READER COMMENTARY: A Different Perspective on PragerU
In an op-ed last week, editor Judah Weinerman excoriated the YouTube series Prager University, abbreviated as PragerU, which features conservative and libertarian speakers providing alternative viewpoints on controversial topics such as immigration, race relations and the proper role of the government within society.
At the beginning of his article, Weinerman bluntly states that, “In the interest of brevity, all pretense of civility is going out the window in this op-ed.” The article is nearly as devoid of facts as it is of civility; the criticisms presented are largely substance-free and based almost entirely on personal attacks. Criticisms include calling PragerU’s founder Dennis Prager, an Orthodox Jew, “essentially an evangelical Christian.” Dr. Jordan Peterson, a University of Toronto professor who has pointed out that most historical societies tend to be dominated by men, must therefore have a “seething hatred of women.” Dinesh D’Souza is a “spook” and a “convicted felon,” Christina Hoff Sommers an “exclusionary feminist,” Ben Shapiro a “catcalling yeshiva boy … who’s basically the Bizarro version of every single Brandeis student ever.”
Because Brandeis Young Americans for Liberty’s predecessor organization, Brandeis Conservatives, has hosted the last three of these speakers on campus, and in part because many of our members watch and gain insight from PragerU’s videos, we feel that a response in their defense is appropriate.
Let us begin by emphasizing that PragerU’s videos are not meant to be the ultimate source of knowledge about any topic, nor to replace a college education. Mr. Prager will freely admit that modern conservative thought cannot be fit into five-minute videos. Instead, his purpose is to expose viewers to ideas that they would not get elsewhere on a college campus. We can debate the merits of liberal and conservative views, but no one can deny that colleges are structurally slanted toward the left, both in population and in public discourse. Few here would dare to publicly suggest that there are certain intrinsic differences between men and women that might, on average, qualify them better for different areas. While this should obviously never be used as an excuse for sex-based discrimination, such differences do . Similarly, few would openly criticize the concept of “cultural appropriation,” question the extent of “white/male privilege,” or tempt fate by pointing out that the right to not be offended by “hate speech” or “microaggressions” can be found nowhere within Brandeis’ code of conduct.
For those of us who already hold conservative beliefs, PragerU videos therefore provide a certain degree of escapism, a refreshing breath of fresh air and common sense in an environment overwhelmingly devoid of it. It is for this reason that the videos are incredibly, if furtively, popular. Despite YouTube placing many of the more controversial videos in Restricted Mode, they have amassed billions of views, far more than one would expect if they were truly the racist, sexist, conspiracy-laden alt-right political screeds that they are accused of being.
For those who do not already agree with Mr. Prager, the videos are thought-provoking to say the least. They offer a different view on nearly every topic that anyone hears about at Brandeis, sometimes educational, or even shockingly contrarian. What if ? What if ? What if ? Again, you might not agree with any of these ideas, but they are certainly worth discussing, and deserve to be carefully researched and debated, not shunned from the Internet.
Above all, Mr. Prager wants an audience. By design, the speakers he hires are attention-grabbing; hence, most of the videos are provocative in some way. Many are based on broad assertions rather than concrete evidence; some are seemingly fact-free. However, overt racism, sexism and homophobia are conspicuously absent. Even a controversial title like “” is, in fact, a sober take by the late Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer on why a physical barrier on the U.S.-Mexico border would be an effective deterrent to undocumented immigration. This is generally agreed to be a problem regardless of one’s political affiliation, and it is a problem that, as it is framed, has nothing to do with race.
Finally, there are legitimate problems with the views espoused in PragerU videos, and effective rebuttals to many of them. For instance, one might be inclined to ask why, if Candace Owens is correct that Democrats are the “real racists,” of African-Americans voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, or why bona fide white supremacists like David Duke and Richard Spencer are registered Republicans and/or Trump supporters. This is a clever counterargument; complaining that Kanye West tweeted about Ms. Owens is not.
Weinerman, in regard to PragerU, says that “you shouldn’t watch anything they’ve ever made if you can avoid it.” We would instead offer this advice: At some point or another, you may find yourself waiting for a PragerU YouTube ad to end. Rather than skipping it after five seconds, if you have time, watch it with an open mind. If you reach the end and disagree, ask yourself why. Instead of instinctively brushing the speaker off, attempt to refute his or her ideas. If you can, applaud yourself. If you cannot, acknowledge it. At the end of the day, no matter the outcome, you will have become better educated about an important issue, and the next time troublemakers like us challenge your views, you will be better equipped to defend them.