In a column a few weeks ago, I offered “a confession of liberal intolerance,” criticizing my fellow progressives for promoting all kinds of diversity on campuses — except ideological. I argued that universities risk becoming liberal echo chambers and hostile environments for conservatives, and especially for evangelical Christians.The price paid by liberals for this is that they are indeed blind to many things. Maybe twenty years ago, I was involved in a debate about the right response to gun violence. Now gun violence was very much worse twenty years ago, about twice as bad as it is now -- which is to say that it has been halved since then, during a period when the legal right to carry arms has vastly expanded and the number of firearms in private hands has increased sharply.
As I see it, we are hypocritical: We welcome people who don’t look like us, as long as they think like us.
It’s rare for a column to inspire widespread agreement, but that one led to a consensus: Almost every liberal agreed that I was dead wrong.
“You don’t diversify with idiots,” asserted the reader comment on The Times’s website that was most recommended by readers (1,099 of them). Another: Conservatives “are narrow-minded and are sure they have the right answers.”
Finally, this one recommended by readers: “I am grossly disappointed in you for this essay, Mr. Kristof. You have spent so much time in troubled places seemingly calling out misogyny and bigotry. And yet here you are, scolding and shaming progressives for not mindlessly accepting patriarchy, misogyny, complementarianism, and hateful, hateful bigotry against the LGBTQ community into the academy.”
Listening to liberals talk about gun violence today, however, I can see that they're totally blind to the correlation. Indeed, mostly they're blind to the tremendous success we've had in reducing gun violence. About two-thirds of gun deaths now are suicides, and a right to suicide is generally supported by liberals as long as it's "doctor assisted." Almost all of those facts are opaque to liberals, on campus or in politics, who are discussing the issue today. Hillary Clinton talks as if there were an epidemic of gun violence in immediate need of addressing, for example, and none of these academics seem to correct her assumptions.
So in this debate twenty years ago, I was arguing the position that a plausible way to cut down on gun deaths was to educate people about how to use guns safely and accurately. We could have courses in riflemanship in the public schools, teaching along the way the overlapping, mutually-reinforcing "four rules" of gun safety. At least in that way we could plausibly eliminate most of the accidental deaths, and enable people who wanted to be part of the solution to crime by carrying guns to do so in a better way.
"No, no," the moderator said. "We're not even going to consider that."
A liberal friend of mine jumped in, though, and pointed out that the argument I was raising was exactly similar to the liberal argument for sex education in schools. Yes, it's risky to teach kids about sex. Yes, it violates a number of commonly-held sexual taboos (more so in those days -- American society has abandoned most of its sexual taboos since then). But it's also risky not to teach kids about a danger they are very likely to encounter. Empowering them with knowledge about how to protect themselves while engaging in the dangerous practice would cut down on negative results. Further, an empowered citizenry such as our form of government imagines ought to be educated, not 'kept away' from dangerous knowledge.
It was an insightful moment, but the moderator still shut down the discussion. He did acknowledge the parallel, however uncomfortably, but still ruled that guns were a bridge too far for education. It's an idea that simply could not be considered, not even though the parallel argument was a major platform piece for liberals in those days.