A Republican in College

Last week, a young woman took to twitter as young (and not so young) people often do, to share her feelings. Michelle Shampton wrote that “As a Republican in college, I am genuinely afraid to speak about my conservative views in fear of being stereotyped or labeled negatively.”

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Her tweet comes amidst an apparently endless, ongoing narrative from some that American universities are dens of socialist inequity whereby instructors fill students’ head with leftist dogma, resulting directly in mob rule that asserts various left-wing ideas as unquestionable orthodoxy. I would argue that such a view has genuine merit but moves very quickly towards the less interesting and not as laudable goal of throwing some red meat to a hungry audience, filled with incorrect assumptions about professor salaries and how we use our time. I repeat: the view has genuine merit. The compulsion to correct another, to enforce the correctness of an idea, is directly proportional to one’s conviction s/he is “in the right” and this rule applies to either side of the political spectrum, not to mention the various fragments contained within our increasingly outdated binary view of left and right. Unfortunately in the case of Shampton’s tweet, the Internet soon obliged in offering further evidence of this problem (just see the replies to her tweet). She was widely mocked, and many tweets quoted her comments in horror while pointing out that being murdered because of one’s sexual orientation, for example, is far worse than being worried about being stereotyped in college.

Well… yeah. I would agree with that, though I have trouble understanding why one would immediately jump to such a comparison unless it was an accepted truth that it is perfectly okay for conservatives or people holding conservative views to feel they are in the minority while in college. I do not think this should be an accepted truth.

It also strikes me as unfair that this statement was immediately met with replies that implied she supported crimes against LGBTQ people, amid other horrifying acts. She never said any such thing. I imagine no small amount of these responses were inspired by Tim Allen’s recent colourful description of being a conservative in Hollywood “is like ‘30s Germany”, a comparison that is both grossly disrespectful and borderline anti-Semitic in its carelessness and insulting to anyone interested in making genuine historical comparisons (don’t get me started on Trump’s election and 1933, by the way…).

However, Allen made these comments not in a thoughtful op-ed for the LA Times but while shooting back and forth with Jimmy Kimmel on the set of a talk show. He was trying to be funny, and silly. My argument here is not that one can say whatever one wants if it is couched in humour, but to point out that Allen’s comments drew disproportionate attention, which in turn surrounded some entirely valid criticism. I may be wrong, but I find it hard to believe this context did not help shape reaction to Shampton’s tweet.

I’m not interested in policing reactions to the tweet, nor am I qualified to do so. I do, however, want to point out that the reactions to her tweet were extremely unpleasant, and frustrating in how carelessly and often unwittingly they perpetrated a simple act of bullying. If one was to take Shampton’s tweet as a beleaguered cry from beneath chains of oppression, I can see how that would be extremely frustrating. It would also perpetuate a rather unfair critique of academia that, frankly, ascribes almost supernatural powers to the common college instructor in our supposed abilities to bend young minds to our frantic, insidious Socialist will.

I do not believe that American campuses are instruments of indoctrination by a liberal cabal, though I do acknowledge, readily, that conversations on college campuses skew towards liberal biases much more quickly than conservative ones, and sometimes with regrettable results. I also do not believe Shampton was seeking to make this point, though I could be wrong. I do not think this tweet, a short comment of 140 characters or less, don’t forget, made a compelling case. It was a succinct declaration of something this woman felt at that moment, which is what twitter is designed to help share with the world.

However, if she does feel that academia is anti-conservative not just in terms of public conversation but down to its bones, she has every right to think that whether I agree or not. If she was flippantly comparing the plight of being a young conservative in 2017 to that of a gay person in fear of her life because of her sexuality, I would have a problem with that, but I do not see how putting her down or mocking her moves any conversation forward in any way. Speaking as a college instructor, I find the idea that a young person has not yet figured out how to declare her political ideas in a thoroughly convincing way unsurprising, particularly given the reams of evidence much more experienced people, including myself, can often do no better. Furthermore, I welcome this idea. Is not merely understandable, but desirable that undergraduates are still finding their way towards a world view? This should be celebrated and protected. So much of this, I suppose, becomes subsumed into wider conversations about how we use the Internet, but I see no reason why we cannot work towards imposing a moratorium of our own on immediately leaping in to virtually eviscerate a named but essentially still anonymous stranger. The costs would seem less potentially harmful to me than those of benevolent harassment.

