Ty Bair is a junior, studying Politics & International Relations, as well as Philosophy

(This post is the next in the segment Readings in Reconciliation and focuses on Adam Grant’s Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know.  Click to learn more about the segment and the series, From the Field.)

The main point of Grant’s book, unsurprisingly, is getting us to ‘think again’. “The goal is not to be wrong more often. It’s to recognize that we’re all wrong more often than we’d like to admit.” (83) He wants to challenge us to critically reevaluate our ideas, our beliefs, and even our ways about being in the world. In undertaking this monumental task, I believe that Grant achieves in making the case for self-reflection, but struggles to explain the potential pitfalls, should one go about doing so.

One major point that I took from Grant’s writing was that no matter how sure you are of something, no matter how big or small, and no matter how important it is, we can always benefit from a second look at it. Grant convinced me of that old adage over the course of the read that if something is worth doing it is worth doing right, and rethinking is the way to go about that. He showed me that “that’s the way we’ve always done it” is not a valid excuse using the Challenger disaster to exemplify how overlooking things and assuming everything is safe just because it had worked in the past was simply not enough. He also showed me that you can never be thorough enough because you might have been mistaken the first time as you checked in his example of Luca Parmitano and his spacesuit wardrobe malfunction (293), where Luca was in grave danger because NASA only checked what the perceived problem was and he almost drowned in space because of it.

Though I agree with most of his major points, a major issue I had was that he neglected to elaborate on a lot of them, leaving the reader to deal with a lot of the questions that stem from his advice on their own. For instance, when Grant talks about being willing to switch career paths, in his example, his cousin is having serious doubts about his life choices, but decides to stick with them even though he was not entirely sure he wanted to and Grant spins this tale as a cautionary one, but there was no guarantee that if his cousin had decided to chase his more unstable dreams that he would have landed on his feet at all. And when he talks about Daryl Davis and the white supremacists (202), he seems to be endorsing trying to talk to people that hate you. In other words, that changing minds can even require risk of personal harm, but what if you’re in a situation like that? Are you obligated to follow through, or would Grant say err on the side of caution? Grant shies away from confronting the fallout that could come if you follow his advice to the tee, and I think that can be a problem because he is not clear enough about when and where this attitude is appropriate and when rethinking or changing could be harmful in the long run. What if you make a mistake the second time around?

However, the main basis of his argument I think is very sound. In particular, I think his guidance for how to communicate better with people by coming from an area of understanding is extremely useful. He talks about how to have a productive conversation (258) by keeping yourself active and receptive throughout, and he even delves into how high-intensity topics can be approached in such a way as to not explode by considering the “range of perspectives on a topic” (Grant, 236). I think that the book in its totality has really given me an emboldened sense of importance regarding the time I spend evaluating my values, attitudes, and belief structures. These skills in particular are very useful for approaching genuine discussion about hot button issues to better get a grasp of the full situation. If I want to be a conscientious political actor I should be able to affirm my positions on any number of topics and to do so properly simply must include me revisiting them time and time again.

Dr. Robin Lauermann, Professor of Politics & Chair of History, Politics and International relations, pens this series.

 

(What is Civic Mind?  Read our welcome post for the series!)

My name is …

Conversation in the public sphere has recently revolved around fundamental questions of facts, made even more complicated by disinformation campaigns by foreign and domestic actors.  I would hazard to guess that many of us would treat our knowledge about our own basic identities as beyond question.  Yet, is it? I was a young child when I learned that my parents made a legal change before I was born from our family’s Polish surname to an English one.

Although I grew up with connections to this culture, particularly with foods and festivals, it was also very apparent in many statements that my father made that he saw its identity fundamentally tied up in the ways that people treated him and others with similar backgrounds.  One of the most memorable examples related to his continual discouragement to pass along the language that he learned as a second-generation American, even as he supported me in taking four other languages in high school.  Over the years of personal and professional reading, I have since learned that his experiences at that time were not unusual.  For all of the critiques against “identity politics,” such as those by Stanford professor Francis Fukuyama, the reality is that individual’s beliefs form from their experiences; when individuals that share a certain characteristic have shared experiences, they often produce similar responses, which account for differences between groups.  When that identity facet ceases to have relevance to policy, the issues have likely resolved.

Social identity has served as an essential building block for those who study political behavior.  Among the earlier researchers, Robert Lane offers probably the most essential definition in Political Life, Why and How People Get Involved in Politics:

Social identity . . . refers to the use of attributes derived from a man’s identification with social groups to describe and define himself. It is the contribution made to his answer to “Who am 1?”, by his sense of belonging to some specified part of human society, a community, a professional society, a church, a nationality group, even sometimes a neighborhood … “the Tenderloin,” “the West End” (235-255).

In the years since the birth of political psychology and sociology, analyses typically control for group identities that have relevance for specific questions about opinion formation, as well as the behavior resulting from those beliefs, attitudes and opinions.

Opinion formation in politics, as with other beliefs, results from an ongoing and complex process.  Our early experiences – be they positive or negative – have among the most significant.  Not only do those elements produce some of the strongest impact (primacy principle), they shape our processing of new experiences, including the interaction with ideas of other individuals (See, for example, American Public Opinion: Its Origins, Content, and Impact by Robert Erikson and Kent Tedin, Chapters 5 &7).  In turn, absent what we call cross-cutting influences – experiences that challenge or contradict prior ones – common experiences by those with similar social experiences tend to produce patterns of beliefs and opinions, making that identity politically relevant. Thus, identity is not inherently political, but becomes so due to historically relevant patterns; to the extent that a group experiences significant changes within society, an identity may lose its political relevance.  This recent article in the Annual Review of Political Science provides background and current context in this area of research.  The experience of Polish immigrants illustrates this flow and ebb, though it is only one of many group experiences in this country.

The history detailed in The United States and the Rebirth of Poland, 1914-1918 by M.B.B. Biskupski shares the political role of Polish American immigrants in the years leading up to World War I.  Beginning in 1870, a wave of individuals fled the oppressive rule by the empires that had, over time, gobbled up the Polish state.  Known as “Polonia,” the diaspora settled in the northern central and eastern portions of the country, as well as just over the border in Canada.  Despite a common national identity, this group did not have unified beliefs, differences that stemmed from not only social and economic factors but also the area of Poland from which they arrived.  Those Poles who settled in the Midwest/Great Lakes region hailed from territory then controlled by the Germans tended to have more conservative religious and economic values and adopted a pro-Russia stance. Poles who migrated to the eastern seaboard of the US had secular, socialist and pro-German stances.

