Thursday, April 30, 2020
Thursday, April 16, 2020
A visual on the cover of the 1918 and 1919
Kansas State Agricultural College Bulletin highlighting
the way in which the state was the campus for the institution.
Thursday, March 12, 2020
While there are many reasons engage people in decision-making processes that inform an appropriate response to this crisis as it relates to the distribution of resources, COVID-19 is not a deliberative problem. Instead, it is a classic example of a technical problem. It's helpful to remember that "technical" is not "simple." This pandemic is an urgent and technical one. So when we're thinking about something like public health, it's important to defer to expertise within the particular domain. It can also highlight how technocratic approaches can be very helpful in such challenging times. The example from Iceland is something many other countries could benefit from.
In short, there are times when deliberative processes are essential and necessary. And, as is the case with our current pandemic experience, advocacy for informed public health strategies based on expertise rather deliberation is the way to go right now on this particular issue.
Finally, make sure to wash your hands and don't touch your face!
Sunday, September 29, 2019
1/ After three days of being with colleagues at the @NICDInstitute #NICD19 Research Convening in Tucson, I had extra time here as I had an additional night in Tucson before finally going home. Doing so led to a unforgettable experience grounding why I was here in the first place. pic.twitter.com/uzVydAKkpg— Timothy J. Shaffer (@timothyjshaffer) September 29, 2019
Monday, June 3, 2019
I've come to experience it as a sort of meditation. You might find it to be useful in such a reflective way for yourself.
Monday, February 18, 2019
Lincoln’s ‘House Divided’ speech teaches important lessons about today's political polarizationBradford Vivian, Pennsylvania State University
The idea of “two Americas,” or “red” and “blue” states, now dominates public discussion. “Political polarization,” the Pew Research Center reports, “is a defining feature of American politics today.”
But the idea that America is politically polarized isn’t new.
In 1858 Abraham Lincoln delivered one of the most important addresses in U.S. history, his “House Divided” speech, when he accepted the Illinois Republican nomination for Senate. The speech marked his entrance into national politics at a time when the nation was profoundly at odds over slavery.
Lincoln’s speech still offers timely lessons about the costs of deep-seated political polarization.
My research examines how communities remember – and sometimes fail to remember – the lessons of the past. Lincoln’s description of the Union as a house divided is well-remembered today. But many Americans fail to heed its deeper lessons about equality and the moral foundations of popular government.
The divided states of America
To cite the language of journalist Bill Bishop’s best-seller, “The Big Sort,” Americans have sorted themselves into distinct, homogeneous groups.
Complex social, moral, legal and even scientific questions are now filtered through the lens of opposing party identifications. Political scientists Daniel Hopkins and John Sides conclude that U.S. “polarization has deep structural and historical roots” with “no easy solutions.”
In his “House Divided” speech, Lincoln addressed a nation even more fiercely divided by partisan acrimony, regional differences and economic tensions than the U.S. of today.
Lincoln began his speech by attempting to predict whether a calamity was coming and if it could be prevented:
“If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could then better judge what to do, and how to do it … I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.”
The alternative to bitter polarization that Lincoln offered didn’t prevent the Civil War. But it shaped postwar understanding of the territorial, political and even armed conflicts that led to it and the lessons to be learned from it.
Above all, Lincoln stressed in his speech that “a crisis” over slavery was imminent. He asked Americans to choose the common purpose that would best serve their Union – a government of all free or all slave states – before the crisis chose for them.
Lincoln developed the idea that the Union is exceptional in public statements from 1858 until the end of the Civil War. In his First Inaugural in 1861, Lincoln called the Union “perpetual,” and “much older than the Constitution … [N]o State upon its own mere motion can lawfully get out of the Union.” For years, Lincoln held that Americans belong to the Union before they belong to political parties.
His reasoning purposefully echoed George Washington’s Farewell Address of 1796, which warned Americans that “the spirit of party” is a prime threat to “Union … a main prop of your liberty.” For Lincoln, Americans’ common identification with the guiding ideal of equality should transcend their affiliations with political parties.
