On February 23, the Fairfield community joined together in the Charles F. Dolan School of Business’ event hall for another installment of the Open Visions Forum sponsored by the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts. 

The forum, titled “Political Extremism Vs, Reason: Insurrection or Collaboration?” welcomed both Nick Gillespie, a libertarian who worked as an Editor-in-Chief for Reason magazine, and Bhaskar Sunkara, a socialist who created Jacobin—a magazine dedicated to offering socialist ideas and perspectives, to discuss their views and solutions about modern society.

Gillespie and Sunkara sat down to speak with Gayle Alberda, PhD, a politics professor at Fairfield University who specializes in elections, and student Peter Baron ‘23, who published his book in the fall titled, If Only We Knew: How Ignorance Creates and Amplifies the Greatest Risks Facing Society. Alongside this, Peter has created his own major, Socioeconomic Inequities: Inevitable or Avoidable.

Prior to the group discussion, the two journalists were invited to provide an answer to the same opening question, “With the erosion of public discourse, especially around faith in experts, what suggestions do you offer Fairfield students about tensions between common good and individual liberty?”

Politics students on campus would be quick to recognize this question as an inspection of theory, both on the political values of libertarianism and socialism, as well as a fundamental belief of human nature being good or bad.

Sunkara answered first and was quick to label much of his thoughts as “more pessimistic than Nick.” He recognized that although life, especially after the pandemic, was improving in many different ways, people seem to be more depressed and scared than ever. Sunkara suggested more government intervention to solve these ails in society.

Gillespie then began his opening statement with a follow up that was surprising, considering the nature of the event. Although there was still later debate, Gillespie gave an observation about the two that would help drive the rest of the evening.

“Over the last couple of years, we’ve found ourselves put into the arena to slug it out… but we actually agree on a lot of stuff. Fundamentally we agree that these ‘culture wars’ discussed are a distraction,” he said. 

Through some of the more dense political discussion, both Sunkara and Gillepsie were able to focus on a sobering fact that much of politics today focuses on cultural issues that don’t really matter. To battle in these ‘culture wars’ does very little to fix actual problems that are plaguing people within this country.

Both sides of the political aisle engage in this rhetoric, especially around election time. The policy of both these men may look very different at times, but they both deal with similar problems. 

“It’s fundamentally a great thing when more people can express who they are, freely, publicly and openly,” said Gillepsie—something that Sunkara later agreed on. Unlike Sunkara, however, Gillespie saw this expression coming to fruition through the government involving themselves less, which will allow people to find their own meaning.

Sunkara suggested that the government being heavily involved can fix the issues themselves, which will in turn allow the people to live. He offered an abbreviated quote from Sidney Hook, a marxist American thinker, and said, “socialism is meant to solve our animal problems, so that we can begin to solve our human problems.”

Big tech, immigration, the push for diversity, and educational issues including funding and the Florida book bans were all points of discussion that were touched upon. 

This event allowed for both men to speak openly, even when tension could be felt in the crowd at certain times.

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