Although they had limited success in raising funds and military support for Poland directly, they became an electoral force in American politics.  Motivated by questionable assertions about immigrants in writings and speech, Polonia came out as a force against Wilson in 1912, to which Wilson responded by vetoing immigration restrictions and, after winning their support in 1916, entering the war and advocating for the return of an independent Poland.  Ultimately, Wilson and other international actors would be successful in garnering this latter goal as part of the peace settlement of the war.  (If you would like to read a little more detailed analysis, check out the book review that I previously published in a special volume of Rocznik Przemyski on pages 201-206.  The larger volume offers a detailed portrait of the role of Polonia during the quest for the return of an independent Poland, as well as its experiences within America during and after the war.)

Although the key issue that motivated Polish Americans to political engagement had been resolved, their experiences still reflected a distinct status in society. Despite the perception of America as a “melting pot”, the process for many immigrants has been at best gradual, particularly for the waves that have come from different areas around the world than prior ones. In his book, Working Toward Whiteness, historian David Roediger examines the journey of many immigrant groups. His research notes that racial classifications came not solely from distinct characteristics of social groups, but also from policies that categorized individuals.  For example, Southern and Eastern Europeans were not considered white and thus were marginalized by disrespect and discrimination.  These groups sometimes made progress in gaining acceptance by perpetuating similar behavior against other marginalized groups such as Asian, African and Latinx Americans (See Chapters 1-3).  Even though name changes were not pervasive for Southern and Eastern European groups, they did manage to work their way into acceptance within society in subsequent generations.  As such, Polish ethnic identity does not make a noticeable impact on individuals’ political beliefs in America today than it did in earlier decades.

Social identity influences political opinion and behavior to the extent that groups of people share common historical experiences that are relevant to particular issues.  For some individuals, aspects of their identity that are relevant at one point may not always be so.  However, some experiences are so stark that huge challenges remain to overcome boundaries; where we observe group differences in opinion on issues, our first response should be to learn more about group experiences and discern the reasons for differing and even competing opinions.  For example, listen to and read about the work by Yosemite ranger Yenyen Chan to uncover the role of Chinese Americans or read this post about the experiences of Asian, African and Latinx Americans from our sister series Tocqueville Capital.  By listening and learning, we may not only gain a broader perspective and evaluate how policies affect ability of all individuals to enjoy the rights and freedoms of our country, but we may also acknowledge the history and respect the cultures that have shaped portions of the American population as well as the larger history of this country.

 

Senior Alyssa Reiff majors in Politics and International Relations

 

(This post is the next in the segment Readings in Reconciliation and focuses on Adam Grant’s Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know.  Click to learn more about the segment and the series, From the Field.)

 

The question posed by Adam Grant’s Think Again is knowing when to think again. Grant defines ‘thinking again’ as the ability to let go of ideas when they are not serving you anymore (12). This process encourages people to identify what they believe and more seriously consider the beliefs of another; although, it can become detrimental when it inspires the constant deconstruction of values and beliefs core to a person’s identity. Rather, people must learn to humbly articulate what they believe and be willing to listen to the beliefs of others.

The ability to admit you may be wrong is essential in order for a change in beliefs to occur, which is only possible through humility. Humility comes from having an accurate view of your understanding and being willing to admit what you don’t know (118-19). Daryl, an African American musician, embodied humility, and willingness to develop relationships had huge ripple effects (141). For Daryl, this looked like understanding that the behaviors and beliefs of these members of the KKK reflected something deeper about where they came from. Daryl approached those relationships with the knowledge that he did not know everything about them and that motivated his curiosity in conversation with them. Unknowingly, Daryl had harnessed the power of motivational interviewing (148). Grant promotes this, saying “Yet the most effective way to help others open their minds is often to listen” (151). To trust another’s ability to engage in self-discovery requires a certain level of humility. “The objective is not to be a leader or a follower, but a guide”, Grant adds (153). We must realize that we never have the ability to change someone’s mind–only they can do that–and we must understand that it is a special and rare thing if we have the privilege of helping them along in the process.

A caution to Grant’s invitation to ‘think again’ is that not all beliefs should be deconstructed. Some solid sense of identity is required in order to go on questioning. It is necessary to have some core values or beliefs to engage and make decisions within culture, which is relative and always changing.  In the last paragraph of his Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis describes the challenge Grant’s inquisition of values may pose:

You cannot go on ‘seeing through’ things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque. How if you saw through the garden too? It is no use trying to ‘see through’ first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see.

There must be something solid, something that we know to be true to give us a sense of stability and inform our identity. Grant touches on this idea when he discusses the difference in response to change from major phone companies BlackBerry and Apple. BlackBerry creator Mike Lazardidis refused to rethink his product and adapt it to better serve the culture it was in. On the other hand, Apple chose to expand the limits of what the iPod was capable of by creating the iPhone. Steve Jobs was hesitant to make this change because Apple was first and foremost a computer company. How they managed to adapt where BlackBerry did not was through a simple philosophy: rethink the technology, preserve the DNA. “Although our strategy might evolve, our identity will endure” (31). Grant’s writing should encourage us to look at all the beliefs we hold. They may not all need to be challenged, probed, and prodded, but we should never be afraid to identify what we believe and why.

Grant’s invitation to ‘think again’ is incredibly beneficial in political thought as it promotes healthier dialogue around the things people care about the most. Everyday political conversation would bode much fairer if people embodied the humble willingness to learn that Grant describes. Additionally, presidential debates would go a lot smoother. The 2020 Presidential Debate held on September 30th was the perfect example of where politicians could learn from Grant. The debate was neither productive nor pleasant to watch. Tom Jones (2020) summarized the debate in a couple phrases “Constant interruptions. Constant talking over one another. Name-calling. Juvenile bickering.”. Is this what we are to expect from our highest ranking politicians? Our country’s representatives?

