A long time ago, I lived in a very “red” state. The place I now call home is not so conservative, which I like because it is more aligned with my own politics. I may not always agree with my blue friends, but we agree on some basic premises that enable us to have interesting/productive conversations. This is not true here. While it is always a shock when I take a trip back to catch up with folks and find myself immersed in the red-state culture. This trip, for some reason, has been particularly frustrating. I have had several conversations in the past couple of days that make me want to tear my hair out.
Here are a couple of positions that I have had to defend:
1. Tenure is not a mechanism for lazy people to suck at teaching.
It became clear in this conversation that the folks I were speaking with felt that teaching is the main/only job of an academic faculty. I tried to explain that teaching was a small part of my job, and that basic research is important for laying a foundation that allows for the development of treatments for diseases, etc. That research leads to economic development and jobs. The response? “meh. maybe we’ll go along with that. but tenure is evil and makes it so you can’t fire people that suck at their job”. So I follow up with people that suck at their job won’t get tenure. I try to explain that tenure is a way to keep smart people in a difficult job that doesn’t pay well. It is a “carrot” at the end of a long career training and it allows folks to study topics that may become politicized without fearing for their job. I told them that people don’t check out after they get tenure, and, while you can’t be “fired”, at least where I work, you do have to cover part of your salary by landing grants.
I would say that we agreed to disagree on this one.
2. people, in general, do not avoid getting jobs so they can collect unemployment
I almost exploded my head on this one. This topic is a little out of my league, and I haven’t really researched it well enough to be a good advocate for my position. But I tried. The basic premise of the argument that I heard was that most people are lazy and just want the government to give them money. Or else they will go sell drugs (WTF? I have no idea where this came from so I just ignored it). The first piece of evidence presented to me is that there are a lot of jobs available out here (this anecdote is supported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which indicates the lowest unemployment is in mostly rural states). So, if people really wanted jobs they would move here. I tried several approaches here. I raised the possibility that some people can’t move, because of family, child care, medical reasons, etc. Or that there might negative consequences if we force the entirety of American workers to become migrants that “follow” the jobs. Or that people who were trained to be computer scientists might actually not work out so well working on a farm. Over and over I heard: if they WANTED a job they would make it work. So I changed tactics: suppose that all the jobs were in the big cities on the east coast. Would you move out there to take a job doing something that are totally unfamiliar with? The predictable answer: I would if that is what I had to do to feed my children! Then came the “I heard Joe say that he wanted to hire someone but they wouldn’t start for 2 weeks because they still had that much unemployment”. I tried to explain that even if this was a true story, it was probably not representative of the entire population.
We declared an impasse.
3. white people are NOT discriminated against
Now, I really felt like I had some good arguments when this topic came up. And that I was RIGHT! The argument started when it was proposed that the fact there were Associations for *insert your favorite non-white here* that it was discrimination – there is no Association for White Men, after all. I pointed out that almost every “business association” or the like is basically the AWM. They argued that the non-whites should learn to “work within the system”. I pointed out that it is hard to do this if you are blocked from entering “the system”. They argued that discrimination ended long ago. I called bullshit, pointed out that there are still overt discrimination based on gender and ethnicity when it comes to hiring not to mention other less obvious barriers that prevent people from having the opportunities that WM take for granted. A female in the room pointed out that she had witnessed discrimination, but had been able to become successful anyway. So discrimination is not an excuse for failure.
My head exploded. Thankfully it was time to call it a night.
I feel like there was a time in my life when I could engage better with folks more conservative than myself. I wonder if the fact that I now live in blue-topia has dulled my debating skills? The people I’m talking to are not stupid (though they may be misinformed in some regards). In my view, these discussions are chances for folks from very different viewpoints to understand why we have such different perspectives. But I don’t think that I understand folks out here any better than before these conversations. And I suspect that my arguments haven’t actually done anything to make the folks out here think any differently of the “liberal elite”.
So, dear readers (both of you!!). I need some help. What is it that I am doing wrong with my interactions here? Please keep in mind that “don’t talk to those people” is not very helpful.