Using shock over reason

    Sometimes it isn’t the issue itself, but rather how an issue is argued that generates dialogue. People can be motivated to discuss a subject because they were angered at the methods of debate. And most certainly, the shock value that was intended to pique interest instead incites anger.

    In preparing for the Supreme Court decision on the University of Michigan’s affirmative action cases, College Republicans at UCSD organized an information table and held a mock bake sale on May 29.

    The bake sale consisted of certificates that would have been redeemable for baked goods (the lack of a permit prevented the group from actually distributing any food). Different prices were set according to various minority groups — minority females were priced at 25 cents, minority males at 50 cents, white females at one dollar and white males at two dollars.

    College Republicans admitted that they knew their display was borderline offensive. “”The biggest point was to have different rankings based on ethnicity and gender to show the absurdity of affirmative action,”” said College Republicans Vice President Amanda Steele.

    But even though their goal was to generate discussion on the different issues surrounding affirmative action, the fact remains that the debate was framed by shock value.

    Not long after they began selling their baked goods, a counter-protest was launched by disgruntled students. A small band of protesters made signs saying, “”Diversity Sucks, Ban Affirmative Action,”” declaring their stance to be a mockery of the College Republicans’ mockery.

    The debate had become little more than an exchange of insults. Even if students did engage in discussion as a result of the displays on Library Walk, it was discussion founded on taking offense.

    Perhaps it isn’t really the fault of the College Republicans or of students who found their bake sale offensive. Perhaps this is really the result of years of mud-slinging in the political arena, of content over concept, of looking not at what a politician believes in but rather who they’ve slept with.

    Much like the abortion debate is often advanced through overblown pictures of dead fetuses, using shock value to generate discussion only leads to overly tainting an issue with emotional outbursts instead of informed reasoning.

    Certainly, there is a place for emotion and personal experience in politics. Often, the most driven, committed and inspirational activists are those with a personal connection or emotional tie to their cause. But in the actual argumentation of social concerns, the attempt should be to inform the curious about different aspects of a political issue rather than persuasion based on playing to prejudices or personal pleas.

    That was the problem with the well-intentioned debates began by the College Republicans. Yes, they have every right to seek attention in order to garner interest. Yes, they have every right to engage in questionable conduct in order to prove a point. But their cause — indeed, every cause — would be better furthered by genuine debate rather than irritated passersby.

    There is a temptation to argue that any political or social involvement is better than none at all and that the overall climate of apathy among the younger generations (and UCSD in particular) is such that any interest in current events should be applauded irrespective of the details.

    And, although it is true that there’s a stark lack of involvement among American youth, surely the answer is not through provoking a debate through scare tactics and shock value, but rather through fostering a genuine interest in politics.

    Maybe that seems idealistic, an unlikely scenario in which everyone was well-informed, everyone was inspired to participate in the political arena, everyone was interested in political and social concerns. Unfortunately, that kind of unilateral appreciation cannot be expected, although it can be hoped for.

    What is perhaps more reasonable would be to pass out literature on the pro’s and con’s of affirmative action instead of assigning monetary value to different minority groups as per cupcakes and cookies. A petition to limit offensive material would be more effective than a coutner-protest consisting of sarcastic signs.

    The causes aren’t to blame in these scenarios. The College Republicans were right to seek discussion on an issue that so greatly affects their peers and students were right to speak out against a display of chauvinist discrimmination.

    But both sides of the debate — and the debate itself — could be improved if they moved beyond cheap shots at emotional appeals, and into earnest and intellectual debate.

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