The debate highlighted the need for the thoughtful strategies Grant recommends, including: confident humility, listening, and acknowledging common ground. Harish, an expert debater who took on a computer about preschool subsidies, gave this advice: “You should be willing to listen to what someone else is saying and give them a lot of credit for it. It makes you sound like a reasonable person who is taking everything into account” (107). In debates like the 2020 Presidential debate, and similar ones one might have at the dinner table, the actual seeking for a solution to real, complex problems gets lost in the pride and passion of the two debaters. If politicians were able to model what it looks like to have a learning posture and collaborate with people they disagree with, it may be easier for their constituents to do the same. This poses another interesting question: what can I do, as a constituent myself, to encourage this kind of behavior? How can I create spaces for productive debate in my own life?

Grant’s book is an invitation to take inventory of the beliefs you hold. What people, experiences, and knowledge shaped them? How do these beliefs inform your decisions? Your conversations? It could be that we feel compelled to ‘think again’ and reconsider an idea or belief we have. Yet, we must remember there are many beliefs worth holding onto. We must be vigilant that our consideration of our beliefs is not merely a guise for cynicism. Cynicism renders all beliefs null. Still, we are responsible to know what we believe, be able to connect it to our outward behaviors, and humbly accept where we err. This kind of examination might just draw us into deeper appreciation and understanding of ourselves and others and the things we each care about most.

Allela Girma is a senior, majoring in Politics and International Relations, as well as Economics

 

(This post is the next in the segment Readings in Reconciliation and focuses on Adam Grant’s Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know.  Click to learn more about the segment and the series, From the Field.)

 

Admitting the need to think again can be difficult. The first time I found myself thinking again, I was eight years old, arguing with my brother on the existence of Santa Claus. After a long and disheartening conversation, my brother ended up winning that argument. Although I did not realize it at the time, that uncomfortable and disappointed feeling was a sign of growth. We are so set in our values, and unaware of our blind spots that new knowledge is alarming because it is often at the cost of our comfort. I believe that we can master the art of thinking again by normalizing discomfort and recognizing our blind spots.

Letting go is a big theme in this book – it reiterates the idea that holding on to our most prized values can hinder our quest for knowledge. We face a dilemma between knowledge and values. In my opinion, however, the real dilemma is not a choice between values and knowledge, but between identity and knowledge. We have held on to our values so closely that they have become part of our identity, part of how we define ourselves. For this reason, letting go of our long-time beliefs or core values could feel like we are losing ourselves. Questioning our ideals could feel like shedding part of our identity, leaving us in an uncomfortable, confused state (22). To avoid feeling this way, Grants suggests that we dissociate our ideas from our identity which will make us more willing to accept new knowledge. There are many ways to separate ourselves from our ideas, but the best way, according to Grant, is to base our identity on principles that enable us to “remain open-minded” (116). Principles such as curiosity and integrity, for example, allow us to stay detach to our ideas making it easier to acquire new knowledge.

I, however, believe that Grant’s analysis is somewhat incomplete for two reasons. Firstly, I do not believe that it is humanly possible to separate our feelings, or our identity from certain core values that were established at a young age. Secondly, I think that discomfort should be embraced as it is a sign of growth. Most of our core values were learned through our families and decades of personal experience. Dissociating with those ideals is much more difficult than replacing them with new ones. The solution to this dilemma between knowledge and identity is to normalize discomfort. Understanding that it is okay to feel lost when feel as though others debunk our values, and even welcoming the discomfort that comes with “shedding our identity” (22), can bring us closer to new knowledge. Therefore, I believe the quest for knowledge should start with building a healthy relationship with discomfort rather than just replacing our values. Moreover, gaining new knowledge could be challenging partially because of this dilemma between knowledge and identity, but also because of the blind spots that stop us from knowing when to think again.

I believe that stereotypes play an essential role in the impediment of thinking again as they are active blind spots disturbing our field of view. These blind spots prevent us from seeing the humanity in one another. Grant tells us many stories of stereotypes causing violence and hatred, mostly related to the RedSox vs. Yankees examples. The most compelling part about this chapter was the concept of “counterfactual thinking…imagining how the circumstances of our lives could have unfolded differently” (242) if we were in someone else’s shoes helps us gain more empathy for the other. Although I agree with Grant on this statement, I do not necessarily understand why human nature is so convoluted. I have trouble accepting that it is not enough for us to see that someone is struggling or treated unfairly to recognize and acknowledge it.[1] There are many instances where we should be thinking again, especially when it comes to how we treat others, but we do not, because it seems as though our blind spots concentrate on other people’s struggles. Overall, this book left me with many interesting and useful thoughts, but the most valuable lesson I learned from Grant is to remain critical while being mindful of our listening skills.

Political Science is a complicated field that dedicates a lot of time to analyzing disagreements on a wide range of important topics. This book has made an impact on my ability to think about the field as it has shown me that good criticism comes from asking the right question, and the only way to do that is through active listening. Grant has taught me the value and importance of understanding how someone thinks, rather than just why they think the way they do. This book is a guideline for mastering the art of thinking again.

 

[1] I wonder – do we only have blind spots when it comes to other people’s humanity? My cousin is married to a white man, and the lovely couple just recently had their first child. Before this child was born, Paul had never thought about racism or discrimination of any kind because he never had to do so. This one night, I think it was George Floyd’s story on the news, and he changed the channel almost instantaneously, as soon as that story came on. My cousin was still pregnant at the time, and she told me that the way he changed the channel that night, it was as if he really thought that this did not concern/ affect him in any way. She had to sit him down, and explain to him that the child they are about to have might go through the same discrimination/ injustice present today. In other words, for him to really care about what was happening it had to involve him in some way? He did not care about those struggles until they were about to become his struggles as well.

I thought of this story when Grant stated, “knowing what it felt like to be disliked for ridiculous reasons helped them see that this conflict had real implications” (240). I thought, but why do you have to “put yourself in someone else’s shoes” to empathize with them? I never really understood that concept. Should it not be enough to see that someone is struggling/being treated unfairly, in order to recognize/ acknowledge it? Grant also noted, “In psychology, counterfactual thinking involves imagining how the circumstances of our lives could have unfolded differently” (242). He said “our life”, so we have to be involved in order to recognize it (unjust/ bad behavior). In one of the experiments that Grant shared, someone even said, “If someone hated me because of the team that I loved, it would feel unfair” (239). I wonder what this issue says about human nature. We are blind to someone else’s struggles until we can imagine them being applied to our life.

