Political correctness demystified the Left. I saw amongst the radical students a herd mentality more rigid and unthinking than I’d ever seen in an entire life growing up in a fundamentalist church (yes, fundamentalist — our little sect believed only its members merited eternal life). The herd conventional wisdom hardened virtually overnight, debate was minimal to nonexistent, and condescension and anger substituted for reason and thought. Activists raged at Christians for being intolerant, yet they exhibited less tolerance and open-mindedness than any angry pastor or minister I’d ever heard — and I’d listened to lots of anger from the pulpit. I often met liberals who’d literally never heard a coherent conservative argument and never met a conservative Evangelical. Especially in pre-Internet days, the liberal cocoon of elite education, urban liberalism, and radical readings could be virtually hermetically sealed. Even now — with an entire Internet of information about alternative ideas — Leftists often “learn” about conservatives by clicking on links with headlines like “Jon Stewart DEMOLISHES Sean Hannity” or “Right Wing Wingnuts Still Hate Science.”
In the intolerance, I also saw hope. During one particularly memorable day, when radicals started shrieking when I questioned why our professor referred to an unborn child as a mere “clump of cells,” I remember speaking to a small group of students after class. They told me they were questioning some of their pro-choice views. “Why?” I asked. Because, they responded, if the leading pro-choice activists couldn’t debate the issue without shout-downs, then perhaps their positions weren’t as intellectually coherent as they led us to believe. Intolerance and intimidation do not breed affection and loyalty. Reasoned arguments and basic kindness have their own appeal, and often the barrier to greater influence lies more in the inability to speak (or to be heard) than in the perceived inadequacy of the ideas.