Former Prime Minister Kim Campbell once came under fire for (allegedly) saying that elections weren’t a time to discuss issues, and I have come to a similarly paradoxical conclusion: Universities are not a good place to have debates.
Wait! Before my tenure as a Student Life blogger is cut as short as Kim Campbell’s term in office, hear me out.
Yesterday, my co-worker, Danny, (the Orientations and Transition intern at the OSL) pulled up a website about the G-20 Summit protest and asked me if I was going. When I said probably not, he mistook my decision for apathy and politely launched into a 7.6 (on the Passion-magnitude scale) argument that switched back and forth between why more rigid environmental policy, multinational corporation restrain, and major economic restructuring are necessary and why protesting itself is so important.
Full disclosure: I study Economics and Poli Sci. Every year, I feel like my brain is going to explode under the strain of contradictory theories. In my developmental politics courses, I read beautifully-written and persuasive articles on why policy reform is necessary to stop poverty/institutional inequality/environmental degradation/the end of the world. Then, in my econ classes, I draw neat and pretty little pictures showing that these reforms don’t work.
Let me tell you, it is very, very satisfying (after reading a 50-page article in a poorly-made, crazy expensive Poli Sci reader with no clear conclusion) to completely discount policies with a ruler, pen and pad. Often, I can do this very thing during arguments – watching my friends’ eyes glaze over as I reference efficient consumption, exchange rates and, la piece de (anti)resistance, David Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage.
Foiled again, debating adversaries. Good luck next time.
Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. I see huge, irreconcilable flaws built into capitalism and liberal democracy, and I do think our current system is unsustainable. So I support local organic farmers, try to shop sweatshop-free and regularly struggle over what I really believe in.
And here we come back to my charming co-worker, Danny. He sees one set of ways of fixing the world’s problems and for me, it’s not so clear. I do think protesting can be effective, but I think the issues are too complex to align myself absolutely with one group. I also think there are more productive ways of effecting change in this case — letter-writing, lobbying your MP, voting with your dollars to support sustainable companies …
Ultimately, though, Danny and I have both thought about the issues at play quite a bit and feel confident about our choices. The biggest problem is, we’re both well-educated, well-read and articulate enough to argue circles around each other. Danny happens to be great, and a good listener, so the discussion wasn’t unpleasant at least, but neither of us really changed our minds (or each other’s) by the end of it.
And that’s a pretty good-case scenario. Though there are notable exceptions, too many of my conversations at U of T have devolved into two people eloquently talking at each other, almost for sport. We’ve all studied under fantastic profs and read loads — can our minds really be changed in one conversation with a fellow student?
I hope so, but I think it requires more open-mindedness on both sides. I can’t think I have all the answers and neither can my debating partner. As soon as they talk like they know it all, I’ll start talking like I do, and it gets less than productive. In the end, I guess, you can’t always get what you want.