Pierson Castor is a junior, majoring in politics and international relations

(What is From the Field? Read this welcome post, as well as the introduction post to this current segment, to learn more!)

In Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know, Adam Grant reminds readers of the need to prioritize truth over comfort. We all have different worldviews because of our different experiences. Nevertheless, if we hope to be informed citizens, we must be willing to consider other viewpoints and new evidence. Beliefs are incredibly difficult to unbelieve, even when presented with new evidence. We must acknowledge, however, that we live in an ever-changing political landscape. If our political beliefs allow us no room for adaptability, we will find ourselves clinging to incorrect understandings of the world around us. This reality is a particularly startling prospect as faithful Christians. Being God’s salt and light to the earth requires us to know the realities we face. Unless we see the brokenness around us, we will be unable to confront it.

Though Grant is not writing to a particularly religious audience, his message is especially relevant for Christ followers. Grant writes, “When adults have the confidence to acknowledge what they don’t know, they pay more attention to how strong the evidence is and spend more time reading the material that contradicts their opinions” (48). At first, this idea sounds contradictory to the notion of faith. Most Christians, for example, believe in the Bible as an authoritative source of truth. Must we doubt this belief? No, but as Grant explains, we must have the confidence to know what we do not know. We live in an incredibly different world than the one in which the Bible was written. Unless we acknowledge our twenty-first century American lens, we will never see the need to pursue a more accurate understanding of the biblical narrative. More broadly, unless we acknowledge the need to grow our understanding of the world, we will never learn how best we can serve it.

More often than not, I agree with Grant’s analysis of human tendencies and the problems they generate. Furthermore, I agree with his analysis in how we as individuals ought to address them. Grant explains, “We won’t have much luck changing other people’s minds if we refuse to change ours. We can demonstrate openness by acknowledging where we agree with our critics and even what we’ve learned from them” (107). We must be a people that builds bridges. Too often, do we expect others to be open-minded but withhold that same open-mindedness from them? Unless we extend a hand to those with whom we disagree, we will fail to learn, persuade, and reconcile. The irony is that Grant himself–in an effort to persuade his readers–demonstrates often an attitude of superiority. For example, Grant writes, “One of my biggest pet peeves is feigned knowledge, where people pretend to know things they don’t. It bothers me so much that at this very moment I’m writing an entire book about it” (40). In the same breath, Grant summarizes a study that discovered “the more superior participants thought their knowledge was, the more they overestimated themselves” (40). Either this is an incredible use of irony to provide emphasis, or this is the most painful example of self-unawareness. The text does not provide clarification.

Overall, Grant addresses tendencies with which all humans struggle: choosing comfort over truth and assuming a proficiency of knowledge. Using graphs, studies, stories and life experiences, he explains why these things are a problem and why we ought to address them in our own lives. He makes a compelling case as to why such behavioral adjustments will help society as a whole. Christian readers, though, may see a societal benefit that Grant does not mention, namely that a refined understanding of the world will help us further God’s kingdom here on earth. After all, if we as Christians do not see the brokenness around us, how can we hope to confront it?

Robin Lauermann is Professor of Politics and chair, Department of History, Politics, and International Relations.

(What is From the Field? Read our series welcome post to learn more!)

With the launch of a new academic year, this post introduces a new segment for the series.  As we move to different books across the semester, I will add an editorial post to introduce each of the new pieces.

 

 

One of the gifts of teaching at Messiah University is the opportunity to participate in dynamic and relevant conversations about contemporary life.  This year, Messiah has elected to focus on the theme of Reconciliation. For those readers familiar with our school, this theme may seem unsurprising, given that this value is an essential aspect of our educational mission. Though a Christian university, staff and students alike are aware that members of our community come from many different theological traditions; we regularly encounter and need to respond constructively to views that differ from our own.  For all readers, particularly those who are politically interested, the opportunity to engage more deeply with our call to in reconciliation fits well with the needs of our time.

The goal of democracy is to provide a peaceful means by which to make decisions and resolve disputes.  As political theorist, Glenn Tinder notes in Tolerance and Community,[1] “It is part of the true wisdom of democracy that political goals can rarely if ever be reached, as civilized states of being … by shouting – or shooting – down one’s opponents.” (6).  Whether through gridlock, combative rhetoric, or challenges to the processes meant to enhance government accountability, it is clear that we do not always witness – or practice – engagement in politics that allows for reconciliation in the political process.  Yet, such an approach serves a critical requirement to sustain a respect for democracy, as well as promote a better grasp of problems to address them effectively with policy.  Some political scientists, like Stanford’s Hoover Institute Fellow, Dr. Morris Fiorina, argue that these trends have occurred in recent decades because of party sorting, which increases the potential for significant political combat.

Addressing these issues, of course, is far from simple, and requires a willingness to read, listen, reflect and interact.  This fall, in addition to conducting research into an area of interest in the field, juniors and seniors in our capstone are engaging this theme through discussion of several books, wrestling well with a host of related issues.  Posts for this segment of the From the Field series will come from a sample of student analyses of these texts.  This month, the posts will include analyses of Adam Grant’s Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know.

Although Grant is an organizational psychologist, this text offers highly relevant connections to the political behavior area of our field; in particular, it provides though-provoking ideas about the roadblocks that affect the development of our own ideas, as well as how we interact with others based on those beliefs. The student posts illuminate why and how our attention to the idea of reconciliation is more than an abstract idea, it is a fundamental means for personal and professional growth, functional relationships and effective collective decision-making.  I am so excited for you to read their thoughts!

[1] Tinder’s book is out of print, despite its citation in several hundred published works.  Rather than linking to a particular used book cite, I have opted to link to a journal that displays a good portion of a book review before requiring payment to scale the paywall.

 

 

What is Tocqueville Capital?  Read the welcome post to learn more!