Consider the symbolism of Lincoln’s main metaphor, the Union as a house:
“A house divided against itself cannot stand …
I do not expect the Union to be dissolved – I do not expect the house to fall – but I do expect it will cease to be divided.”
Building and maintaining a house is familial and collaborative. Family conflicts are inevitable; households fall apart if families don’t resolve those conflicts.
The metaphor of a house emphasizes interdependence, cooperation and shared purpose. It asks how citizens might build and maintain something together, despite natural differences, rather than live and work separately.
These ideas have been lost in social and political debates today, which are dominated by competing party agendas and talk of irreconcilable “red” and “blue” state mentalities.
Lincoln’s central warning – “A house divided against itself cannot stand” – was rich in moral significance. A house should rest on a firm physical foundation for the safety of the family who lives in it. The Union, Lincoln implied, should rest on a firm moral foundation: a bedrock dedication to equality.
The Union, he believed, cannot be a compact of convenience or a loose-knit confederation. It was founded for a clear moral purpose: to extend conditions of equality to as many people as possible. The “new nation” that “our fathers brought forth” in 1776, Lincoln would say most memorably in his 1863 Gettysburg Address, was “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Commitment to the principle of equality was an essential, not optional, basis of membership within.
Beware false prophets
Bipartisan compromise sounds good – but it can erode fundamental commitments to equality. By 1858, the U.S. had witnessed decades’ worth of political compromises over slavery: the Missouri Compromise of 1820, the Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. All of these measures maintained the institution of slavery while purporting to limit it.
According to Lincoln, such compromises only led to more intense conflict:
“We are now far into the fifth year, since a policy was initiated, with the avowed object, and confident promise, of putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only, not ceased, but has constantly augmented.”
Lincoln warned of false political prophets who earned praise for short-term bipartisan compromises without taking a firm stand on fundamental forms of inequality. They aimed to build a “political dynasty,” not a strong union:
“Our cause, then, must be intrusted to, and conducted by its own undoubted friends – those whose hands are free, whose hearts are in the work – who do care for the result.”
Lincoln’s opponent in the Senate campaign, incumbent Democratic Sen. Stephen A. Douglas, claimed to not care whether territories voted to become free or slave states so long as the elections reflected the popular will in those territories. The “machinery” of such compromises over principles of equality, Lincoln said, constructs only “temporary scaffolding,” hastily fabricated to win elections before being “kicked to the winds.”
Equality over polarization
I believe Lincoln’s “House Divided” speech offers alternative ways to imagine the nation than as a patchwork of “red” and “blue” states.
Americans belong to a union first, parties second. Party machinery and false political prophets divide the house of the people; the people have the power to stabilize that house if they choose to do so. The union was founded on a dedication to equality. It retains a firm moral foundation by preserving commitments to principles of equality over region or party.
The primary offense against the principle of equality in Lincoln’s time was slavery. But Americans can apply the logic of his argument to contemporary inequities based on race, employment, gender, voting rights, criminal justice, religion and more. The nation is a house divided, many times over, in all of those cases.
Lincoln didn’t claim that perfect equality could be achieved. But he saw broad commitments to the idea of equality as essential to the ongoing work of creating, as the Constitution puts it, a more perfect union – and a freer one for all.
The union must “become all one thing, or all the other” in order to be truly free. On this guiding principle, Lincoln declared, there can be no partisan dispute and no bipartisan compromise.
This is an updated version of an article originally published on June 14, 2018.
Saturday, October 13, 2018
Thursday, November 23, 2017
Talking it out, deliberative dialogue in higher education
In our eighth episode of the second season, Co-Hosts Emily Shields and Andrew Seligsohn sat down with author and scholar Timothy Shaffer about his work and research in deliberative dialogue, including his new book “Deliberative Pedagogy: Teaching and Learning for Democratic Engagement.” We discussed what it really takes to embed dialogue in campus and community work and some ideas for making it more effective. We also took a detour from the usual pop culture conversation to review Thanksgiving traditions, including Andrew’s recipe for turkey that doesn’t suck. Listen now and weigh in online using #CompactNationPod.