The Myth of the Liberal American University

Some of the things you wrote made me think of issues that are a bit tangental to our main discussion so I thought I’d address that separate.

Liberal colleges function like churches, for indoctrination, and to serve as “safe spaces”.

What does it even mean that a college is liberal? I went to American university, UND and I “liberal” would be the last way I would describe it as. To me it was more like a reactionary, conservative, moralizing nanny place.

The whole place was policed in a way I have never experienced at a European university. They had people patrolling the dormitories, making sure nobody was drinking or smoking weed. In fact you could not drink anywhere on campus and that was strictly enforced.

Most dormitories where gender segregated and I don’t quite remember the rules regarding women visiting, but there was some restrictions on that.

In my experience the place was really obsessed with rules and heavy handed about enforcing them. I remember spending some weeks at a sort of alcoholics anonymous meetings there which made my Norwegians friends almost choke on laughter knowing that I wasn’t all that much of a drinker.

But by American puritan standards I supposed I had a problem. After all I had taken a sip of a alcohol that a friend had just bought and wanted to me try. Strictly verboten on campus. On another occasion I had had taken the blame for some beer discovered in a room. My friend was terrified his mother would find out.

That was two strikes and if I did not make amends for my highly immoral behavior I would get kicked off campus. Hence it was time sit in a circle every week talking about our “alcohol problems.”

Which I quickly discovered nobody had. Nobody was there for a good reason. It was just overzealous puritanical rules obsession. I remember one girl being there for having helped her temporarily disabled friend get a pack of beers into the trunk of her car. All the other cases was equally ridiculous.

Ironically I liked the guy leading the whole thing, so I feel a bit bad criticizing the whole setup as he had the heart in the right place. His talents where utterly wasted however.

The people in my circle where not exactly loud SJWs trying to stick it to the man. Instead it was almost a bit sad how compliant they where. They where not there for any good reason, yet nodded and agreed to almost any suggested, and freely “confessed” how much useful stuff they had learned from out session.

It was up to the this “rebellious” Scandinavian to call the BS of the whole arrangement. I guess in Norway we are quite hung up on being honest. You tell the truth even if it brings you discomfort. Saying what people want to hear is regarded in many ways as impolite.

And so I was frank. I said I could not see that anyone belonged in the group, and that they where not spending their resources wisely. I remarked that I had never seen as much drug abuse anywhere in my life. In fact at the time I had not yet lived in the Netherlands. I could have added that I had not even seen as much drug abuse in a country where soft-drugs are legal.

The reason was crystal clear. Alcohol was strictly forbidden all over the place for American teenagers. It was not merely illegal but cracked down on hard. Alcohol is hard to hide and so what I observed was that American teenagers greatly preferred weed to alcohol because it was easier to hide.

Now soft-drugs was also strictly forbidden in the US back then, which led to many college students getting in touch with some rather unsavory elements.

What and Actual Liberal University Looks Like

In fact I only stayed 1 year at UND, and that was in large part due to how conservative and rules obsessed American society appeared to me. So when American conservatives speak of how the terrible liberals are everywhere, I frankly have trouble grasping what on earth they are going on about. Liberals are controlling campuses because some professors are liberal in their views and many of the students are?

What about the rules regarding how these places operate? Are they particularly liberal? I don’t think so.

I had enough and specifically wanted to go to a place that was actually liberal. So I went to the Netherlands and spent 3 years there. Now there was real freedom and real liberalism.

I lived on campus, but the student housing actually treated me and everybody else as adults. Nobody was patrolling our housing. We had our own apartment. We cooked our own meals and there was no arbitrary restrictions on gender. I shared apartment with both guys and girls.

How about alcohol? Well I basically had Heineken bar almost right outside my window. I could have strolled down in my slippers on the weekend and take a beer at the bar at party if I had wanted to.

I could remark that at the University of Oslo, Norway first day at university involves beer tents and lots of drinking. I might add that weed smoking is quite rare in Norway. And why not. You can have a beer like a proper adults without being sent to “wannabe alcoholic anonymous” to talk about your problems.

Yes some people smoked weed at Dutch University as well. But not really as common as the US. Why would they. Not all that exciting when it was legal, and you could easily have a beer.

American Safe Space May Be Reactionary

I cannot say I have the impression that safe spaces is a thing at European universities. But they probably don’t need it either. My experience with the US is that conservatives seem quite intolerant of liberal views and values.

Say you are a atheist and it is almost like saying your are a devil worshipper. You see how many young people who are gay or somehow don’t fit the narrow parameters of conservative life who get kicked out or disowned by their parents. I remember people I met in Utah, who where basically cast out from having gotten pregnant or done something else that did not fit narrow conservative morality.

My impression when I talk to and listen to many liberal Americans is that they feel vulnurable. They have parents or society around them which do not approve of them. I think this creates anger, resentment and militarism which makes American progressive seems somewhat unhinged at times.

Atheism in American e.g. is a lot more in your face, than in Norway. But here religion is such a non-issue that a lot of people don’t even bother to stick a label on themselves. Religion is utterly uninteresting to them and nobody around them demands any position on the matter. So it is all just one big shrug. Americans don’t have that luxury. You are weighed and measured and told to confirm.

I think American liberals have really just learned to copy and ape a lot of the intolerant attitude of their American conservative peers. They are used to being policed regarding their opinions and hence they start doing the same themselves. This is the behavior they have learned.

It is why I believe America has a cultural war. Both sides are rather uncompromising, but I would say a lot of that began with the the rather intolerant puritanical American conservatism, which dominates American society.

Conservatives love to talk about how liberalism is everywhere, but American society itself mostly operate on quite conservative principles. Rules tend to be strict, punishment strict. I don’t know the current state in the US, but when we had Americans on exchange in high school we learned the concept of “public display of affection.” Apparently hugging and kissing in the high school where they where from was illegal. Mind blowing.

In the state I lived in 15 years or so ago, I believe cohabitation for unmarried couples was still illegal.

Conservative values permeates all of American society. Getting contraceptives is hard for teenagers. Just getting medical advice related to their sexual life is hard. In e.g. Scandinavia you typically have youth health centers where full anonymity where teenagers can go free to get help related to safe sex, STDs, contraceptives etc.

Now I will not claim sex education is great in Norway, but when I compare with what my American wife was taught, it sounds like America exists in a different century. There is a certain almost Victorian attitude to the whole thing.

One cannot help but notice when traveling in the US, and see special places for breast feeding women in the bathrooms. Really is breastfeeding such a shameful things that women need to hide it in a bathroom?

I mean people can have whatever values and opinions they want about it. But from a European perspective, the way American conservatives cry rivers about how their rights are encroached by liberals rings rather hollow, in a society that caters to their values almost everywhere.

That they don’t get to call the shots everywhere and that highly educated professors aren’t preaching hardcore conservative values, should not surprise anyone.

Perhaps if conservatives showed more tolerance towards liberal values, there would be more tolerance towards their values as well. Isn’t it usually supposed to be about giving and taking?

Geek dad, living in Oslo, Norway with passion for UX, Julia programming, science, teaching, reading and writing.

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