If you weren’t in lab all week, some of you may be aware that we had an election last week. And by we I don’t mean the med students ‘we’ or even the grad students’ we; it was national baby. The entire House of Representatives, a third of the Senate, and a large number of state governors were all up for re-election, and the people made their voices heard.
Well, not all the people of course, since the US still has a pretty pathetic voter turnout. But, enough people made their voices heard, and as a result we are in for some serious changes. Thank goodness.
Now, a part of me wants to avoid being controversial. Why cause a big commotion, especially when we’re all just a bunch of scientists and engineers anyway, right? Well, offhand I can think of three “political” issues that concern us directly: stem cell research, global warming research, and gay marriage. Well, all right, that last one only counts if you’re gay (or you happen to know someone who is), but still. Whether we like it or not, the decisions being made in our nation’s capital are going to have a large impact on our lives and possibly even our careers, so we’d better start getting informed and up to date.
The whole world, it seems, is becoming more and more divisive, and politicians have begun using science itself as a wedge issue. When you see someone’s campaign include a scientific concept (whether it’s evolution or gravity), you know it’s only a matter of time before your own work (whether stem cell research or abstract math) is called into question as well. One way or another, we’ll have to start putting up with controversial things all the time. Few things are as controversial as getting to work, only to find it’s been shut down because of the government.
The debate doesn’t have to be ugly, though. Take me, for instance. Sure, I’m a staunch liberal overjoyed at the Democrats’ capture of majority control of both houses of Congress and the governorships. I, like most Americans apparently, was tired of the Republican stranglehold over every single branch of government, and didn’t think they were doing a good enough job to go back to work. Call me crazy, but after Iraq, Katrina, and the biggest corruption scandal in history, I didn’t really want to see what was next.
But, unlike so many on either side of the issues, I present my views calmly and rationally. If you disagree with me, I invite you to write a response explaining and defending your points of view. That way, not only can you have an excuse for punting p-sets, but you’ll get a chance to educate thousands of others on your points of view. You’ll get your chance. Then, hopefully, someone who agrees with me will address these points, and the beautiful cycle of opinions will continue. It’s win-win, since both sides (perhaps even third and fourth sides too) get their messages out, bystanders become educated, and no one needs to get upset or offended.
Of course, things don’t always work that way, as anyone who’s ever been on an Internet forum or chat room knows. Someone takes a statement too seriously, they respond with a harsh invective and are flagrantly offensive, and naturally someone will take the bait and then the cycle of opinions turns into a flame for all. That’s the problem with discussing politics, and it’s natural that we all feel some trepidation at the thought. But as long as we all remain civil and logical and most importantly, entertaining, things will be okay. They might still work out for the best, just like our government might, judging from last last Tuesday.
Because, let’s face it: anytime the checks and balances are all run by the same people, something might be wrong. Whenever we have a president refusing to acknowledge reality, or an administration famously chiding the press for foolishly remaining in a “fact-based” world, or a vice-president who shoots his buddy in the face (again, I just couldn’t resist), perhaps it’s time we ask for a change of management. We are the most hated nation in the world, after all, and it’s not like we can just move away … yet. And even then, we’ll probably have to use Japanese parts and Chinese labor.
Too much? Perhaps. But, it got you to read through to the end, and it might even get you to write back, get involved, and get others excited. The sooner we stop being afraid of the issues, the sooner we can take care of them. I mean, we’re MIT: we’re expected to change the world. But in order to do that, we have to be able to talk about it.