In his recent article, “Moral superiority and student politics,” Abraham Moussako argues that students have no duty to participate in campus politics. I’d like to refute that idea by arguing that judgements about the duty to participate are necessarily made in reference to particular facts about a particular issue. In other words, we can’t make blanket statements about the moral status of political participation.
To illustrate this point, let me offer the following two examples:
Imagine that the administration decided to stop admitting women, non-whites, and handicapped people to the university, citing the reason behind this policy as the (supposedly) inferior mental capacities of these groups. Obviously, the campus would be in an uproar, and I think even Mr. Moussako would agree that we all would have a duty to rally in support of our friends and colleagues.
Conversely, imagine that McGill decided to increase Heather Munroe-Blum’s salary by one penny. In this case, I think even the scariest of McGill’s radicals would probably not even bat an eyelash.
What I’m trying to get across by these two examples is that you need to take into account the particulars of the issue when you make judgements about the necessity of getting involved. In his article, Mr. Moussako does make a slight concession to this idea: he says while some issues are too insignificant to get worked up about, others do have relatively important consequences. However, he also says we need not worry about these other, significant issues because they are “complex, morally ambiguous matters of economics and politics.”
Frankly, I’m puzzled by the idea here that we can ignore a duty we find difficult to fulfill. To be sure, many of these issues require a lot of thought in order to wrap your head around them. However, if they’re important enough, I think we’re still obligated to take a stance on them. As Mr. Moussako emphasizes, it need not be one stance in particular. However, it should at least be one informed by careful thought, and maybe even a conversation with someone you disagree with.