History of Games in Public Conversation

I had the pleasure this past week of sitting in as a guest on the Starting Point podcast with Brian Bentley And Corey Dockendorf. We had a great time (go and have a listen!) and in the midst of my unplanned advocation for a gaming lifestyle more or less entirely based on playing games by Blizzard, Brian asked me a great question on the history of video games. When we were young (Brian and I are both either at the tail end of Gen X or old and crusty millennials; I pick the former), video game consoles were toys, products clearly aimed at children; today they are sleek beautiful multimedia devices aimed either at the entire family or specifically at adults. When, Brian asked me, did I think the change that facilitated video games’ move as a medium from one to the other take place?

My answer, in short, was the early to mid 1990s. Specifically, I raised the issue of major sports games becoming extremely popular in public discourse and the subsequent normalization, publicly, of men in their 20s playing video games. Now the reality went both beyond sports games and beyond men in their 20s, of course; I do think, however, that the celebration of sports games in particular played a key role in broader public acceptance of video games as something on which adults spent their leisure time. This is… an idea I have discovered I want to spend a lot more time on. I have been saying for a while now I wanted to write something for a journal on sports and eSports, and this seems like a nice connection project into that, even as a longer blog post, possibly for History Respawned, with a bit more research and work behind it.

So look out for that.

Trouble at the South China Morning Post

There’s a great piece in the Guardian today from Tom Phillips on trouble brewing at the Hong Kong publication the South China Morning Post. The SCMP, one of the most respected newspapers in East Asia and certainly the most authoritative English-language broadsheet, has been slowly slipping towards viewpoints and positions more favourable to Beijing, at least according to some of The Guardian’s sources. Phillips’ (and Christy Yao’s) work uses as its hook the case of Zhao Wei, a young Chinese human rights activist seized in 2015 as part of a government crackdown and allegedly recently released, though her husband and lawyer point out they have yet to be able to make contact with her:

“I have come to realise that I have taken the wrong path,” Zhao was quoted as saying in the article. “I repent for what I did. I’m now a brand new person.”
The story did not make clear how the SCMP had managed to make contact with Zhao and activists, media experts and Zhao’s husband and lawyer suspect the interview was set up by mainland authorities and conducted against her will.

The SCMP becoming more inured to Beijing’s rather skewed view of the press’ role in a modern society is concerning in its own right of course, but the importance of the newspaper as a Hong Kong institution also marks it out as representative of broader fears that predate the handover of the former British colony back to Chinese hands in 1997. The flow of mainland Chinese, be they workers, entrepreneurs or political apparatchiks, has caused concern to simmer gently in Hong Kong for years now. Recent developments surrounding Beijing’s fundamental failure to understand democratic systems have left many in no doubt that the reshaping of Hong Kong public life to make Beijing’s leaders feel more comfortable is happening thanks to more factors than gradual, if inevitable, cultural and political shift.

So yes, it is all rather worrying for those of us who value Hong Kong’s independence (figuratively speaking, of course) and the territory’s contributions to East Asia and the world, despite lots of assurances that this is so much fussing over nothing and bad blood. The Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984 guarantees Hong Kong’s “current social and economic systems”, particularly “[r]ights and freedoms” such as freedom of assembly and, yes, of the press. That guarantee is given only for the first fifty years after the handover. A lot has changed in China since then, and the threat to Hong Kong’s “economic system” is nowhere near as grave as once imagined. The latter however creates ample room for concern, particularly given the persistently disappointing positions taken by Xi Jinping’s government.

Of course one could point out, as many do, that British interest in Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms became somewhat more acute once the handover became a reality. Those who make this point might also make the related point that British interest in Hong Kong democracy was non-existent. And they would be right. Still, we have the Hong Kong we have, and the territory is a wondrous thing. It would be a terrible thing to see that compromised. The SCMP is nowhere near the point of no return but hopefully enough people will take note of the gentle slips and slides towards the precipice.