It was a dark and dorm-y night. Unable to study in my room with the loud post–house meeting hubbub creeping up from the Kenwood lounge, I make my way to the fifth-floor study room. En route, I notice a violet poster hiding a crumpled, dejected piece of paper. Lifting it reveals an ad for a pro-life march in D.C. At the corner of the hall I catch another one of these pro-life posters, this time layered in graffiti that spells “hands off my vagina.” The scene was more or less the same at the other two sad pro-life posters I passed before arriving at my destination. Is this what liberalism looks like? Vulgar graffiti on posters with which you disagree? Are all views acceptable today, except those which aren’t yours?
After writing that article on my induction into the wonderful world of collegiate “humps and dumps,” I was surprised by the plethora of people who reached out to me, especially the handful of Muslim students and the one who explained how he was “pretty happy that someone put it out there for others to read; sometimes I feel like the rest of the school should understand or at least recognize our dilemmas.” But I was most stunned by how “offensive” my article seemed in the eyes of Maroon commentators and classmates alike. Yes, I know it’s not proper writer’s etiquette to respond to reader remarks, but we are living in a post-modernist era where societal norms are meant to be broken, and almost anything goes (as long as it’s in line with post-modernist non-doctrine doctrine). Nonetheless, I am writing this not to buttress the virtues of my own article or to use as many Franco-English words as humanly possible, but because I realized something greater than my journalistic repute lies at stake: viewpoints. Not this section of the Maroon in particular, but viewpoints— perspectives, beliefs, opinions— as well as the ability to express, flirt, question, mull, and engage with them at large.
It seems boys and dorm rooms aren’t the only magical entities here at U of C: It didn’t take long for me to recognize that each time I mentioned a particular, made a description, or stated my personal opinion in my articles or beyond, I would hear voices—soprano, tenor, and sometimes alto—crying “YOU ARE OFFENSIVE!” Why must my personal opinion be offensive? I am not claiming to know universal truths or platonic forms—I am merely describing my experiences and my personal ruminations of the befores and afters. My claims are not facts and shouldn’t be treated as such. In my previous column, I briefly shared my feelings on “humps and dumps”: how, despite the pressure to participate in that culture, I prefer to decline. By doing so, I am not professing that those who do engage in it while packing their “hills of flesh” into spandex and crop tops are immoral or wrong; I simply have personally reasoned to choose another code of dress and conduct.
But let’s not delude ourselves: Our actions do affect each other. By choosing to attend the University of Chicago, we have decided to risk the life of fun in favor of that of the mind, and more importantly, we have decided to join a community. In joining this community, each student is associated with the associations of this university—Milton Friedman, cute squirrels, theory, and the like—but it also works the other way around. Each of our actions, accomplishments, and endeavors reflects on the University as well. By behaving according to excellence, we create an atmosphere, a culture of excellence, and a community of excellence; by acting with vice, well, I’ll refer you to Book I of Nichomachean Ethics for that. As Haleigh Miller correctly proclaimed in herMaroon op-ed last week ("Let Me Choose To Seal My Lips," 11/19/13), we can do whatever we want in college. However, it seems myopic to think that an individual’s behavior does not affect her greater community. After all, even the greatest empire in history crumbled at the hand of the pursuit of individual pleasure according to Cicero, Polybius, and Montesquieu, among other great dead white men. Whether we like it or not, every woman is a representative of womankind, every man a representative of mankind, every Jew a representative of Judaism, and every UChicago student a representative of the University of Chicago. It may seem like a heavy burden, but this responsibility also holds an opportunity for greatness.
There is certainly room to disagree, but ending the debate by claiming I’m “offensive” or “shaming” people does more harm than good and sheds light on the real hidebound party. I am happy to discuss, but how can I engage in productive dialogue when I’m told I am being offensive and judgmental by one who asks to be spared my “vomit-inducing prose that wouldn’t make it past a seventh grade creative writing workshop,” as one commenter wrote? The lack of respect for any opinion that is not in line with liberal doctrine is inherently not liberal. In effect, many of these champions of the “offended” morph into the very bigots they loudly claim to criticize.
Nonetheless, respecting and tolerating another’s opinion does not mean I must accept it. Undertaking every opinion would leave me upholding none: As the Talmud teaches, “Tafasta maruba lo tafasta” (If you have seized a lot, you have not seized) (Chagigah, 17a). I have principles, values, ideas, and boundaries that I live, eat, drink, greet a rainbow, and tie my shoes by, and I am far from ashamed of that fact. The line between constructive dialogue and acerbic castigation seems to have been fogged by a haze of political correctness and oversensitivity in recent times.
Call me conservative, orthodox, traditional, or whatever word has now accrued a negative connotation in secular society, but a true liberal would respect my opinions for being mine. Why are my values less valuable than secular ones? I assume most people would be jarred by someone running naked through a mall. Coming from a sheltered environment, a frat was a jarring sense experience for me—that’s my viewpoint. The critical voices I heard are appealing to liberalistic norms, which are valid, but why are those any better than mine? If values are subjective and relative, and individuals are entitled to their opinions, then by definition, my religious or moral ones should safely stand in the waning vortex of “valid.” Silencing differing voices not only leaves us with a bland milieu, but will turn human discourse into a stagnant monologue stuck on replay, stifling the very notion of progress. I am not asking readers to agree with me or to buy chastity belts; I simply would like to share my “viewpoint” sans unwarranted censure.
Eliora Katz is a first-year in the College.