 

“This reliance on the power of noble words and moral leadership, coupled with certain institutional solutions like statutes and regulatory boards, was how TR sought to establish a path between a self-interested individualism and a moral zeal for that abandoned individual freedom and rights for the sake of “the social good.” (Rego, 211)

In 2008, the country plunged into the Great Recession, policymakers sought remedies to address the impact and the root causes, risky activities in the financial sector arose as a source of the disruptions.  A few years later, Occupy Wall Street erupted with protests against a system and related policies that not only contributed to a concentration of income, but also the power that allowed the risky practices that led to the downturn.  Although analysis suggests a mixed legacy of this movement, its ideas have affected the public square in terms of its conversation threads and candidates.   Among more formal opinions, former secretary of labor Robert Reich recently penned The System, expressing concern that the level of influence exercised by corporate leadership in both the economic and political sphere has moved the country further from democratic ideals rather than towards them.  Although the temptation may exist to brand criticism of the economic system as anti-capitalist, a more nuanced consideration helps us to evaluate the way that this system, as with any human system, deviates from its intended role.

In American Ideal: Theodore Roosevelt’s Search for American Individualism, my colleague Dr. Paul Rego provides an intensive analysis of the experiences that shaped President Theodore Roosevelt’s life and his political beliefs.  From hunter to rancher to rough rider, Roosevelt’s writing shared insights that reflected his value of the person, as well as ways to cultivate it for social contributions.  However, Roosevelt also recognized the potential for individuals, particularly those with power, to bend the system in ways that made it work less effectively and justly for the larger society.  Rego’s book painstakingly captures a perspective that offers a third way, considering not simply how to limit the excesses of either extreme, but also how each of these ideals can complement each other, making for a stronger outcome.  In doing so, Rego – and Roosevelt – recapture the relevance of Tocqueville’s observations on the same subject: that neither a solely individualistic nor collective system will ultimately serve its people well.

The context in which Roosevelt came of age included a lingering emphasis on social Darwinism, as well as growing numbers of critiques of this perspective.  Social Darwinism – a cultural take on the “survival of the fittest” – accepted few limits on individual freedom, save for where it impacted others, and believed the social and economic landscape status was simply the outcome from a naturally operating system (7-11). Roosevelt, however, was also impacted by the tenets of the Social Gospel and Pragmatist movements that, above all else, considered the ability of humans to improve their condition (11-20).  Roosevelt’s father’s values of individual character and compassion for others, exhibited a strong influence, as is often the case for one’s family in early life.    As Roosevelt wrote about his naturalist and military experiences, he certainly recognized the importance of these experiences in shaping constructive characteristics of individuals – “honesty, courage, fairness, thrift, industry, common sense, sympathy and ‘fellow feeling’” (Chapters 3-4; 92). But he also recognized that with attention concerns other than pure survival, society could progress (32).  Moreover, the interdependence of people on one another created a need for some sort of protective – or at least regulative – function of government (33-4).  This perspective, informed by the value of individual effort, also recognized that state action was necessary – particularly because individuals fail, due to the potential to infringe on the rights of others and corrupt the system (93).  In turn, these views would shape his support for the prudent use of state action.

Among the most notable initiatives that Roosevelt brought to the public square, his Square Deal and New Nationalism embodied his nuanced ideals, policy proposals and actions.  Rego argues that, in the development of his thoughts and their policy implications, Roosevelt drew inspiration from Abraham Lincoln’s ability to identify a common ideal around which Americans could unite – equality of opportunity (43-44).  Carrying forward his emphasis on hard work, Roosevelt, saw limits to individual action and a role for the state in serving the public interest.  Individuals, for example, were unlikely to be able to promote effective conservation efforts (110-114).  Likewise, he also recognized the ways that imbalances of economic power could allow for exploitation, especially if profit subverts public good and growth. Associations, such as farmer collectives and business associations, could accomplish some of these ends (115-117). However, they still needed a mediator in the form of the state to engage in anti-trust, regulatory and compensation activities, all of which could limit the excesses that lessened the opportunity for all (Chapter 5). He also saw the role of moral codes in helping to support society, whether the importance of the rule of law, the need for character in carrying out responsibilities for others, as well as the essential relevance of inclusion for sincere social progress (Chapter 6). These concerns, along with an emphasis to increase mechanisms for more popular input into democracy and accountability of representatives.[1]

Rego establishes his connection with Tocqueville’s ideals at the outset of the book: that although decades had passed since the writing of Democracy in America, the need to balance individual interest and communal concerns continued to press society in Roosevelt’s time.  As discussed in the earlier Putnam post, Tocqueville, like Roosevelt saw the value of associations as a means to cultivate both ourselves and society. “An association unites into one channel the efforts of diverging minds, and urges them vigorously towards the one end which it clearly points out…” which extends through the regularized practice and political influence (Vol 1, Chapter XII, pars. 5-7). Likewise, he cautions that there is “nothing more arduous than the apprenticeship of liberty,”– one that requires effort, wisdom and insight (Vol 1, Chapter XIV, par. 33). However, individuals must temper these activities with a concern for the public welfare:

“The free institutions…every instant impress upon his mind the notion that it is the duty, as well as the interest, of men to make themselves useful to their fellow-creatures…men attend to the interests of the public, first by necessity, afterwards by choice: what was intentional becomes an instinct; and by dint of working for he food of one’s fellow-citizens, the habit and the taste for serving them is at length acquired” (Vol 2, Section 2, Chapter IV, par. 10).

Moreover, as did classical thinkers, Tocqueville expressed concern about the tyranny of government, which he saw as potentially harnessed by the institutional design of the American constitution, but also the tyranny of the majority (Vol 1, Sections XV-XVI). [2] He recognized the danger that freedoms of citizens, especially when combined, could bring harm to others, absent the ability of the government to curb them.  Although there is not perhaps a single outcome, there is certainly a range of political and economic options that can avoid the excess of either extreme.

