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Thinking for yourself

November 7, 2018

While the majority of students here are below voting age, that hasn’t stopped us from taking political issues seriously. Protests, political discourse and ideological clubs have become more and more commonplace in recent times. Despite this, I feel that the majority of students are not thinking for themselves on political issues.

Take any current issue like gun control, healthcare or immigration and walk around the school asking students what their stance is. You’ll most likely receive plenty of “Go away,” and “None of your business buckaroo,” but I also suspect you’d find very few people who would respond “I don’t know.”  Everyone has a position on everything, and that’s not great.

We’re in high school. We don’t even know who we are yet, how can we know our positions on complex issues that millions disagree on?

Unless everyone is doing careful independent research on each one of these issues, the stances students have are probably coming from their parents, the press or their parties. It’s like the comedian Bo Burnham once said: “I only know my ideas of other people’s ideas.”

Some issues are pretty straightforward and come down to personal values. For example, it doesn’t take hours of research on gun control to say that placing limits on gun ownership would probably reduce the amount of mass shootings in our country. Likewise, it doesn’t take a Harvard scholar to deduce that placing limits on gun ownership could make it more difficult for someone to defend themself against those who get guns illegally.

But when someone picks one of these stances, there are countless facts and statistics that they are not taking into account.

The other day I was watching “The West Wing” and the issue of reparations for slavery came up. I was trying to decide which character I more agreed with when I realized that I really had no idea. I saw valid arguments on each side, but would really have to do much more research before definitively deciding my opinion.

Admitting that there was an issue I didn’t have a stance on was liberating. While I knew that favoring reparations was the more traditionally liberal stance and I could have said that that is where I lie on the issue, it felt much more individualistic and intelligent to hold off.

Taking a cookie-cutter stance is further problematic because they are always at an end of spectrum, never in the middle. We so often hear that a politician is either for something or against it and that can feel as though there is no middle ground, and this makes compromise even harder. The current state of our nation is that we are split in half, and only one side can ever be winning.

It’s much easier to look to your party affiliation to determine your political views than to think for yourself, but it’s something worth doing. Adopting only traditional viewpoints of your party leads to a world where everyone identified as Democrat disagrees on every issue with every person identifying Republican.

Indeed, one would think the inherent hypocrisy within major parties would lead to more people choosing to agree with one party on some issues and the other on different issues. Picking and choosing only the parts of an ideology you agree with may not be a sensible philosophy when it comes to religion, but it’s one more people should consider when it comes to party platforms.

So what’s the solution? I would say a dramatic overhaul of our political system, but that may be a little out of our reach. For now, I would suggest encouraging fair, rational discussion of issues rather than repeating party talking points.

Instead of fearing being the lone member of your party who disagrees on a topic, take pride in stepping outside party lines and remember that our own founding fathers warned us about the divisive dangers of a two party system. John Adams himself said, “There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other.”

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