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Guest speakers discuss hate speech, polarization in politics

Collegian | Trin Bonner

In an era characterized by heightened political tensions and an increasingly interconnected society, the rise of hate speech and polarization has become a focal point in discussing current challenges to democracy.

The “Divided Democracy: Polarization, Hate Speech and the Future of America” keynote, hosted by the Colorado State University department of philosophy March 19, brought speakers Robert Talisse, professor of philosophy at Vanderbilt University, and Seana Shiffrin, professor of philosophy at the University of California, Los Angeles.


The keynote was part of the Bodaken Philosophy Symposium at CSU and served as the spring semester headline public lecture.

Talisse and Shiffrin both delivered speeches focusing on hate speech and ideological polarization, respectively. Their presentations, when combined, provided a look into the current state of political philosophy and offered explanations for the phenomena individuals witness and experience in their interactions.

“Unlike the European approach, speakers in the United States might ally themselves in public spaces with repugnant positions associated with the advocacy of inequality, the advocacy of oppression, domination and even the efficacy of violence towards specific identity groups,” Shiffrin said. 

Shiffrin concluded her keynote by saying that while hate speech is legally protected, that does not mean it should be ethically accepted. 

“As awful as some of this is, … I think ethically, it should not happen,” Shiffrin said. “I also think these are roughly the right legal stances. And further, … there are important aims and difficult issues about how to ensure that the campus and classroom are meaningfully accessible to everyone.”

Talisse’s keynote focused on the philosophical and psychological processes behind polarization and division.

“The moral conflict resides in the idea that I have to see you as my equal despite the fact that I also see you as somebody who’s on the wrong side of things,” Talisse said. “It’s very, very difficult to maintain that stance. And it’s a challenge. Polarization makes it worse.”

Talisse said the negative emotions associated with elections and candidates portraying their opponent as the worst option are damaging to the democratic process.

“Elites can seek election (or) reelection simply by stoking negative emotions; they don’t actually have to produce legislative results,” Talisse said. “That’s bad for democracy.” 


Talisse emphasized the exposure to the polarization loop and how it bleeds into political citizenship.

“We are exposed to the polarization loop simply in the course of doing the things we ought to be doing,” Talisse said. “Democratic citizens have to remember to take responsibility for their politics. They have to engage. They have to participate.”

Talisse said large-scale polarization problems are fixed by small steps.

“It’s a mistake — although it’s an attractive one — to think that large-scale problems always take large-scale, big institutional fixes,” Talisse said. “Sometimes you can fix a big problem by taking small steps.”

One such small step, Talisse said, is simply to spend time around other people. 

“Figure out ways to engage in public and nonpolitical cooperative endeavors,” Talisse said. “By which I mean cooperative endeavors with others (who) you just don’t know what their politics are.”

That’s all it takes to actively work against the pull of polarization, Talisse said. Spending time with people without focusing on politics or ideology helps protect them because no one is immune to the effects of ideological polarization. 

“You’re not special,” Talisse said. “Having true beliefs doesn’t make you invulnerable to these extremification dynamics. Acknowledge it — acknowledge that you’re vulnerable.”

Reach Hannah Parcells and Allie Seibel at or on Twitter @csucollegian

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About the Contributors
Hannah Parcells
Hannah Parcells, News Editor
Hannah Parcells is currently the news editor at The Collegian, a role that she loves dearly. Parcells uses she/her pronouns and began writing for The Collegian in fall 2023 as a reporter under the news, science, opinion and life and culture desks.  Parcells is currently pursuing two degrees: a Bachelor of Science in psychology and a Bachelor of Arts in political science with a concentration in global politics. Parcells has always been passionate about understanding and helping other people and hopes to use her education to try and leave the world a little better than she found it.  Raised in Castle Rock, Colorado, Parcells grew up with a love of learning, music and writing. She’s always working to learn more about the world through history and art and loves being introduced to new places, people and ideas.  On the off chance that she’s not buried in textbooks, research papers and policy analyses, Hannah can be found on a hike, watching movies or at any local bookstore or coffee shop, feeding her ongoing addictions to both caffeine and good books. Parcells is incredibly proud of the work she’s done at The Collegian so far and is excited to continue that work as an editor of the news desk.
Allie Seibel
Allie Seibel, Editor in Chief
Allie Seibel is the editor in chief of The Rocky Mountain Collegian, a role she loves more and more with each day. Previously the news editor and news director of The Collegian, Seibel has a background in news, but she’s excited to branch out and experience every facet of content this and following years. Seibel is a sophomore journalism and media communications major minoring in business administration and legal studies. She is a student in the Honors Program and is also an honors ambassador and honors peer mentor. She also is a satellite imagery writer for the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere at Colorado State University. Seibel is from Colorado Springs, Colorado, and loves how The Collegian has gotten her acquainted with Fort Collins and CSU. When she’s not writing, reporting or in class, you can always find her with a book, cross-stitching, planning where to travel to next, trying out a new recipe or listening to Taylor Swift. Seibel is incredibly proud of The Collegian’s past and understands the task of safeguarding its future. She’s committed to The Collegian’s brand as an alt-weekly newspaper and will continue to advance its status as a strong online publication while preserving the integrity and tradition of the print paper. Seibel is excited to begin a multi-year relationship with readers at the helm of the paper and cannot wait to see how the paper continues to grow. Through initiatives like the new science desk and letting each individual desk shine, Seibel is committed to furthering The Collegian and Rocky Mountain Student Media over the next few years.
Trin Bonner
Trin Bonner, Illustration Director
Trin Bonner is the illustration director for The Collegian newspaper. This will be her third year in this position, and she loves being a part of the creative and amazing design team at The Collegian. As the illustration director, Bonner provides creative insight and ideas that bring the newspaper the best graphics and illustrations possible. She loves working with artists to develop fun and unique illustrations every week for the readers. Bonner is a fourth-year at Colorado State University studying electronic arts. She loves illustrating and comic making and has recently found enjoyment in experimental video, pottery and graphic design. Outside of illustration and electronic art, Bonner spends her free time crocheting and bead making. She is usually working on a blanket or making jewelry when she is not drawing, illustrating or brainstorming.

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