While compiling this issue, where we celebrate all the great things about Ann Arbor, I thought about my best experiences in Ann Arbor: meeting people who can have an intelligent argument with you.
Going through college, with so many people from so many different places and backgrounds, it’s inevitable that you will come across people who don’t agree with you.
Maybe you are a liberal arguing with an extreme conservative, or a group of moderates arguing about on which side of the prominent moral issues you stand. Whatever the case, everyone at Michigan disagrees with someone.
My experience hasn’t been any different. I don’t care to use this column to advertise my own political views. I simply want to thank the people who have respectfully agreed to disagree with me over the past few years, regardless of the issue. I’m talking to those of you who can state a carefully thought-out opinion without making outrageous, unfounded claims regarding the current administration, the Republican or Democratic Party in general.
At a school of Michigan’s stature, one would think that these people would be easy to come by. Everyone was an outstanding student in high school, everyone works hard day in and day out, and everyone is capable of forming educated opinions. But unfortunately, that’s not the case.
I run into people every day that have decided to forgo the little bit of effort that it takes to think analytically about what they read. Just the other day, I witnessed an instance where someone decided to poke fun at a conservative friend, basing his argument on a political commentary which used only anonymous sources.
While I applaud the effort to get on the Internet and come across such an article, it was hard to believe that a story with so many holes could be taken as seriously as it often is on this campus.
It seems like so many students will watch the news channel with the bias of their choice, taking the news as gospel truth and laughing off anything on a station with opposing views. The same goes for magazines, blogs, political journals and newspapers.
Having run into so many of these frustrating people in the dorm during my sophomore year, I became fairly fed up with politics, or talking politics at least. As an economics and political science double major, giving up on discussing politics isn’t the healthiest solution.
But my hopes of intelligent conversation were revived in a Political Science 311 course I took last fall. Rather than bore us with details of the constitution that he knew we would all forget, Professor Arthur Lupia centered the class on making intelligent, logically consistent arguments.
All of the sudden I was in a room of intelligent students, participating in and witnessing debates on issues ranging from the tax cuts and the war in Iraq to immigration reform and abortion. I walked out believing that there were indeed people who I could have an intelligent argument.
My rejuvenated belief that there were sensible debaters at the University was furthered one night while I conversed with another member of my fraternity who I had long dreaded talking politics with since I knew we were nowhere near each other on the political spectrum.
After talking for a long time, citing our individual sources – which ranged from the Congressional Budget Office Historical Tables to newspaper articles (taken with a grain of salt of course) – we came to a consensus. We agreed to disagree.
My respect for this particular brother of my fraternity grew once again when I happened upon him reading a book the other night as others were watching a movie or basketball game. He was highlighting and underlining the book furiously. I asked him what class he was studying for, and he told me he was reading solely for his own enrichment.
These are the students who should be the pride of the University, the best of Ann Arbor.
Rather than skating through classes for the sole purpose of jumping to a career in a cubicle, shooting films or throwing touchdown passes, this student is inspired by his classes to form complete, educated opinions on what is going on in the world and to enhance his ability to converse intelligently.
This ability will help students immensely as they move on, either in Ann Arbor or anywhere around the world. It is this kind of analytical thought which drives progress in a two-party system. While there will always be extremists on both sides, it’s the swing votes that count in the ballots each November. And those swing votes are won by people sharing thoughtful, educated opinions, not by screaming and flailing your arms because the other person doesn’t agree with you.
I don’t claim to be the most informed. I don’t even think I could hold my own in an argument with a lot of people on campus. But I sure appreciate all of those people who take time to think through things before they try to convert me to either side of an issue.
James can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org