I had a most interesting experience this week, and considering I endured my girlfriend’s 21st birthday and found my roommate drunkenly passed out in an alley this week, it came as a surprise that it took place in a classroom in Laws Hall. No, it was not another case of my roommate passing out naked in public-it was something much more benign yet equally entertaining. It started when a friend asked if I would participate in a focus group, as he thought I might be interested in the topic at hand. Without knowing any further details, I invited the aforementioned roommate to accompany me (for entertainment purposes) and we arrived at Laws admittedly expecting the worst. However, when we left an hour later I felt like I had just been part of a really honest discussion and had even managed to learn some valuable lessons.
Stranger still, my nihilist roommate felt the same. For an hour, my roommate and I along with six other random Miami students talked about the issues that were most important to us to today. Predictably, we talked about the upcoming presidential election and the war, but we also debated the role of the media and how students get their news. The conversation was excellent and I feel many of our conclusions about the war in Iraq and the election merit passing on, but there were two big lessons that I took from the focus group. The first is that college students are becoming more and more disillusioned with politics and the media, and even more so with the repugnant mix of the two. There was a universal disdain for almost every traditional news outlet along with a deep distrust of news Web sites due to the fact that the news we get today always seems to be saddled with a political message and a lack of objectivity.
To me, this is a testament to the growing specter of extremism that has gripped the world, America included. From Bill O’Reilly to Michael Moore to Ann Coulter our country is in the midst of a war with extremist thought from many more sources than Islam, and it is having a profound effect on my generation. We are so fed up with hearing from these people that the a-word has firmly set in. Apathy. This is a worst fears realized situation for America.
Take for example the tasering of a Florida student who made a scene during a talk by John Kerry. At first it seemed an encroachment on this passionate student’s right to free speech, but a little investigation revealed the student to be a practical joke aficionado with a history of similar stunts. The situation is so bad that students have resorted to simply mocking the whole scene instead of having genuine interest. Who could blame the student given today’s environment? That brings me to my second lesson. Given the dangerous prevalence of extremist and more importantly exclusionary thought in our country, what we need is more honest and open discussion without the blaring siren of egomaniacal jerks like O’Reilly. By just sharing an hour of my time with seven other people, I left with new views and opinions that had never occurred to me and left me wanting to keep talking about the important issues that face this country of which there are many.
That’s what this country needs more of and that’s what sharing the road is all about.