A philosophical approach to politics: master’s student runs for office in Maine

Jeremy Mele, a second-year master’s student in philosophy, is running for state representative in Maine's House District 19, which represents part of Sanford, the 6th largest city in Maine with 21,000 residents. Below, Mele talks about how his studies in philosophy influence his approach to politics.

Update on Nov. 7, 2018: Mele, who ran as a Democrat, was not able to overcome Republican Matthew Harrington in the election, collecting 1,471 votes to Harrington's 1,878.

Who (or what) inspired you to run for office?
There were a number of factors that played into my decision to run for office. I'd say the key political figure who inspired me to run was Bernie Sanders. A lot of people were inspired by his message of getting money out of politics, fighting for workers' rights, and guaranteeing healthcare for all, and I was a strong supporter of his bid for president. When he lost, I, and I think a lot of others, realized that no one was coming to save us, not even Bernie. If we wanted positive change to occur, we had to go out and do it ourselves. So, when the opportunity came to run for office, I decided that I should give it a go. Problems like low wages, a lack of universal healthcare, and climate change aren't going to go away on their own; we need elected officials who recognize and treat them as the threat they are. I am running for office because I do recognize these threats and want to see them addressed.

How does your work as a philosopher inform your political work?
Though I don't consider myself a Utilitarian, I have been greatly inspired by the work of Peter Singer in my ethical development. His "drowning child" thought experiment caused me to reevaluate how I live my life. There are terrible things happening around us all the time; people live in poverty, corporations get away with unfair and exploitative labor practices, and climate change is putting us on the path towards global destruction. We don't always see these things as they happen, and it can be easy to become complacent. As Singer points out, though, just because something is out of sight, that doesn't mean we are justified in putting it out of mind. Running for office to promote positive changes is my way of living out the maxim of doing the most good that I can do.

Furthermore, I feel that philosophy has, in many ways, prepared me for politics. Elected officials, ideally, should have a strong moral compass. I like to think that my research has prompted me to develop clearer answers on the fundamental moral questions of "How ought I to treat others?" and "How ought people live in a society?" Moreover, my research in philosophy has developed general, close reading skills that I think will serve me well if elected; they certainly will help if I have to research policies and develop well-thought out legislation. Careful, considered decisions based on moral principles are not always something we find in politics, and I'd like to be an exception to that rule.

Plato thought that society ought to be ruled by philosophers, and while I disagree with his antiegalitarian, authoritarian ideal of the "Philosopher King," I do think philosophers have valuable perspective and insight to share. We should always strive to be building a more just and moral society, and I think philosophers, who have spent millennia developing ideas on what things like "justice" and "morality" are, should bring those ideas into the practical realm of politics.

What are some of the issues that concern you most?
Politically and philosophically, I'm a socialist, so the standard of living and position in society of the working class is a major concern for me. That the working many have little to no say in our places of work, that our real wages have been stagnating for the past thirty years, and that we increasingly find healthcare out of reach are all major concerns. The power imbalance between employer and worker is one thing I'd like to see addressed by elected officials. If elected, I plan on addressing that imbalance by working to make the minimum wage a living wage, guaranteeing healthcare for all, and by offering support for the formation of workers' cooperatives. Workers deserve more autonomy both inside and outside the workplace, and all of these aforementioned prescriptions would go towards empowering workers to work where and as we choose.

Categories: Humanities and Social Sciences

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