Thursday, February 4, 2010

Politics: My "Meh"-nifesto

A few days ago, Herman Berliner authored a brief post over at Inside Higher Ed about the complaints he occasionally receives as an administrator about faculty members who blog about politics.  Berliner has no trouble separating classroom performance from political belief:
Faculty are very smart individuals and there is no shortage of political (and other) opinions emanating from faculty. And often, I find that my opinion is different from and at times in total disagreement with positions taken by individual faculty. But it would be a bad use of my time and energy to confront opinions which faculty have every right to have. As an educator, I choose to focus on the educational forest, not the opinion trees.
Good for him.  Still, my decision to blog anonymously is at least in part motivated by my hesitation in having the things I write here associated with my professional identity.   In class I tend to keep my political and other beliefs from the students.  That seems proper to me, as well as rhetorically wise...because what if they've been raised to disagree with something I claim to believe?  That might cause them to turn off to any future lesson, regardless of its content.

I accomplish this near-neutrality by telling my students, usually early on in the semester (if not on the first day then the first time we discuss something overtly political or religious), that they shouldn't necessarily believe that I mean anything I say.  And, in fact, I often play devil's advocate or argue an issue from multiple, conflicting sides.  In my comp-rhet classes I'll even make deliberately flawed arguments designed so that my students can call me out, overcoming any automatic deference they might maintain towards my authority.

But the real reason I link to Berliner's post is not to occasion some meditation about partisanship and neutrality in the classroom context, but because I've been thinking of becoming more explicitly political in this context.  I waste a depressing amount of my time following American politics and reading the analyses of various commentators, and while it's not my intention to fashion this blog into one more surface for the echoes to bounce against, I thought some sort pronouncement of political convictions was in order.

To begin with, I'm not much in the way of a political scientist and I don't have any principled convictions about tax policy, deficits, interest rates or really any of that shit.  I guess I don't make enough money yet, or else I don't value enough the money I have.  I also don't have any principled preference for "big" or "small" government, except that it seems to me that any institution, large or small, that is too inflexible to adapt to changing circumstances will inevitably fall before them.  And it could probably go without saying that I don't think much of what is described as "left" and "right" in the US.  "Thinking" and "unthinking" would be a meaningful way to divide politicians for me, but it certainly doesn't map onto left and right.  Exhausting the usefulness of labels in politics, I probably see myself as a "left-libertarian" in the style of these guys.

I suffer from a few ideals, I suppose, though they are unfortunately the sort that tend to lack deep-pocketed advocacy.  I support civil liberties.  I think that the drug war is a shameful, murdering farce that empowers criminals (both federal and other) and fuels an ongoing multi-polar fire-fight on our own continent.  I wouldn't particularly mind if the US disbanded its army.  Also, it would be great if you could be an atheist in public and still get elected here.

But although there are occasional moments when the difference between is and ought causes me some pain, I also see myself first and foremost as a pragmatist and admire that characteristic when I rarely observe it in a politician.

Well, that's going to suffice for now.  Hardly a manifesto, and in fact, despite its brevity a little tiresome.  I promise that my next post will be more interesting.  I was planning on reviewing Tarkovsky's 1979 sci-fi thinker, The Stalker, but I just watched Alex Rivera's 2008 sci-fi thinker, Sleep Dealer, and I liked it and it feels a little bit more relevant, so I might do that first.

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