” accused my mother of dealing drugs (because there was no way she could have acquired the wealth she has today on her own), it was the final straw. I disavowed my friend on the spot the second time he “jokingly” accused her. I isolated myself socially for the rest of my senior year and I was called a “snowflake” and “someone who couldn’t take a joke.” I ended up going to the dean of students, which was a huge mistake. The dean did not take me seriously, mostly because I was not even sure I was making the right decision, and my friend never got in trouble for the insults he leveled at me. And so for four months (basically, the entirety of my second semester of senior year), I sat alone in the school library because I could not take any more insults. I felt that something was wrong with me, that I mishandled the situation. When I went on a retreat later that semester, my retreat leader told me the same thing.

“Yeah, going to the dean was probably not the best move.”

For some reason, I agreed.

To this day, I still blame myself for what happened. If only I had handled the situation differently, I would not have been ostracized. Maybe if I had put up with the insults a little longer, I would still have my friends.
But I did not handle the situation differently. I did not put up with the insults any longer. And for some reason, I cannot find myself content with how things turned out in the end, even if the situation itself was unfair to begin with. I still think I may have messed up somewhere. But I have been reflecting on these incidents recently, and with that, I would like to share some thoughts about it. Because part of me is inclined to accept that I made the right decision, that I would not tolerate prejudice leveled at me.

The solutions to our race problem lie on a personal level.

To start, the worst part of all of this is that all of these racist insults were said in front of my entire groups of friends, who I might add were almost entirely white (except for one of my close friends, who was a white-passing Asian). They said nothing as they watched my friend humiliate and berate me for my skin color. Looking back on it now, it only adds another painful punch in the gut to the racist insults that I got while I was in high school, which was only a few years ago.

Now, I do not mean to throw my old friends under the bus for something someone else said. A person should be held accountable for their actions alone, not someone else’s. But in that same vein, silence is a consciously chosen action. My friends chose to remain silent when they could have individually or collectively put a stop to my friend’s racist insults. And so in that sense, while my racist friend (I use “friend” loosely here) should be held accountable for his insults, my other friends should be held accountable for their silence in the face of racism.

Of course, this might be just a minor hiccup in the grander scheme of things. It is perfectly reasonable that I could be overthinking the issue. After all, it was two years ago, and I don’t even speak with any of those friends anymore. But it has been a lifelong struggle to feel comfortable in my own skin, as it is for everyone. I have personally struggled to accept my skin color; I will admit, I have wished that I had whiter skin and have gotten angry that I was born with the brown skin tone that I have.

I should point out that my parents raised me colorblind (a common experience among whites, apparently) and taught me not to see race, but recently, it has become harder and harder to pursue that. I want to be clear: I would rather I live in a society that does not see skin color than one that does. I feel that it would lessen race-based problems, but the reality is (as was crudely shoved in my face with racist comments) that we do not and probably will never live in a “post-racial” society. We do see skin color and we do make judgment—consciously and subconsciously—based on race, whether we want to admit it or not. Color-blindness is a pipe dream.

Besides, I am proud of my family heritage, both the white and brown parts, European and indigenous. I am proud that I can trace my family’s heritage back to the British Isles and to pre-Columbian Mexico. I am proud of my mixed-race heritage, a product of my Anglo-American father and Mexican immigrant mother, both of whom I respect, admire, and love deeply.

But this is the point where I have to draw the line with race activists. While I may agree with their experiences (as mine mirror theirs), I do not agree with the conclusions or how they deal with race issues. For one, while I admittedly poke fun at white people every now and then, I try to refrain from using racial slurs as much as I can. And while I admit that I have been uncomfortable with my skin tone, I do not envy my sister, my father, or any other white person for having a pale skin tone. In both of these instances, I fail to see how putting down or envying other people helps my situation; while some people rationalize this by arguing that “white people need to be uncomfortable” in order for race discourse to move forward, I vehemently oppose methods I see as abhorrent in which that discourse is shifted. Method matters.

In conclusion, I feel that solutions to the “race problem” we have lie on a personal level. While not a panacea, friendship is vastly underrated in interracial relations. Again, friendship (and marriage) with a person of color does not automatically make someone anti-racist, but it certainly makes it much harder to be racist. Additionally, it would help everyone to acknowledge and distinguish between fact and fiction. And finally, I think it would be beneficial to emphasize the value of individualism, not as a mechanism for color-blindness, but as a way to invigorate value and pride in one’s family heritage. Individualism and racial identity do not have to be mutually exclusive.

To give an example of this friendship in action: I’ve benefited greatly from having friends from other races. There are some cultures and countries that I’m completely ignorant about, and I’ve learned a lot about those countries and their relationships with my own from these friends. It’s harder to hate people once you get to know them, and the same is true for cultures. Fundamentally, I would say these friendships are anti-racist because there is a mutual understanding that has to exist in order for it to flourish, that understanding being predicated on cultural and historical knowledge. If that factor is absent, that friendship cannot survive.

Racism is a crude form of collectivism that has survived in myriad forms for centuries. It could very well be the case that racism is so embedded in American society that in order to eliminate it, a complete upheaval is necessary to remove it. The emphasis on Euro-centric beauty standards, racial profiling, mass incarceration, targeted immigration quotas, racist comments, and segregation are all but a few ways that racism (or white supremacy) continues to survive in this country. I doubt that these issues can be eliminated without a serious movement to address them. But this would involve having to change hearts and minds over racism, and I think the current generation of race activists has failed to do that: they have only alienated those who would otherwise work diligently to solve these issues. Only when we lay out a clear vision of what we want without disadvantaging anyone can we begin to imagine a post-racial society.