Last week, I attended the debate between the Vassar Conservative Libertarian Union (VCLU) and the Vassar Democrats about the issues of gun control, energy policy and immigration. Like the majority of people at Vassar, I consider myself quite liberal, and because of that (and my own personal very negative experience with certain members of the organization) I went into it with a bit of a preconceived bias against the VCLU. At the same time, I recognized that the knowledge that I possessed about all perspectives and details of these particular issues was not all-encompassing, so I was intrigued to hear the arguments from both groups.
The first thing that I came to realize at this event was that an alarming number of people appear to eagerly accept whatever they hear without any sort of critical thinking if it happens to confirm what they already believe, think and value. This really shouldn’t have been news to me after having taken numerous psychology classes discussing terms like “confirmation bias” and “in-group, out-group bias,” but actually seeing it action was weird. It is easy to imagine that only specific groups of extremely narrow-minded and uninformed people are susceptible to this way of thinking. I hate to break it to you, but us “highly educated” liberal arts college students are far from immune.
I say this because—not to sound harsh, because if I had to stand in front of a giant crowd of people and debate complicated and controversial issues I would probably melt into a puddle of my own sweat before I got a word out—the Vassar Democrats were not very good at debating. If you are reading this and you were one of the debaters, I am really sorry, but it’s true. Some folks certainly performed better than others, but overall it seemed as though they had not done the same depth and breadth of research as their opponents. It felt as though they expected the VCLU to present the sort of inflammatory statements and blatantly false information that many Republican presidential candidates have done, making the Dems’ job as easy as saying things that actually make some semblance of logical sense. Especially given the fact that the majority of the audience would be liberal and therefore agree with them, I would not be at all surprised to know that many of the Dems had felt confident (dare I say cocky?) enough to go into the debate much less prepared than they should have been. Evidence of this played out in the gun control and immigration rounds of the debate, but I think what best illustrates my point was the energy policy round. The Dems focused on the immediate need to combat the effects of global climate change because CLIMATE CHANGE IS REAL AND WILL KILL US ALL, while the VCLU remained skeptical about the science behind the scope of humanity’s role in climate change. However, both sides seemed to agree about the importance of investing in sustainable and renewable energy and technology. Great! Well, until the VCLU questioned the proposed carbon tax and stricter emissions regulations for industries and the ensuing costs that would be passed onto consumers, and asked how the Dems would offset increased costs of electricity for low-income families. I thought it was reasonable and important question, but instead of answering it, the Dems reiterated that CLIMATE CHANGE IS REAL AND WILL KILL US ALL. This happened multiple times.
And yet…the crowd applauded.
Meanwhile, I was confused. I am someone who 100% believes in climate change, what humans have done to contribute to it, and that immediate action must be taken. I too am exasperated when people don’t believe that climate change is real and will kill us all. I completely disagreed with a lot of VCLU’s positions throughout the debate and thought that some of what they said was pretty problematic. It’s not like I am suddenly ready to join their club. However, I did agree with many of their critiques. In this instance, the Dems avoided an important question that they should have had an answer to, and were not even putting together a strong argument about climate change in the meantime, but the majority of the audience enthusiastically cheered and celebrated their responses regardless. That was extremely confusing to me. It was like a football game where people devotedly support their team regardless of how terribly they might be playing. The Dems were not saying much aside from repeating a few “liberal” buzzwords every other sentence, but from the audience’s reaction it was as though they had just scored a touchdown.
This all being said, it is important to acknowledge the challenges of not instantly accepting the opinions of others and actually evaluating what is being said. I certainly struggle with it, and I think that Internet liberalism in particular tends to fall into this trap really easily. Wading though all of the new information, opinions, arguments, and beliefs constantly being presented through the media and online can be confusing and time-consuming. Sometimes it becomes difficult to decipher if you are actually thinking individually and originally, or simply regurgitating the points that others have made before you, and that’s kind of scary. I challenge us to use those critical thinking skills that I know we have as students and apply them to everything, even the words of those that you (think you) agree with. Don’t thoughtlessly accept something that you saw on the Internet as fact, do your own research, consider alternative perspectives, and form your own opinions. And don’t cheer for people who are actually doing a lousy job at debating simply because they share the same political affiliation as you.
Now enjoy this video of Donald Trump, something that we can ALL agree as being objectively ridiculous: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RDrfE9I8_hs