07 March 2006

BYU's Political Vaccuum

BYU has an interesting political dynamic. Unlike most American universities, the majority of students are white, church-going conservatives, who tend to be staunch Republicans and think Bush is the greatest thing since sliced cheese. They support the war in Iraq, defy the UN, and dare anyone to tell them they're wrong. But the small but vocal Liberal Mormon minority has dramatically increased its presence in recent years. They are vegetarian,--perhaps even vegan--watch R-rated movies and drink caffeine on a regular basis, and are distinctly disappointed in the narrowminded views of their flag-waving fellow students. What they lack in numbers, they make up in their outspoken opinions about their clearly "enlightened" ways.

And in between? There isn't one. There is a distinct void where moderate voices should be on BYU campus. Those who aren't in one of these two camps seem either apathetic or oblivious in the "bubble." If you've ever tried to speak out moderate position, you've probably been accused of being in one of these groups (probably by someone further right or left than you).

Example in point: the BYU Political Review's recent articles on President Bush's wiretapping program (or domestic spying/eavesdropping, if you're against it). In the February 27th issue, we have an article from Dave Lassen, praising the virtue of the government and deriding anyone who would criticize zecret programs. "We have duly elected representatives who the voters have charged with the responsibility to keep our country safe," he says, firmly trusting the government and its current system of checks and balances. Though he acknowledges that the program may or may not be legal, he still insists that questioning the government in matters of national security is wrong, wrong, wrong.

Predictably, the next week, Max Stoneman fires off an article from the LM point of view. His "fears of government surveillance" show a complete distrust of the government reminiscent of the 60s or 70s. He concludes that the only way to be sure the government doesn't initiate some Black-Helicopters-type program is with a constant stream of leaking and whistleblowing.

Both of these articles really bother me. Though both acknowledge they know little about the wiretapping program and aren't sure it is legal or not, they are quick to pull out the standard party lines on what's right and wrong, just in case. Neither complete trust or distrust in the government makes any sense in my mind. Each issue must be weighed individually, and as of yet, the public doesn't have enough information to form any sort of decent opinion on the wiretapping.

And yet we keep forming opinions. I can understand this from career politicians who need to support their ideals no matter their correctness, but I expect better from church members and specifically from BYU students. For a school that purports to put out morally-aware students, we've done a pretty poor job.


MichaelBains said...

I don't know why your name is familiar to me. Maybe just coincidence.

At any rate, this is a fine post on an all too frequent case of Polarized Ideologies on campus. I love to swing far a'left of the Center, but that's mostly for kicks and grins. My personal peace is found most profoundly when I'm able to grasp both ends of the candle of contention (as it were.) Accepting that both sides of an argument have legitimate concerns is the only way to achieve a truly meaningful solution.

Here's hoping your voice in UT assists that goal.

Katherine said...

I identify my own political ideology as rather left-leaning, particularly relative to the majority here at BYU. And although just about everyone has a tendency to think his or her opinions make the most sense, a trap I admittedly fall into at times, I do make a concerted effort to acknowledge and understand views that swing further left and right of mine on the political spectrum.

There are, of course, many religious and social factors that contribute to the polarization we encounter at BYU, but I think the biggest problem is a frequent failure to recognize, validate, and respect all perspectives--regardless of how they compare to one's own. The extremist, vegetarian, R-rated-movie-watching caffeine-drinkers (who are the minority of liberal Mormons anyway--but here my bias shows, as I seem to find your conservative stereotype more frequently accurate) are just as narrow-minded as their conservative counterparts.

I would argue, though, that the moderate faction is much larger than you acknowledge. It's almost expected for those holding views extreme in one direction or the other to be more vocal--it's the moderates in any situation who tend to be heard the least. Perhaps we shouldn't be lament the lack of middle ground, but encourage those who stand there to speak up rather than allowing themselves to be overpowered by the extremes.

Liz Muir said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Liz Muir said...

Precisely my point - the extremes are too vocal and also too prevalent. Those of moderate opinion tend to assume that they just aren't educated enough about politics, or they just don't care. And because they don't speak up, there virtually is no middle ground. If it doesn't have a voice, it doesn't exist. In politics anyway. :D

(Had to delete previous version due to atrocious misusage of the word two.)

Liz Muir said...

Oh and also, your thoughts on the stereotypes are exactly what I was going for: each side sees the other in a perfectly distorted way, but can't see their own strange stereotypes.

Seriously, I have met more vegetarians at BYU than at my "secular" high school.

Max "you spell it with an X" Stoneman said...

In condemning stereotypes, I think you've quite handily slapped one on me. Plus, I don't remember having anything published on black helicopters. Maybe the CIA has been tampering with my thoughts again...

Oh, and info is available on the NSA spying program. You should have Googled it.



Liz Muir said...

I apologize for mispelling your name. It's an easy mistake. I'll fix that.

Your comment on stereotypes is cryptic. I'm not sure if you are serious or sarcastic. Care to expound and have an actual discussion, or are you just trying to sound smart and ticked off?

I'm aware that there are no Black Helicopters in your article. It's a metaphor I was using for any far-fetched government program that's sneakily violating people's rights. The point was that your article seemed to conclude that the only way the government can be controlled is to be constantly spying on it. I think this is clearly an exaggeration, and I was trying to point that out by exaggerating your point to the point of obvious ridiculousness.

Thanks for the information on the spying program. Why didn't you talk about it in your article? It seems to me the difference between the two articles positions on "leaking" has mostly to do with whether they think the wiretapping is justified or not. Since Dave thought it was okay, he saw the leaking as an underhanded trick. Since you think it is wrong, you see it as comparable to the examples listed in your article. The real issue that should have been addressed is whether the wiretapping is right or not, but neither article really addressed that issue.