Returning to the present day, Roosevelt (via Rego) and Tocqueville offer some important insights that can provoke our thoughts, conversations and policy.  If we wish to ensure the equality of opportunity that has served as a hallmark ideal in the founding writings, we need to regularly examine the system in which we live, not simply accept the outcomes as a natural part of the structures that we adopted or accepted.  Blasting detractors without thinking critically about the flaws of our system raises a few concerns.  First, failing to recognize the need to evaluate any structure that exists eliminates the possibility for dialogue, as well as the potential for reform that can improve the system.  In addition, it discourages proponents of any system from realizing that any proposed system is subject to the impact of human failings.  When we choose to either extoll or demonize individuals, businesses or other organizations, as well as government, we set ourselves up for systems that compromise, rather than pursue, a larger good.

 

 

[1] Despite Roosevelt’s many contributions, he remains a flawed human like the rest of us.  To that end, I feel compelled to point out that the inclusiveness of his domestic policies did not extend consistently to his foreign policy.  Most notably, his corollary to the Monroe Doctrine resulted in numerous interventions in Latin America, which did not respect the self-determination of those countries, not only during his administration, but in many to follow.

[2] As with many other thinkers of his time, Tocqueville not address the fact that the “equality of condition” – political, social and opportunity of equality – excludes populations that were either not considered citizens (free or enslaved African Americans) or were not vested will the full rights of citizenship (women).

Daniel Smutek is a rising junior, majoring in English

(What is From the Field?  Check out the series welcome post to learn more!)  The post that follows is the last of this segment on the film Iron Jawed Angels.

 

Katja von Garnier’s 2004 film, Iron Jawed Angels illustrated the events of the 1920’s women’s suffrage movement, as well as the challenges they faced from an opposing male population. Alice Paul and members of the Congressional Union for Women’s Suffrage (CU) were faced with discouraging comments and sexist remarks from men who were determined to bar them from earning their right to vote. Often, the question as to why men were against women’s suffrage is overlooked. In the times before the women’s suffrage movement, men held many responsibilities that women did not have according to societal norms that date back to Biblical times. The passage of the Nineteenth Amendment served as a breakthrough event that overturned such norms. Now, one hundred years later, the line between what responsibilities men and women are expected to do has been blurred. To many respects, this change transpired for better. Thereby, it warrants the question: why were men opposed to allowing women to vote? Because they perceived a threat to their masculinity, the male population believed they had to do everything in their power to stop the CU from achieving its goal to defend it.

On several occasions in the film, one or more male characters were depicted making a discouraging or sexist remark. That is, either directly to the women picketing in the streets or behind closed doors in conversation. In one scene, Alice Paul, who was played by the actress, Hilary Swank, comments that most of the men she encountered were “either idiots or terrified of me” (Iron Jawed Angels). Despite making remarks about women not having the capabilities to vote for state and national leaders, men recognized their potential, and that their persistence would likely result in a constitutional amendment. Their support for women would not only help them convince President Woodrow Wilson and the United States Congress to pass such an amendment, but it would cost them their masculinity according to a subconscious perception. In the episode of the Hidden Brain podcast titled “Playing The Gender Card: Overlooking And Overthrowing Sexist Stereotypes,” host Shankar Vedantam suggests that when women begin to dominate a male-oriented field or profession, men feel as though their masculinity at risk. In the situation where a formerly male-oriented occupation becomes female-oriented, they feel like they have lost a significant part of what makes them a man.

Additionally, Vedantam characterizes masculinity as something that is “hard to gain and very easy to lose” (“Playing The Gender Card: Overlooking And Overthrowing Sexist Stereotypes”). For example, if a growing boy does not develop the characteristics attached to the male gender, he is not considered masculine. To illustrate further, young men who enter professions that are thought to be more female oriented such as nursing or housekeeping will not be regarded as masculine according to a formerly popular opinion. In order to be considered masculine, they would need to develop qualities associated with the respective gender, as well as enter more male oriented professions such as working as a car mechanic or entering into military service. Back to the matter of suffrage, granting women the right to vote likely struck most men as a revolutionary event where women would take over the political sphere that they once had complete control over. Thereby making men who participate in electing regional or national leaders less masculine given the proposition Vedantam made in his podcast. Another proposition to consider when thinking about this matter is the question of why women were not allowed to vote from the beginning. In other words, was there ever a set rule from the government or even the Bible that prohibited women from voting?

Having mentioned the Bible, as part of the Gender Family and Politics course, I and several other students prepared for and engaged in a debate regarding to two main perspectives for how women should behave in society. That is, according to what is written in the Bible. Our main source of information came from William M. Swartley’s book, Slavery, Sabbath, War and Women: Case Issues in Biblical Interpretation. The two main perspectives he presented in his book regarding how women should behave in respects to men are hierarchical and liberationist, though variations exist between them. The former holds that women should be subordinate to men, no questions asked, while the latter holds that women and men are called into mutuality in a relationship with one another. Furthermore, while there may be different societal roles prescribed to either gender, neither men nor women should be limited to those roles according to the liberationist perspective.

There exists no definite or Bible-driven answer as to whether or not there should be a rigid hierarchy among men and women. Especially considering the fact that sin has corrupted the relationship that both genders have been called into. Sin may also be the catalyst for why men and women have placed each other into a rigid hierarchy that has, since the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, begun to fade into obscurity. Alas, neither gender will be bound to the prescribed roles that society once held them to. Yet, there will still remain a portion of the population that believes that men should act like men and women should act like women according to the hierarchical perspective. Those in favor of it perceive considerable differences between the two genders.

Child development also adds important perspective on the impact of gender roles that arise according to sociocultural factors. Alice Eagly and Wendy Wood analyzed the differences between the “nature” and “nurture” theories behind the psychology of gender. “[Nature] refers to biological structures and processes and nurture refers to sociocultural influences” (340). That is to say, the nurture theory is based on how boys and girls model their own lifestyles based on what they experience. For example, if a boy grows up in a house where the mother works and the father is the stay-at-home parent, he may be more likely to model his life after his father (based on the popular opinion that boys generally tend to model themselves after their fathers). This example is a less common occurrence, and in most cases, the father would work while the mother assumes the role of stay-at-home parent. In situations like this, the boy would still be expected to model his life after the working father. However, that is not always the case. According to Vendantam’s podcast, discussed earlier, this could cost the boy his masculinity, even at a young age. Over time, this could pressure the boy in question into making himself more of a man in the eyes of a sexist society. Thereby hindering himself from becoming his own person.

