OP-EDS

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March 10, 2021

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9:20 a.m.

The Worst Because They Assume It

The Thinker and The Maroon need to stop assuming the worst motives of their ideological counterparts if they wish to fulfill their role as platforms of productive coverage and constructive debate.

A version of this article was originally written for and submitted to the Chicago Thinker but was withdrawn by the author over disagreements with The Thinkers editorial process.

There is a prescient quote in Christopher Hitchens’s book on Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man that reads, “It is a deformity in some ‘radicals’ to imagine that, once they have found the lowest or meanest motive for an action or for a person, they have correctly identified the authentic or ‘real’ one.” Nowhere at the University of Chicago is this deformity more bloated and unattractive than in the pages of The Chicago Maroon. According to its pages, Greek life is rooted in classism and racism and must be abolished. UCPD is an agent of racial injustice and must be abolished. Students playing devil’s advocate are “masking racism as intellectual discourse” and must be…well, you get the picture.

The ill-informed reader may see these stories as evidence that The Maroon’s writers exclusively publish articles filled with disgust and resentment for the school most of them pay to attend. Though this is not the case (they also post COVID-19 updates), it is emblematic of the corrosive tone with which my peers so easily accuse this University’s institutions, administrators, and students of being sinister and in need of complete overhaul.

The Chicago Thinker improves campus discourse by openly claiming to be a conservative and libertarian publication that can showcase opinions not easily found in The Maroon. Though the Thinker does not claim bipartisanship, it too should avoid the “deformity in some ‘radicals’” of implying the worst motives in those with whom it’s writers disagree. Frequently, where The Maroon shouts white supremacy or systemic racism, the Thinker shouts Marxism as if its opponents wish to govern using Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book. Such exaggerated conclusions do a disservice to the role of both The Maroon and the Thinker as platforms for critical reporting and debate. By refusing to assume the worst in their political opponents, The Maroon and the Thinker would trade their politicized clickbait for thoughtful content worthy of the school their writers attend.

My experience writing for The Maroon went a bit like the construction of the Obama Presidential Library—it stalled in 2018 before having a resurgence in 2021. I attended a couple of “hustling” sessions for the paper, which one third-year described to me as “like rushing a fraternity but with thousand-word deadlines instead of drinking contests.” This was a good reminder that I was attending the University of Chicago and not Arizona State University. The writers and editors that I met were both friendly and engaging. They seemed excited to advertise their publication to the potential staff of the paper’s next generation. Unfortunately, after submitting my first and (aside from this OP-ED) only article to The Maroon, I was forced to reconsider my future with the paper.

My article was a brief write-up of a speech by conservative journalist and commentator Jonah Goldberg at the Institute of Politics (IOP). Goldberg was promoting his new book Suicide of the West, in which he identifies certain threats to American democracy and examines his position as a Never Trump conservative. Goldberg was joined by then–IOP Pritzker Fellow Mary Katherine Ham, a conservative commentator who writes for The Federalist and contributes to CNN.

After paraphrasing the discussion, I concluded with a summary of Goldberg and Ham’s final statements. The two conservatives, I wrote in an initial draft, were “content with their position in the media and continue to check the chaos in pursuit of a return to constructive debate.” Harmless, right? Wrong.

Meeting me in The Maroon office, my editor smirked as he read what I thought was a rather dry and straightforward piece. Had I formatted improperly? No, as I recall, he responded, “Jonah Goldberg is just not someone we want to display in a positive light.” There it was. The Maroon had become so politicized that not even a speech from a Never Trump conservative could be covered honestly. Once the final draft was complete, I left The Maroon’s office and have yet to return. I did not want to have my writing manipulated by a group of students whose only qualifications for taking this line of political moral authority were the Pod Save America and Bernie Sanders stickers plastered across their MacBook Pros.

The Maroon refers to itself as “the independent student newspaper of the University of Chicago,” with the implication being that it reports upon a diverse range of both events and opinions. However, The Maroon’s overt dedication to the political worldview of one group of students neglects the diversity of opinion within the Hyde Park community while damaging its integrity as an essential publication on the University of Chicago’s campus. Choosing to shun even honest reports of speakers with whom it disagrees displays an arrogance and dishonesty that benefits no one.

Given The Maroon’s progressive bias, the campus should welcome the Chicago Thinker as a necessary source of opposition. Like the Viewpoints section of The Maroon, the Thinker is healthiest when publishing underrepresented opinions for the rest of the University to disagree with and debate. To establish a healthy forum of debate, however, both parties must assume the best of their opponents so that a consensus may be achieved. The Thinker, therefore, must avoid the cynicism and hyperbole that make the whines of some Maroon writers so unbearable.

In early February, the Thinker bravely criticized the University’s misguided and punitive COVID-19 policies. Rather than analyze the mental health side effects or educational failings of such restrictions, however, the piece uses COVID-19 as a focal point around which the author strings together conclusions about “left-wing orthodoxy” and “the new world order.” The article compares the United States during COVID-19 to both the Soviet Union and the Chinese Communist Party before describing on-campus restrictions as evidence of “the powerful fist crushing freedom at universities.” Refusing to acknowledge the good intentions of school administrators, this piece commits the same mistake as The Maroon editor who refused to grant Goldberg the benefit of the doubt.

It is as if admission to the University of Chicago confirms the worldviews of writers at The Maroon or the Thinker, removing any need for them to question the beliefs and prejudices they developed in high school. Yet our college experience demands more than any high school could require, by confronting us with new institutions and social situations that students must navigate in order to grow. The University of Chicago’s administration remains publicly committed to neutrality and free expression, but students must also embrace these values if they are to thrive. This means respecting the argument of the devil’s advocate in your Sosc class rather than running to the keyboard to decry him as “the next Josh Hawley.”

There are actual evils that exist in the world today which demand correction: China’s genocide of the Uyghur population, the Kremlin’s directed show trials of Alexei Navalny, and China’s suffocation of democracy in Hong Kong are just a few examples. So, when The Maroon accuses conservative students of being bigots or the Thinker makes exaggerated conclusions comparing COVID-19 restrictions to communist China, they should not be surprised when they lose credibility.

I began with a quote, so, like any good 10th-grade English student, I’ll end with one: “We are not here to tolerate our differences, we are here to accept them. We are not here to celebrate our sameness, we are here to salute our distinctions.… As individuals, we unite in our values. Celebrate that.” Who wrote that? Was it Paine, Rousseau, Marx, or Nietzsche? Nope. It was Matthew McConaughey, an actor who, like The Chicago Maroon and the Chicago Thinker, is best when he’s not taking himself so seriously.

Jack Capizzi is a third-year in the College.