Amherst Doesn’t Prepare Us for Politics

Staff Writer Aaron Holton ’25 indicts Amherst’s cultural norms, urging students to shed preconceived notions and “usher in a new world.”

Over the course of my nearly three years at Amherst, I’ve seen many students take for granted a myriad of assumptions and norms: capitalism is bad, America has and will always be an imperial colonial project, conservatism is but a backward way of thinking, and we must decolonize our minds. The colonial projects that constitute our world have brought nothing but suffering and despair, and it is “we,” the intellectual elite — though we’d never refer to ourselves as such out of fear — who know best. To top it all off, we believe that if conservatism were absent, our world would be better — that, if we were to remove an entire segment of our nation, only then would our problems be solved. I recognize, as should we all, that for any argument to proceed, a basic set of assumptions must either be willingly accepted, or acquiesced to. But, I believe we have grown too comfortable, or, perhaps, too fearful, to challenge those very assumptions — too fearful to be wrong, and so we ostracize any thought or way of thinking different to that which we “know.” Enter the world, however, and what we take to be fact here is little more than opinion there.

What Amherst has done, and unfortunately will continue to do, is create a type of person who is both unprepared to brave the world and who has disregarded politics as a practice in its entirety. Note that by using the word politics, I don’t mean the erratic and virulent discourse on CNN, MSNBC, or Fox News that constitutes American politics, but rather “politics” as written by political philosopher Hannah Arendt: A practice of how we live with those who differ from ourselves. This notion, however, has long since been forgotten, and I indict Amherst, its students, its faculty, and its administration as contributors and co-conspirators in this crime — a crime that may hand over the keys of American democracy to those who so eagerly seek its dissolution. Engaging in pluralistic societies entails finding common ground among differing views and ways of being, and disregarding such breeds grounds for prejudices and biases that pervade society.

I do not hold the remedy to these ills; to some extent, I don’t believe that any of us do. Co-existence in pluralistic democracies entails, above all else, a desire by all to shed their preconceived notions. To, as angering as it might be, believe you are wrong rather than right. Not to meet in some middle ground but to usher in a new world — a world that, through dialogue, persuasion, consensus, and moderation, maintains the controlled chaos of our competing visions and beliefs.

I hope, above all else, that what you gain from reading this is a desire to think — to undo that which is common and treat it as uncommon. And, as naive as it may be, I have hope — hope, that each person, regardless of their identities, which are contingent upon arbitrary placement, intends or tries to do what they believe to be “good.” If we can agree to this, then there will be no need for despair. For the “good” world we seek to create is but a conversation away.