Why genuine conversations are necessary for political progress

Isabella Hunter, Columnist

In a Letter to the Editor last week, a student introduced an important concern about how our “Liberal Bubble” doesn’t “challenge itself to go further left.” They addressed the issue of “rampant” neoliberalism and genuinely called for change. All of this is true, relevant and necessary to talk about, and I’d like to address their article by offering an alternative solution to the one laid out in their Op-Ed. 

In their essay, they identify the problem of political stagnation; I took this to mean that we are not making real progress on our campus—not taking steps to, in the words of this years P&P symposium, “go beyond the bare minimum,” which I wholeheartedly agree with. Where our perspectives differ, I think, is in what problems we are addressing in our articles. 

There is a specific section of their article that appears to me to illustrate their view on what political progress means and how it relates to different political processes. I could be misinterpreting it (so I encourage you to go read their article!), however I understood what they were saying to mean that “progress” does not necessarily come about with a process rooted in discourse. 

In other words, we can make change without having seemingly endless discussions about it, and sometimes it’s more important to do something in a timely and direct manner than it is to get caught up in the best, most-agreed-upon way to do that thing. An example of this might be the frustration we share at the passionless, bureaucratic, two-party “debate” that comes out of Congress. 

While this makes a lot of intuitive sense and prioritizes the “progress” over the “process,” I tend to think that our disagreement is revealed in what types of “progress” we are addressing. If we are talking about taking action in regard to specific issues at Whitman or in local communities such as disability access, climate imperatives, or mutual aid then change is a meal best served hot and quick. 

However, when we are talking about what it means to be a student, and specifically what it means to be both shaped by and agents in our campus culture, then this type of change absolutely requires discourse. If we want to shift our campus culture to one that emphasizes consideration—of ourselves, our perspectives, other perspectives and others—then arguably the only way to achieve that is through conversation. 

In my last article, I argued the importance of having conversations on conservatism. While I couldn’t address everything I wanted to then, it’s important to clarify that I am in no way advocating for us to read bigoted literature or talk with bigoted people, nor am I advocating for “respectability politics,” or for us to kindly “agree to disagree” with people who argue against our rights. 

However, there is more to conservative ideology than right-wing terrorists and Jordan Peterson, and it’s important to understand how these destructive forms of conservatism evolved in order to aptly address them. (I also want to apologize for not expanding on my claim about education in my original article, in case I misrepresented the politics department.) 

The point is not to change our minds or to expose people to harmful rhetoric (though both have the potential to happen), it is to critically examine and engage with the politics (and the people) that we disagree with or don’t understand. What has been proven to work to change people’s minds also happens to be the most considerate approach, especially when it comes to change on a deeply personal level (such as convincing a family member to get vaccinated).

In this specific example, what works to vaccinate the unvaccinated is not the mountains of evidence and ethical arguments as to why it is important, nor is it the near-death experiences they have alone in the hospital or the judgmental accusations thrown at them from leftist media or their communities. Instead, it is an environment where they can ask questions free from judgment, where they are understood and free to change their mind. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we should “hate the oppressed” and “love our oppressor,” my primary critique is of the isolating and insulating culture created when we categorize people by party. Our two party system represents corporate interests—not the interests of the ideologies behind them, let alone real people. Recognizing that we are interacting with “real people” is (whether we like it or not) crucial to fulfilling our civic duty, to community work, and the cornerstone of genuine discourse. 

Democracy as a value requires that we recognize the rational and moral capacity of all people, and want them to participate. I know this sounds alarming, but if we are to place faith in democratic processes over less democratic ones, then we must acknowledge and engage with this core assumption (which is the concept behind voting). 

This does not mean engaging with every opinion. It means valuing participation in discussion and debate, the point of which is to learn and progress, for the sake of ourselves and others.