DI Voices | The path of a collegiate progressive
October 1, 2021
I did not develop an interest in actively pursuing involvement in the political sphere until the start of my freshman year at DePaul University in Chicago. Through my two years at DePaul, before I transferred to this University, I interned for a Chicago Alderman, a Federal Congressman and Senator Dick Durbin. And throughout my time in those government offices, I solidified the two guiding principles of my political ideology: militant empathy and intellectual rigor.
For my first year at DePaul University, I attended the weekly “DePaul Right” club meetings: an overarching organization containing the DePaul Republicans, Young Americans for Freedom, Turning Point USA and other collegiate conservative organizations. Maybe I’ve just had too much time on my hands, seeing as I dedicated countless hours to understanding a variety of flavors of political ideology fundamentally antithetical to my own.
I sat there and listened for months and mandated myself to empathize with the circumstances that brought these perfectly logical people conservative positions. And, looking back, it was almost all personal anecdotes. One woman in the leadership of the organization once stated she believe abortion was rampantly being used as a post hoc Plan B because her aunt allegedly had seven abortions.
Personal anecdotes — while they are very useful to help us understand why an individual tends to hold a belief — do not serve as justification for said opinion. If someone tells me they hate all Greeks because three years ago they were assaulted by a Greek man, I can empathize it was a scary situation that greatly impacted this person. But I must fight like hell and fundamentally reject the notion that this person is justified in their generalization of those feelings to an entire group.
It is simply too easy to dissociate yourselves from members of other groups, and it is too easy to fall into a pit of apathy. “I am not Greek. Why should I care what others think of Greeks?”
Steven Colbert, via Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report, was my earliest memory of politics — around sixth or seventh grade I started watching it. I fell in love with Jon Stewart shortly after. And in all honesty, Jon’s empathy is something special amongst his amalgamated profession of politics and comedy.
After his run on The Daily Show, he turned to advocate for 9/11 first responders. But to those who don’t value empathy as highly, a question might arise: “He is not a 9/11 first responder. Why should he care what others legislate about them?”
At the end of the day, just ask yourself one question. Did you or anyone else make the free will decision to be born into the family we were born into? If the answer is yes, please tell me how on Earth you finagled that deal. In a before-life, was there a little booklet you got to choose your perfect family from?
If the answer is no, you have no other option than to be militantly empathetic because no one had any decision in the matter. You being born into an affluent family X was just as random as you being born into a financially insecure family Y. Stop patting yourself on the back for being born into a specific family. Because of this, I find myself dedicated to using John Rawl’s veil of ignorance to empathize and craft more understanding and empathetic law.
My concept of intellectual rigor breaks down into intellectual curiosity, good faith arguments and subjecting my opinions to incredible scrutiny. I try to be well-read on topics I talk about, and I exit echo chambers and wander off into the conservative camp to challenge my beliefs just as I did with the DePaul Right. Doing so forces you to develop more convincing arguments than you would otherwise.
No conservative group will have a debate over cash transfer payments just as no progressive organization will have a debate over voter suppression. No one has to convince anyone else in the organization and everyone takes the common stance a priori without a second thought. Their homogeneity cripples their ability to argue their position across the aisle.
With all that said, I hope you join me in my dedication to militant empathy and intellectual rigor: Because if you do, wherever you stand currently, I guarantee you’ll turn out a progressive.
Samuel is a senior in LAS