Talking Politics in Mixed Company

There were several academics in the room.  We were there to talk about initiatives aimed at helping students become stronger, more engaged citizens.  Because the group was not large, the moderator asked us to introduce ourselves and to say a little about our institution’s need for such a program.

One professor took the opportunity to bewail the backward atmosphere in which he has been forced to operate.  His state legislature, which is controlled by Republicans (gasp!) has no understanding of the needs of his community college.  He explicitly drew the connection between Republicans and backwardness.

I thought about arguing, but simply sat through his monologue (which was far lengthier than anyone else’s introduction).  In the context of the larger meeting (a lot of academics), I could understand why he would so brazenly assume that everyone would agree with his view of the political situation.  But he should not have done so for the sake of civility if for no other reason.

My point here is not to argue about politics, but rather to say something about manners.  If human beings gather in a group, the chances are significant that political views will differ.  If you make a sweeping pronouncement (Republicans = Backward), then you have insulted the person with a different view.  You may respond, “No, I have the truth on my side!”  The professor in our meeting might say just that.  But he would be wrong.  Even if he were correct about the underlying issue, he would most likely not be correct about his political opponents.

One answer to why Republicans fail to provide his institution with the funding he thinks is adequate would be that they are backward and awful people who hate education.  But there are other answers available.  Perhaps they think that higher education expenses have been out of control.  Maybe some believe that fewer people should go to college and should be encouraged to seek different, parallel opportunities.  Others may question the role of the government as a primary funder of activities aimed at human flourishing.  They may believe the government should do relatively few things and therefore avoid drawing too many taxes from citizens.

Here is the important thing.  You need not agree with any of the reasons I have proposed for why the Republican legislators of this man’s state don’t provide the funds he wants and are therefore backward, knuckle-draggers.  You need only agree that the reasons I have given would not mean that the holder of those views are some kind of idiots or scoundrels.

Being a polite and well-mannered person surely must include at least beginning with the assumption that others’ disagreements with one’s self do not automatically make them evil and/or stupid.

This one goes both ways.  I know Democrats in settings dominated by Republicans who are awfully prickly about politics.  This dynamic helps explain why.  They are angry about certain assumptions being made about people with their political preferences.


3 thoughts on “Talking Politics in Mixed Company

  1. Well, I don’t know about Republicans in general, but you certainly are backwards. You draw your primary inspiration not from a Jewish carpenter who lived about two thousand years ago, and(1) an entity that was there when time began. 😉

    In general, people would be well advised to assume the other side might be ignorant, but isn’t stupid or evil. Unfortunately, human nature(2) makes “they are evil and stupid” the default conclusion.

    (1) Or “or”? Sorry, I’m Jewish. I don’t know how to refer to the trinity.
    (2) You might call it “original sin”. Barring access to people without original sin, it is impossible to answer which it is

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