Politics aren’t personal

Utility, not ideology, should be the focus of campus politics and leaders

Ben Hartley, ArtSci ’10
Ben Hartley, ArtSci ’10

Queen’s University has been traditionally known for its leaders of tomorrow, but campus politics at Queen’s today resemble a squabble among children rather than an open-minded, intellectual debate.

We see this in the form of federal and provincially-funded ideological interest groups that dominate the discourse of campus politics due to larger funding and organization.

Power and the competition for it is a lightning rod for political elitism—the idea that at the ripe age of 20, a fixed political ideology is right and an ideology consisting of contrary positions is incorrect.

This just isn’t possible.

Politics aren’t personal. Politics indicate fluidity of opinion to reflect a practical engagement with policy for the betterment of a given society.

Today’s political discourse at Queen’s, from all parts of the spectrum, emits a striking contrast to the hope that government is a place for co-operation and progress and a resemblance to the bitter politics of division that cause disillusionment with federal and provincial politics.

Divergent opinions and ideologies are necessary for continued progress, but we’ve seen the battle evolving into a zero-sum game, where one side is only right—or successful—if the other is wrong.

Campus politics must embrace a non-partisan environment where mobilization isn’t in the name of a political party or set ideology, but represents the entire student body. This is why party affiliation isn’t a part of student government. Campus politics are inevitably dominated by a specific group of people naturally inclined towards participation in

student government.

Some students deserve the highest praise for sacrificing valuable time and energy for the student body’s sake.

But in another light there’s a common belief amongst the student body that some leaders aren’t driven by a commitment to the common good, but a commitment to padding their resumes.

The frightening part? Emerging apart from these two traditional motivations are groups who seek to subvert our remaining faith in student government by taking over its institutions; cloaked in the name of progress, subscribing to ideological agendas that reflect canons unyielding to alternative opinion or efficacy.

These groups exist in a political space where purpose isn’t as altruistic as it is competitive for control over student government institutions.

These institutions were created to maximize utility for the diversity of the student body, while today’s politics seek to politicize parts of student life that should be sacredly non-partisan.

This threatens our already troubled progress towards an inclusive campus.

Dogmatism in one’s political ideology has no place at the undergraduate level and shouldn’t be forced on the institutions of student government.

When ideological arguments dominate other ideological arguments, debate ceases to exist and progress is substituted for the egos of over-inflated personalities.

Partisanship at the undergraduate level isn’t a bad thing, but requires acceptance of dissenting opinions. The alternative is a hyper-partisan politics of division that ultimately fails the political process and its constituents.

Leaders of tomorrow must aim to understand all sides of debate and be their own best critic. Holding an ideology is the culmination of refined argumentation where one is aware of all arguments against their position.

In intellectual circles, ideological assertions are regarded as the product of experience and wisdom—that utility for the greater good drives argument towards an ideology instead of the other way around.

The difference is that in most cases, undergraduate students don’t have the breadth of academic experience to make comprehensive ideological judgments.

It’s up to us to make decisions that reflect a proactive discourse that doesn’t exclude the value of dissenting opinion.

The beauty of student agency at such a young and politically innocent stage is that it accepts any point of view and strives towards a common good.

Many young ideologues may be surprised to find out an advanced civil service is non-partisan and that government isn’t intended to be a never-ending competition for power.

Utility, not ideology, should be the focus of anyone wanting to call themselves a leader of tomorrow.

Otherwise, they’ve just been brainwashed.

Ben Hartley, ArtSci ’10, is the Student Director of the AMS Board of Directors.

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