I was at a conference not long ago where attendees had the opportunity to take free books on conservatism. As I selected a few good titles I overheard someone say, “I’m going to take a picture of the books and show them to people when I am in a debate, that way they will think I’m educated instead of actually reading them!” True story. My blood boiled immediately. I turned around to see an obnoxiously large stack of in the hands of someone so ignorant as to feign intelligence.
During negotiations with Soviet Russia, President Ronald Reagan once said, “Trust, but verify.” His advice may seem oxymoronic, but I think it’s deeply insightful, not only in regards to other nations but to knowledge as well.
If you’re a rational activist like me, you’re probably haunted by this question: How do you know if what you are arguing is true? Add the fact that your conservative ideas are very unpopular on liberal campuses, and you may find yourself doubting your own beliefs at every turn.
The only possible way to defeat this nagging doubt is to become educated on the arguments of both ideologies, and to draw your own conclusions. Listening to conservatives like Ben Shapiro or Milo Yiannopoulos give arguments about why liberals are wrong is simply not enough. The only way you can demonstrate that a liberal is wrong is by knowing his argument just as well as he does. Only when you genuinely study both sides of the aisle will you be able to speak with true conviction.
After that, you must work to understand thoroughly the arguments and make them your own. During a debate between the College Republicans and the College Democrats this past spring, one of the debaters had memorized almost word for word an argument used by Ben Shapiro. Unbeknownst to him, his opponent on the side of the Democrats had also seen the video in preparation for the debate and was ready to refute Shapiro’s points. If the Republican had familiarized himself with the field surrounding the debate topic, he would have been much better equipped to handle his opponent’s counterarguments.
Once you uncover where you stand on these principles—either liberal or conservative—then you can trust that you are ready to develop your argument. Unless you verify your ideas, you’ll be relying on mediocre copies of other peoples’ arguments—and that won’t get you very far as an activist or a student.