Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Political Polarization. Wear Your Seatbelts, For Turbulence Is Predicted.

Political polarization in the United States may be the main reason why we now live in the Turd Reich*.  Enough people think like Mark Levin:

MARK LEVIN (HOST): So, the spectacle goes on. The enemy is on the move, Islamo-Nazis are on the move, the Russians are on the move, the Chinese are on the move, the North Koreans are on the move, the Iranians are on the move, and the Democrats are on the move.
Let me ask you this question: Who threatens our country more? Who threatens our country more? The Iranians, the North Koreans, the Chinese, the Russians, or the Democrats?

There ya go.  If you are a registered Democrat, you are the enemy of Mark Levin, comparable to all sorts of foreign states, some of which, at least, do not dote on the US.

The left, the liberals, the progressives and/or the Democrats are not blameless in the polarization of opinions.  But the left did not start it. 

Indeed, for a long time (and perhaps even now) the Democrats were the mumbling milquetoasts on political debate shows while the Republicans breathed fire and promised hellfire to the opposition.  Still, the Democratic base is now getting to slightly resemble the Republican base in the way the "internal enemy" is dehumanized.

Whether all this began with the right-wing radio shows, Rush Limbaugh and the Fox News can be debated.  But the fertilizer which made political extremism grow in this country has the name of that right-wing media on it**. 

The audiences loved hearing how vile the Democrats are (because who wouldn't like to be told that everything is the fault of someone else, someone truly evil, so there's no need to feel guilty about that anger), and so the shows gave them more what they liked.  Then the shows stepped one step further by giving their audiences not only right-wing opinions but also only those facts or factoids which fit the right-wing worldview.  (I still get e-mails from The Judicial Watch, a right-wing organization which "fights for accountability and integrity in law, politics and government."  They are still all about about Hillary Clinton's e-mails, and their representative was on Fox News yesterday).

I see faint echoes of that when I visit the left Twitter or read the comments on lefty blogs, though the extent of distortion on the two sides is not comparable.  Still, we should avoid copying what happened on the extreme right (which is now most of the right), because it is crucial to know what "facts" or facts people hold and to try to have a conversation, with data and analysis,  aimed at deciding on some shared set of evidence.

Right now Republicans and Democrats live in separate political information bubbles.  Sure, some live in disinformation bubbles, but even those people are human beings and compatriots.

The Internet exacerbates the dehumanization process.  Others do not appear as multi-dimensional people online, but often become condensed into one mistake, one opinion, one aspect of their characteristics.  Empathy seems difficult to maintain toward such one-dimensional invisible strangers who we often only experience as angry ranters on, say, Twitter.  Those angry rants elicit angry rants back, and -- yippee -- another step has been taken toward even greater polarization.***

But that is not where the process began, as I noted above. 

So where is the process heading?

I don't know the answer.  The "elitist" left (which is elitist for some odd reason I can't quite fathom) is asked to stop being so horrible to the heartland folks, assumed to have voted for Trump, though I have never seen appeals for the "elitist" right to stop being so horrible about the bi-coastal Liberal rabble. 

There is contempt on both sides, and both sides should address that contempt.****  There might still be time for something different than a society consisting of two separate cultures which loathe each other, where the paradise of one is the hell of the other. 

But time is running short on that.

A post-script:

Writing this post was like drinking cod-liver oil.  I didn't enjoy the task at all, because the emotional and angry Echidne strongly disagrees with the (more?) rational Echidne who insisted on boring everyone with a Goody Two-Shoes post.    


*  Because some have argued that the vote for Trump may have largely been a fuck-you vote for the Democrats and for eight years of the Obama administration.

**  I'm not giving a politicians an out on that, either.  How many of you get fund-raising emails from politicians which imply that the world is going to end tomorrow because of the evils of the internal enemy, unless you chip in ten dollars?  Triggering a panic response helps with political fund-raising, but it also increases the likelihood of dehumanizing one's neighbors, co-workers and compatriots.

***  Add to that the online information bubbles.  It's a good idea to get out of one's own bubble, occasionally.  I recently saw several rather nasty comments by a woman who loves Trump.  When I checked her Facebook page, I found that her life is centered around dog rescue, something I have also done in the past. 

The point, of course, is that we human beings have many dimensions.  The Internet doesn't show all of them, and it might be a good idea to keep in mind that the other users are also human beings.  Some are pretty deplorable, but none of us are perfect.

****  I'm not sure how to engage those who believe that I might be the enemy, as Mark Levin seems to think, and I have little hope that I could persuade a misogynist or a racist about the value of people who are women and/or people of color.  But a national discussion about basic values could be worthwhile.  Even getting people together in the meat-space could be valuable, to show that the opposition doesn't have horns and red eyeballs.  Unless they do, of course.