Students explore politics and voting at Sac State’s Fall Ethics Symposium

Sarah Hines

Professors and university students explored the intersection of politics and ethics Monday at the ninth annual Fall Ethics Symposium.

The symposium, organized by Cosumnes River College and Sacramento State’s Center for Practical and Professional Ethics featured four speakers: Jason Brennan, an assistant professor from Georgetown University; Kimberly Nalder, an associate professor at Sac State; Daniel Hays Lowenstein, a professor emeritus at UC Los Angeles; and Steven Wall, a professor at the University of Arizona.

Nalder, who teaches government and serves as the director of Sac State’s Project for an Informed Electorate, spoke about six problems facing the American electorate, including voter apathy and distrust of the media and elected officials.

Nalder said voters have apathetic attitudes towards policy and voting because they think that the policies they vote for do not affect them.

“It’s something that’s implanted in our brains from very early on,” Nalder said.

Nalder suggested that news publications could help solve this problem by focusing on stories about how these policies would individually affect each person.

If people felt politics would affect them, they would pay more attention to it, she continued.

“If I started tuning in, I’d start to care,” Nalder said.

Another problem Nalder spoke about was voters’ distrust in the media and elected officials.

She said this issue could be resolved by rewarding media outlets when they report positive events. Nalder also stated that increasing the honesty of officials could help regain trust.

“We can encourage trustworthiness in our officials,” Nalder said.

Brennan, who teaches strategy, economics, ethics and public policy, explained in his talk why he thought most Americans shouldn’t vote.

“My view is not that citizens have to vote to be a good citizen,” he said.

Voters are not properly informed on the issues before them in elections, he said, so it is unethical for them to cast their ballots, even though statistically their individual votes do not make much of a difference.

“There are lots of ways to be civically engaged and help the public without voting,” Brennan said. “A mechanic does more to help the community than a voter.”

Brennan argued that people do not vote for policy but on the basis of character. He said most politicians are decent people, so character isn’t generally a useful measure; rather policy is where real differences lie.

He proposed to resolve this issue by having 10-15 percent of people vote, the smaller number making individual votes matter more. Brennan also suggested making people more informed so they could reach more intelligent decisions.

Alexander Casareno, the dean of humanities and social science at CRC, questioned the feasibility of Brennan’s proposal.

“I think it’s an interesting argument. I just don’t think it’s very practical,” Casareno said after the lecture.

Casareno said he would prefer to inform voters by having more events like the symposium.

Lowenstein, a professor of law emeritus and the director of the Center for the Liberal Arts and Free Institutions at UCLA, spoke during his lecture about why too many regulations to prevent issues like nepotism might discourage ethical behavior in government.

He said politicians could get the impression that rules are equivalent to ethics, a phenomenon he thought was “really pernicious.”

Steven Wall a professor of philosophy at the University of Arizona, spoke about capitalism, leisure and the good life.

Leisure should not be confused with idleness, Wall said. His definition included idleness but also time spent with family, friends and hobbies.

“When people dislike what they do they are making a mistake, and those are from certain features of a capitalist society” Wall said.

Previous symposiums have applied ethics to fields as varied as professional integrity, food and mental health.

Queen Onyeneke, a philosophy major, said she attended the lecture partly because of her area of study, but also because “I like how we talk about the ethical parts of situations.”

Students who are registered and want to vote in today’s election can find their polling place at