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Humanities Institute's series on war comes to an end

By Emily Lewson
On April 27, 2014

On the final day of the Humanities Institute's "A Week in the Humanities: War and its Meanings," a group of political science professors discussed "The Value of Political Life and Activity." The morning's events were moderated by political science professor Jeff Dudas and included ideas from Jane Gordon, Fred Lee, Zehra Arat and Michael Morrell. All panelists had intriguing ideas that demonstrated the need for activity in political spheres, irrelevant of how one defines that term
"Politics are a less violent version of war," Dudas said. "Political agendas and war are constantly overlapping, and today we will hear what truly constitutes the similarities and differences between."
Following Dudas, Jane Gordon began the morning's discussion by detailing "Political Nutrition." In the same way that nutrition has carbohydrates, proteins and sugars, politics has varying components. It takes all of them collectively to provide a healthy, working environment. While this may be true, it seemingly is not in effect, Gordon suggested.
"Politics might be a lot like sausage: You don't want to look too close," Gordon said.
While Gordon suggested that many Americans, especially students, have begun to feel this way, she said that in other parts of the world, politics take on a much larger role.
"Some nations are debating about Mother Earth. They are asking: 'who can speak for her?' and 'what can we do for, or to, her?'" said Gordon. "In this way, other nations are challenging politics and asking 'what are rights?' and 'who deserves rights?' They are delving into new realms."
With this in mind, Gordon moved into a discussion of political leverage. She explained that it includes either militaristic or economic privilege. In the days of the Romans, this was an exemplary system because the people still had the opportunity to respond to their government. For instance, if the people no longer wanted to be at war, then they simply did not go to the battlefield. While clearly this is a problem if not everyone is involved, it granted the people power over their officials through militaristic creativity.
"Today, the ability of the people to rise over our government has been essentially lost," Gordon said. "Every person has been taught that they are essentially replaceable and dispensable. We need new types of creativity to overcome this and distinctly display the will of the people."
Considering Gordon's discussion of politics and Americans today, political science professor Michael Morrell furthered the idea with historical evidence and current statistics. By relating the history of the Greek's "polis," Morrell pointed out that politics were the center of society. But as Hobbes and Locke suggested, we only have politics because we have problems.
"In an expansive sense, people don't like politics," Morrell said. "They only see gridlock, an inability to compromise, liars, and at the worst of it, repression and a willingness to go to war."
The reason there is what Morrell calls, "a negative aspect regard for political life," is what motivates people. According to statistics, Morrell said that anger and frustration were greater motivators than any other emotions. Throughout the years, ugly emotions have always accompanied politics and caused a dislike for them by most people.
As a whole, the roundtable discussion highlighted the importance of activity within the political sphere in order to promote social change. The professors came prepared and offered an interesting dialogue with one another.

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