Friday, 7 November 2014

Free Persuasive Essay Topics

One of my continuously popular posts has been some suggested persuasive essay topics. However, these go back a few years and may be dated. So I think it's time to suggest a few new persuasive essay topics.

First, let's review what a good persuasive essay topic looks like. It should be a topic that has two sides. Rational people could disagree. I asked a grade 8 class to write a persuasive essay. After showing the way the essay should address two points of view and make a decision favoring one of them, one student wanted to write about "Smoking is bad." I felt that this topic was a little weak, so I suggested that a good persuasive essay topic calls for action. He decided to change his topic to "Smoking should be banned." This is a better topic because arguments can be made against banning smoking. For example, people have the right to choose. A good persuasive essay topic is good because it requires the writer and reader to evaluate points of view and beliefs into a hierarchy. Which is more important? Public health or freedom of choice?

Unfortunately, my student decided to change his topic to "Civet cats are awesome." Now, while I have no particular opinion on civet cats, I don't think their awesomeness is a particularly good persuasive essay. There is no call to action. There is no hierarchy of values. No one can argue that they are not awesome, because even if you think penguins are awesome, there's no reason why both animals can't be considered awesome. In fact, I don't even know what awesome means or why it is important to evaluate an animal as awesome.

Scouring the headlines for good persuasive essay topics today, the first that comes to mind for citizens of the United States is the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Many people are strongly opposed to this plan, but others support it. Let's suggest some persuasive essay topics on Obamacare.

Obamacare should be repealed, not expanded.
Obamacare should be expanded, not repealed.

Whether you are in favor or Obamacare or opposed to it, most people would agree that individuals need medical care from time to time. The difference in opinion is whether the state has the right to force people to buy medical insurance. The reason the Obamacare makes purchasing insurance mandatory is the young people, who are generally healthy, may prefer to save their money and take the small risk of needing significant medical intervention. Without these people buying insurance, the people who do buy insurance are all at high risk for needing to make claims. This makes the process impossible for the insurance companies who need to spread the risk across many people. In a place like Canada, where the state provides the insurance, everyone is in the same pool and the cost for each person is very low. One of the arguments against state provided health insurance is that people don't want a government bureaucrat making decisions about their health care services. (Why they prefer a private company employee who has an incentive to deny claims, I'll never figure out.) People are also opposed to government involvement in anything that the private sector could provide because they have a fundamental belief that the government should stay out of the free market economy. Whichever side of the debate you choose to write about in a persuasive essay, you should be able to find some informed people who have written on the topic. Make sure you cite the sources correctly in order to give your persuasive arguments some weight.

Global Warming is not as important as economic growth
Carbon dioxide emissions must be restricted to reduce global warming

Now, you might notice that I don't think the topic "Global warming is a hoax" is a good topic. That's because I don't believe any rational person could believe that a conspiracy of scientists is willing to undermine a century of economic progress just to keep their research grants flowing. In fact, any persuasive essay topic that relies on the assumption that a grand conspiracy is afoot is not a credible essay topic. A good persuasive essay topic about global warming would try to evaluate the risks of restricting carbon dioxide against the social justice importance of an industrial economy that people need in order to house themselves and feed their families today. Rational people who oppose restrictions on carbon might believe that a strong economy will be sufficient to be able to fund the mitigation that will be necessary to face a changing climate. They believe it is better to build levees, flood control, irrigation, and even move populations than it is to slow economic growth. Remember, a good persuasive essay isn't about persuading people to accept a lot of brand new facts, it's about persuading people to change the hierarchy of their values, or to recognize that their actions do not reflect the hierarchy of their values. I would argue, in a persuasive essay on global warming, that only industrialized countries have the luxury of debating economic growth against climate change. Poorer countries cannot afford climate change. Are rich countries willing to pay the cost to help other countries adapt? I doubt it. And low lying countries, such as the Maldives, can't adapt. They will be under water.

The most recent military adventure that both Canada and the US have joined in is also a good subject for a persuasive essay.

The West has an obligation to protect people from violent insurgent groups such as ISIS (ISIL)
Military action against insurgencies always has negative unintended consequences, so must be avoided.

If we trace back the conflict between extreme Islamists and the West, I think we will find that a key point in the history is Afghanistan 1980s. Of course, you can go back to the Crusades of the Middle Ages, but I wouldn't say those people were extreme Islamists. They were just people who wanted to live their lives when the Christian West decided they needed to "liberate" the "Holy Land." In Afghanistan in the 1980s, the West funded the rebellion against Soviet occupation. This set in motion the dominoes that culminated in the rise of the Taliban. And the only reason the West chose to fight against the Taliban is that they hosted the forces of Osama bin Laden as they trained for the 911 attacks. I'm not arguing about what the correct response to the 911 attacks should have been. What I'm arguing is that each time we fight against a foreign insurgency, we tend to create something worse. I think a different kind of solution needs to be found. Helping the military insurgency against the Soviets helped create the conditions for the Taliban. Overthrowing the government of Saddam Hussein led to a protracted war in Iraq; the war in Iraq led to a power vacuum which ISIS filled. But other factors led to the rise of ISIS. It partly arose in the chaos of the Syrian civil war, which, was not the West's fault. But undoubtedly the antipathy toward the West felt by many people of the Middle East is due to the West's continued interventions into the political affairs of the Middle East, and that dates back to the Crusades.

OK, but do we have an obligation to act to protect people? You could argue that we do. We are signatories to the UN Human Rights treaties. We believe in the rule of law and in the right of people to believe what they want and worship the way they want. At least some of the violence they perpetrate is wholly objectionable by any reasonable person. But I have to ask: if they were not beheading Western people and putting the videos on Youtube, would be be concerned. The Taliban were stoning women to death for several years before the West decided to topple them, and that was only because of the 911 attacks.