Society limits and hinders from people achieving who they truly are. Neither gender is bound to act like a man or a woman according to popular beliefs or expectancies. While there are Bible-prescribed roles for each gender, neither one is limited to those roles. Looking back to the times when women were denied the right to vote, it seems absurd that they would be limited to the status of housekeeper and silent wife. Now, women have many more opportunities than ever and have prospered in the political realm. Both men and women should not be hindered by society to act as they are often expected. Unfortunately, some will feel the need to act as they are expected. That was likely the disposition of the male population that fought against Alice Paul and the CU.

Jill Cuervo is a senior majoring in Peace and Conflict Studies, as well as Spanish

 

(What is From the Field?  Check out the series welcome post to learn more!)

As depicted in Iron Jawed Angels, only a hundred years ago were women arrested and carried away by police simply for peacefully protesting for their right to vote. Now, one hundred years later, white women in the United States celebrate the anniversary of the nineteenth amendment, while people of color and their allies rush the streets protesting systematic racism and police brutality. The same cities that hosted marches and picketing for women’s suffrage now receive the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. The years 1920 and 2020 reflect a clear image of each other: United States citizens exercising the rights of liberation and progress. However, each of these movements faced extreme suppression by the same government that promised to protect these very rights. Both BLM and the suffrage movement experienced media manipulation and unfounded arrests at the hands of the government.

President Woodrow Wilson utilized his power to manipulate and silence the media to push back against the women’s suffrage movement. Both Alice Paul and Woodrow Wilson recognized its power and strategize against each other to use the media to help their cause. Wilson, in arresting the suffragists tried to discredit the movement while Paul recognized that their picketing was no longer being overlooked. Even bad attention was good attention. In order to stop this, Wilson moved to complete censorship. He would not let the women win. A scene in Iron Jawed Angels shows Wilson talking with news reporters asserting that there is to be no mention of the picketing in the papers. (Iron Jawed Angels). Despite the outright censorship done on the part of the President, the suffrage movement persisted. Government opposition and control of the media is not unique to the suffrage movement. News sources and presidential administrations may change, yet the same tactics to suppress social progress remain the same.

One hundred years later, explicit censorship is not a prevalent concern, however, racial bias plagues the media and manipulates public opinion of the Black Lives Matter movement. Racial bias in the media reveals itself in language used and generalizing statements. These methods of racial bias towards the BLM movement are especially evident in the tabloid New York Post. Specifically, the New York Post often uses terminology such as “blacks” when referring to Black people and claiming that the Black Lives Matter movement is responsible for “Cop assassinations.” More than the movement itself, the New York Post extends its racial bias to the African American community. Racial bias leads people to believe the misconceptions around Black Lives Matter and African Americans. Media with racially charged language is used to discredit the Black Lives Matter movement. An uninformed audience can easily read this article and oppose the social change that the Black Lives Matter movement attempts to bring.

Complete censorship and racial bias are different tactics to manipulate the media, however, the motivation of debilitating the movements were the same. Racial bias leads people to believe the misconceptions around Black Lives Matter and African Americans. In the same way that Wilson attempted to discredit the suffragists, media with racially charged language is used to discredit the Black Lives Matter movement. Thankfully, the suffrage movement and the Black Lives Matter movement persist despite media distortion and censorship.

In addition to media manipulation, the second form of suppression of the suffrage movement was arresting picketers. The suffragists peacefully protest, a right granted by the government that should not be impeded on, no matter the cause. In the movie Iron Jawed Angels, the audience watches as the suffragists become victims of police force, ultimately resulting in the conviction of traffic obstruction. The picketers insist that they did not break any laws and are sent to jail for refusal to pay the fine.  While the suffragists may have been direct and purposeful, they were not violent. The police used their force to remove and arrest the picketers regardless of their peaceful tactics. Convicting the suffragists of traffic obstruction was an easy way for the government to impede women’s rights to petition with a desire to silence and send them away

The United States government is consistent in its methods of force, even a century later, and a different social movement. Like the suffrage movement, the Black Lives Matter movement received the same police resistance in order to be forced into silence and subjected to their control. Many protesters share their experience of being forcibly taken by the police while exercising their right to petition. Those who feel strongly about the injustice done in the United States expect to protest in the street unharmed. United States citizens are taught that they have a voice in what goes on in the government without consequence. Chan, in her article on the impact of arrests on protesters, tells the story of D’Angelo Sandidge, who while protesting, was arrested for being past curfew time. Furthermore, Chan notes, “An Associated Press tally found more than 10,000 protesters were arrested in just the first 10 days after Floyd’s death on May 25.” (Chan 2020, 58). Implementing a curfew in cities where thousands of protestors are on the streets is used to assert power and control the protestors.

Traffic obstructions and breaking curfew are similar in that both instances legitimize government oppression of these movements. Similarly to the suffragists and their convictions of traffic obstruction, many Black Lives Matter protesters arrive in jail for staying out past curfew. Both reveal the ways that the government pushes back and uses terms of technicality to cover it up. The government is willing to forcefully subdue any citizen exercising their right to protest.

The year 2020 brought an abundance of surprises. However, what was completely expected was the ways in which the government would respond to the Black Lives Matter movement. In analyzing the government response to the suffrage movement one hundred years earlier, manipulations of the media and mass arrests were anticipated. The years 1920 and 2020 mirror each other in regard to their respective social movements and the similarities between the two. While the two movements have different causes, both faced similar obstacles from the government. Due to the fact that the government continued to respond to these social movements with methods to silence and subdue demonstrates that the future presents itself with many opportunities for improvement.

 

Amani Monroe is a junior, majoring in Politics and International Relations

 

(What is From the Field?  Read our series welcome post as well as the introduction to this spring’s segment to learn more!)

The Suffragist Movement in the United States served as a huge victory for American women in the early 1900s. It became a symbol of the trials and tribulations that women had to go through in order to be represented in the political sphere so that they could be able to have their voices heard. The movement motivated women from various backgrounds to come together and fight to achieve a common goal, which was the right to vote. The movement also shed light on different issues that women were fighting to resolve, such as the issue of poor working conditions, workforce competition, domestic rights, and the negative stereotypes surrounding women that undermined them for decades. The movement was a time of celebration for women in America gaining the freedom and democracy that they’ve endured so much to gain.

