Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Value of Discussing Politics

I'm a Republican because of the junk mail. Humorous, but also completely true. I will explain, then transition to a meatier subject.

My parents registered as Democrat and Republican so their household would get the mail from both parties. Since neither felt well-represented by either party, they used their registered affiliation as help for being informed voters.

Shortly after my wife and I were married, we decided to do the same thing. I happen to be the one registered Republican, and she is the one registered Democrat. (When we lived in New York state this was valuable because that state lacks nice voter's pamphlets! When living in California or Oregon it's less useful.)

Recently an article about how University of Oregon professors are predominantly registered as Democrats has made some news, and found its way to at least one big blog.

Because of my family's habits, I place little meaning in someone's registered party affiliation.

I have also, over the years, have asked a variety of older people from different parts of the country if it is a new trend to label opposing political views as not only incorrect or infeasible, but evil and ignorant. They have unanimously assured me that all generations have shared this shortcoming.

Yet I still sympathize with the author.

Discussing politics should be an important part of a college education, for at least four reasons.

First, politics involves theories about how virtues and people work. These ideas are worth talking about. For example, what amount and type of policies motivate people to be responsible and charitable?

Second, the discussion's participants will reveal how and where they get their information, ideas, and prejudices. Shining a light onto these "source" issues is a significant part of higher education.

Third, in politics discussion's participants may agree upon the background information yet form valid opposing conclusions. This is unlike the sciences, where the data support one conclusion over another. It is also unlike much of deconstructionism, where conclusions are formed (and valued) from insight rather than data. In other words, political "reality" is muddied by human unpredictability, and thus flows from neither logical reasoning nor insightful inspiration. Avoiding political discussions often cultivates a false dichotomy that all intellectual endeavors either have empirical truths or insightful relativism.

Fourth, political discussions require the participants to make simultaneous effort in research (to work through the "source" issues) and caring (to avoid emotional hurdles). This is a valuable life skill which should not be neglected!

Since discussing politics is important in higher education, political diversity is also important.

If your college or university lacked political diversity, could you still learn and grow in the four ways I mentioned above? If so, what topics would replace politics?

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