By: Chukky Ibe
What happens when we treat student politics like warfare?
With ideas as our weapons, we convince ourselves we cannot concede one inch of ground lest we lose. Direct opposition becomes the only acceptable way to win. Debates and arguments replace collaboration and dialogue, and there is no honour in changing one’s mind once you have stated your position. This adversarial style of debate does not incentivize moral diversity. It does not explore various ideological certainties and the experiences that lead people to reach their diverse moral and ideological predispositions. This warlike culture is pervasive in all aspects of society. It limits the information we get rather than broadening it. It is the knee jerk reaction you experience – but may not entirely think through – when you hear something you disagree with. It is the Bill O’Riley of dialogue.
This paradigm is exactly what we have seen happen with debates surrounding vice presidential elections on campus. Last year, a proposition was put forward to the General Assembly that students, not the SRA, should elect their student body Vice Presidents (Education, Finance, and Administration). Debates on VP reform have been framed as the two sides – students and representatives – in opposition to each other; as direct democracy versus representative democracy. Some basic nuances have been lost.
The VPs have different portfolios and are responsible for different facets of the MSU. To compare them is to compare apples and oranges. Is it useful for the VP Administration to be elected by a referendum? Should the general manager and the comptroller, as people directly involved in the MSU’s accounting, get more say about the VP Finance? What do the VP Education, and VP Administration have in common? Should they be chosen the same way? Giving students the simple choice on their ballot of “yes/no/abstain” doesn’t allow Marauders to explore or understand the intricacies of each position.
This dichotomy that students have been forced to choose from has stemmed from the “argument culture” – or warlike debates – surrounding the issue. By presenting the options as oversimplified extremes, argument culture has limited our understanding rather than expanding it. Rather than seeking various forms of evidence, the debate has simplified complex phenomena with a “Yes” or “No” binary that does not account for all available possibilities. The truth has become the winner of the debate, and the perspectives of the losers are nullified and invalidated. Issues have been presented as having only two sides; winner takes all.
The MSU leadership has spent more time and talent defending outlandish claims than advancing their ideas. Suggestions for dialogue are laughable. Both sides are in the pursuit for victory and not truth. There is little consideration that current options may be inadequate, because opposition is viewed as our only method of inquiry. When opposition does not acknowledge complexity, then argument culture is doing more damage than good.
Issues have been presented as having only two sides; winner takes all.
Although the issue is going to referendum, the outcome is now of little significance. The union leadership continually showcases its inability to embrace its diversity of opinions. Warfare and argument culture remains its default position. In this, Marauders will always lose and common sense will never prevail. Democracy dies when debate trumps dialogue.
Photo Credit: Jon White/Photo Editor