Monday, November 29, 2004

"ewww, and I shook your hand and everything"

I went to hear Gary Jacobson's post-election analysis over at UNCG, and enjoyed it very much.

I was intensely aware of being a little drop of red amid a sea of blue in UNCG's Virginia Dare room, and never more so than during the question-and-answer period after Jacobson's talk.

The tenor of most of the questions from my faculty colleagues was something like, what hope is there for civilization now that the barbarians have stormed the gates?

The pretty and vivacious young assistant professor next to me asked how we could make sure that people just didn't hear "one voice" -- I think she meant that red voices were drowning out blue ones, which I thought was amusingly ironic, given the demographic of the room we were in.

Jacobson's response was refreshing: "Don't exaggerate. If you want to hear other voices, go someplace else and talk to people who are different from you."

I took that as my cue, and after the questions, I introduced myself to my colleague as a Republican and a native midwesterner. That's when she said, "eww, and I shook your hand and everything!"

Bad start.

But I persisted, and scolded her. (I never do that to people who disagree with me politically. if I did, I wouldn't have any friends at work).

She apologised, and we went on to have a great conversation. Not about politics, but about academic life, encroaching middle age, and about faculty classroom attire as costume (she's a drama professor, and I wear a jacket and tie to class). She later e-mailed me to wish me a happy Thanksgiving. Maybe we'll talk about politics someday.

My point?

If you're really worried about the country being divided, take Jacobson's advice. Don't exaggerate. Go someplace new, and talk to someone who's different from you.

I like both the red and the blue parts of my life, and the tension between them keeps me thinking hard.

Read this for better insights than mine (via Instapundit.)

UPDATE: Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the link. And thanks to Instapundit readers for stopping by.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

I may be wrong but, I suspect if your "colleague" looked like Danny Devito in drag the conversation (red or blue) would never have happened.

Anonymous said...

Seconded. I hope this becomes a regular serial as you take red-blue rapprochement to new levels! :-)

Anonymous said...

Academia's antipathy towards ideological diversity is documented well in this film Brainwashing 101:

http://academicbias.com/

ManualBlock said...

Tried it; actually moved for one year to the very heart of the heartland. Everyone says hello and everyone has that puzzled look when you discuss anything out of their experience. Pleasant enough but; wheeew! it's great to be back in NYC.
Where such terms as Irony, and other subtleties have meaning.
And thank the Lord I don't have to hear about WMD's anymore. This from people who would never buy a used car.

Anonymous said...

Funny and intriguing...I happened to run across an article recently at a relative's home and the theme was the same. The article appeared in the Earth Light Magazine (to which I do not subscribe). It was written by Tom Atlee (don't know him) and it was all about how he decided to reach out to and bridge that abysss between conservatives and liberals or some such thing...it was just so earnest and silly, but here are the parts that made me burst out laughing..."Friends warned me to be careful—or couldn't even imagine going to talk with such people. The dialogic side of me was despairing. I doubted I was up to the challenge. I knew I should set aside my reactions and try to see these conservatives as people, but the task seemed daunting. I was anxious, determined to work hard to be open, and half expected the whole effort to be a disaster." Then, later in the article, "Similarly, if they are ordinary people who happen to be conservative, then I'll likely find, if I really listen to them, that I agree with them more often than not—and even where I don't agree with them, I'll be able to understand where they're coming from, and be able to see their very real humanity under all their opinions." And concludes with "I now believe that the Left/Right model is most significantly a source of poison, rather than a source of wisdom, pleasure, or power. I believe it is poisoning my own thinking and poisoning us all. I will dedicate my life to changing the social structures that uphold that polarized way of seeing the world. I will promote and support well-facilitated opportunities to encounter Others in creative, heartful, intelligent ways that empower us all to take back our future and make it our own, together. I'm not sure anything short of that will save us from the shadows we fear and free us into more inclusive ways of thinking and living that are filled to overflowing with possibilities." I can see he means well but I still just shake my head in bemusement. Leslie, Alexandria, VA

Unknown said...

I find that people from the Midwest have exactly the grounding one needs before trying to understand international issues. Otherwise you trudge on out into the world and are prone to making the mistake that the Saudi street view is as valid as that of the Aussies and make all sorts of other errors in relativism.

Honus said...

I enjoyed this article.

As a conservative (albeit moderately so) at a liberal college, I have many conversations with blue people.

I wish all people had the same desire to share ideas and get along with both sides, but for some it is isn't there. I blogged about it here. He's more the exception than the rule, and that's a good thing.

I do find it funny that many people do give me strange looks when they find out my views. Luckily most would rather talk to me to figure out why I think like I do.

sam said...

I'm not an academic. Is there a difference in the political sensibilities between, say liberal and engineering colleges in universities? I would assume the ratio between conservatives and liberals would have an inverse relationship between the sciences and the humanities.

David Wharton said...

Most of the academic scientists I know are liberal, though in a different way from humanities leftists. I've never seen numbers.

Jacobson said his impression was that you find a bit more ideological diversity in schools of economics and business -- that sounds right.

Old Wacky Hermit said...

ManualBlock: Way to go! You go to a Red State with the assumption that the people are all unsophisticated ignorant hayseeds, and whaddya know-- you're proven right! [/sarcasm]

I was born in California and lived in many different places, but chose to move to Utah to raise my kids. If the lovely blue-staters in California hadn't gone and screwed up my homeland with wacky laws, I'd have considered raising the kids there. I am college-educated with a Master's degree. I'm not some hayseed that just dropped off the turnip truck on Interstate 15. And you know what? My neighbors are the same way, and we all choose to live here for a reason. Blue cities, too, have a large "immigrant" population from other states. No matter where you go, you can find people who are of all different types, backgrounds, personalities, etc.

Unfortunately, it seems that ManualBlock saw only what he/she wanted to see. It reminds me of this tale I heard once about a wise old man who sat at the gates of a city. Travelers would come and ask him questions. One day a man came by and asked what kind of people lived in the city. The old man asked him, "What kind of people live where you come from?" "Liars, cheaters, and thieves," replied the man. "You will find the same here," said the old man, and the visitor left without entering the city. The next day, another traveler came by and asked the old man what kind of people lived in the city. "What kind of people live where you come from?" asked the old man. "Great people, generous of spirit, and kind to strangers." "You will find the same here," said the old man, and the traveler went in to the city rejoicing.

David Wharton said...

I never noticed any lack of irony or sophistication among the Iowans I grew up with.

It's just that they were ironic and sophisticated about things that a native New Yorker might miss, e.g. pork belly futures or Chuck Grassley's views on ethanol policy.

I imagine that witticisms on those subjects would draw blank stares in the Village, though, and I'm glad that ManualBlock is enjoying his NY environment. Everybody needs someplace to feel comfortable.

ManualBlock said...

Thanks for the comments. What a response. I do not remmember any pertinate perceptions concerning pork-bellies. I lived in North Dakota and Minnesota and went there with no preconceptions only observations. Like I said very pleasent. Got on well with my neighbors and acquaintances. Ya'll seem a little sensitive, a trait I found common out there. Just a little slow on the draw.