The movie Iron Jawed Angels does a great job at giving insight on the many aspects surrounding the Suffragist Movement. It emphasizes the struggles women went through when trying to express their concerns and showing just how harsh the battle was for women to gain the rights that they should’ve always had. The movie makes reference to many aspects surrounding the movement such as African American women’s participation in the movement, elements of first and second wave feminism, and the different opinions on whether women should be able to vote during the time of the movement.

Negro Women’s Participation

In the film, Alice Paul, one of the most prominent leaders in the suffragist movement organizes a parade in Washington D.C to campaign for women to gain the right to vote. This scene in the movie depicted the segregation between black and white people, specifically black and white women. The film shows the interaction between Ida B. Wells and Alice Paul, in which Wells proposes that negro women join Alice Paul in their parade and Alice hesitates, as she knows if she allows the negro women to join the parade, they will lose the Southern support that they already had. This experience remains consistent with history as African American women were excluded from national campaign activities out of a worry that such visible involvement would “only exacerbate the latent antagonism of those politicians from Dixie and would thereby reinforce and guarantee their opposition to woman suffrage,” and that “it was expedient to ignore Black women when advocating for support in the South,” as noted by Barbara Burrell in Women and Politics: A Quest for Political Equality in an Age of Economic Inequality (25). However, although not depicted in the movie, there was some rooted hatred of negro women by white women. This enmity existed because white women were upset that former slaves were given voting rights through the Fifteenth Amendment, which led to the abandonment of the women’s movement alliance with African Americans. The lack of negro women’s participation in the Suffrage Movement sheds light on the hypocrisy surrounding the movement. The movement was meant to give women in America the rights that they so deserve; however, the movement excluded African American women from participating. This action shows that the movement was never for all women, but for the women that fit the narrative of the leaders of the Suffrage Movement.

First Wave Feminism

First wave feminism focused on suffrage, better opportunities in working conditions, and had an initial anti-immigration rhetoric because immigrants were seen as competitors in the workforce. Burrell notes that the anti-immigration rhetoric was adopted into the suffragist movement “either out of expediency or from a growing conservative belief system, which limited an alignment across classes for women’s rights” (24). These elements of first wave feminism are also shown in the film, as its central focus is on women’s suffrage, but also the recruiting of women who suffered from poor working conditions as well. In the beginning of the movie, Alice Paul and Lucy Burns are handing out flyers to push their campaign, in which they argue back and forth with a working woman who is suffering from these poor working conditions. By the end of their bantering, she changes her mind about the importance of suffrage to change these conditions and helps them pass out flyers to support the cause. Burrell affirms the source of leadership, “The suffrage movement was primarily a middle-class and elite women’s movement. Over the course of the long campaign to win the vote, some efforts were made to bring working- class women into the campaign and to improve labor conditions for employed women” (23).  Widening the base of support was crucial to the success of the movement.

Second Wave Feminism

Second wave feminism focused more on reproductive rights, domestic rights, and the Equal Rights Amendment – even though some of these issues would rise later in history, the filmmakers conveyed their relevance. In the film, we see the concept of domestic rights represented. Around this time, women lacked domestic rights, which included their lack of say in custody battles. Before women were given these rights, the child would automatically go to the husband during this time period because he was seen as more reliable and financially stable. Often times, the mother would have no say in these rulings, an experience referenced in the film when Senator Leighton finds out that his wife, Emily, went to the suffragists’ trial. He threatened to take the children away from Emily, to which Emily says, “You won’t take my children.” The Senator responds, “How will you stop me? Can you afford an attorney”. This scene shows how little influence women had in the courts as during this time, as most women did not work and often stayed at home; Emily was simply known as the Senator’s wife and had no other occupation explicitly stated.

Differing Opinions

There were many different opinions on the topic of suffrage that raised the question of if women were capable of voting or not and the film hints at some of these different perspectives. There are many views that say that women are not capable of voting, because it would distract them from their role of being a mother. This perspective is illustrated in the film when Senator Leighton says, “I don’t know what kind of mother takes an 11-year-old to a district courthouse. Did you give her a look at the jail, too,” when Emily goes to view the suffragist trial. This statement shows how common it is for women to be looked down upon when not fulfilling the classic “motherly role.”  Women during this time were expected to be in the home and taking care of the children. It was definitely considered out of character if women were seen doing anything other than that.

However, there are many who believe that allowing women to vote would actually improve their ability to be a good mother to her children. In her essay, “The Ballot As An Improver of Motherhood,” Charlotte Perkins Gilman embodies this latter view and, in her writing, argues that “with stunted human beings in the maternal role, children cannot develop properly. Full citizenship rights will make mothers more capable of educating their children properly. Endowed with political rights, women will see themselves as part of a larger community. With this expansion of their own sense of self, mothers will be able to impart to their children an expansive, communitarian view of their roles in society” (145). She believed that allowing women to branch out from their former role of being the “model” mother would actually be beneficial to her children, and allowing mothers to vote would better equip their children with knowledge of the political sphere and the communities that they live in. In the film, Emily Leighton is imprisoned for her participation in the suffragists’ peaceful protests. Her husband comes to visit her and asks her to come home because the children miss her. Emily responds, “They are the only reason I am here.”  This shows that just her involvement in the suffrage movement strengthened her resolve as a mother and through her experience, has better equipped her to be a mother to her children and fight for their future in the political sphere.

Conclusion

The film Iron Jawed Angels shows the both the valuable and concerning aspects of the Suffrage Movement. It does not fully touch on the hypocrisy of the movement when it discriminated against Negro women’s participation, but it does shed some light on how even Negro women were not excluded for participating in women’s rights. It shows us the different things that women were fighting for during the movement and reminds those who watch that it was not just about getting the right to vote. The movement was about having women be seen as equal in the eyes of the American government and the women’s want to experience the freedom and democracy that their male counterparts had. The film showed both the negative and positive opinions surrounding the concept of allowing women to vote as well. Overall, Iron Jawed Angels meets the criteria of an insightful historical account regarding the Suffrage Movement in America in the early 1900s.