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ISSUE 119 VOL 9 PUBLISHED 11/18/2005

Taliaferro talks 'nice'

By Lauren Benson
Contributing Writer

Friday, November 18, 2005

Nearly 50 students filled the seats, ledges, and parts of the floor of Buntrock 144 Tuesday to hear Professor of Philosophy Charles Taliaferro, host of the year’s sixth Political awareness Committee (PAC) dinner, speak on the topic "Be Nice." "It doesn't sound very heroic, does it?" asked Taliaferro, referring to the generic title of his speech. "But I propose to you that there is something so messianic, so saving about this."

Drawing on ancient political and philosophical leaders Aristotle, Cicero and Seneca, Taliaferro conducted a boisterous speech calling for a fundamental shift in political conduct and policymaking – a shift guided by the order to "Be Nice."

“What Im calling being nice is almost synonymous with ‘good-natured, Taliaferro explained, saying that this value "emerges from one's character."

In a talk punctuated by frequent digressions, a brief scene enactment, and an imaginary verbal brawl between Vice President Cheney and Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, Taliaferro led students through linguistic origins of the words "politics" and "nice" to illustrate his goal of melding the two in contemporary practice. Once "rooted in a positive conception of the good in persons," politics has come to mean "something derogatory or despicable," Taliaferro said. "But I think politics was the ultimate consummation of human flourishing."

Taliaferro described "concrete ways" in which "fundamental courtesy" plays a part in contemporary politics. Quakers, who create open arenas for political discussion between conflicting nations by allowing diplomats to speak off the record, illustrate Taliaferro's point. These meetings, which often include lunch and take place in a domestic setting, allow leaders to relate on common ground as individuals before addressing larger political concerns.

"The person's the thing," Taliaferro said. "The domestic virtues, as small as they are...that's where there can be heroic action which actually changes things at the bedrock."

Taliaferro also took time to depict Vice President Cheney's less-than-heroic retort to Sen. Leahy last June during a Senate photo session in which Cheney reportedly ended an argument by telling Leahy to "[Expletive] yourself."

Calling this kind of behavior a "slippery slope," Taliaferro went on to suggest politicians first conduct a "dialogue within the soul" before approaching one another in debate.

Taliaferro briefly made example of the war in Iraq, saying that media representations lacked coverage of the "deeply humane" aspects of war and those affected by it. He said depicting the "little things," such as Spartan warriors' practice of brushing their hair before battle, could do more than images of warriors in battle to further communication in a time of conflict.

After his speech, Taliaferro spent nearly an equal amount of time offering responses to students' comments. Students introduced several concerns and areas of debate, including political and entertainment leaders' easy advancement by rude or aggressive tactics.

Students voted this fall from a complete list of faculty to decide which professors would host bi-weekly PAC dinners to be conducted over the course of the year, said PAC Coordinator Ellen Krahn '06.

"One of the things that was great about this system was that we ended up with a list of professors from a wide range of departments," Krahn said.

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