Personal Polarization

These days, there’s a lot of talk about the polarization of political views, which is reflected in the current stand-off between the Republican Senate/President Trump and the House Democratic leadership.  As always, however, what occurs in Washington is a reflection of what’s happening everywhere in the nation.

One of the facets of this polarization is, from what I’ve observed, a much greater tendency for each side to objectify the other side by insisting that anyone who doesn’t agree fully with them on various “hot-button” issues must be a card-carrying extremist on the other side.

So… if I say that the ultra-feminists are carrying political correctness to absurd extremes, which I believe they are (since I believe that they should have concentrated on getting economic and political power and equality first and foremost), I risk being called a toxic male, or at best one who is hopelessly out of touch. If I say that black movements such as Black Lives Matter have not only called attention to young blacks unjustly killed, which has happened far too often, but also gone overboard and exalted black street punks/minor criminals into martyrs, which they have, then I’m told that I have no understanding of minority rights and am a white privileged racist.

If I point out to my rancher/farmer acquaintances that they can’t keep mining the groundwater in the high desert area where we live or that there’s too much overgrazing on federal lands, I’m immediately dismissed as a left-wing environmentalist who doesn’t understand and wants to destroy their family heritage. Likewise, if I point out that the BLM has mismanaged the handling of a host of issues, from wild horses to collecting grazing fees, I’m called part of the right-wing rape-the-land advocates.

If I point out that the majority of “hate” groups in the U.S.  are by far mostly composed of far right extremists, which is documented, and if I don’t publicly condemn the comparatively few extreme leftist outbreaks, which I tend not to do because the far-right is doing that quite extensively, and I really don’t want to associate myself with them on that, then I’m labelled as an extreme leftist.

If I point out that the current administration’s idea of building a wall is insane, impractical, and wasteful, then I’m a far left liberal who wants to turn the country over to greedy criminal immigrants who will destroy “our way” of life, despite all the facts to the contrary, or the fact that I’ve been vocal about the need for immigration law reform.   

As I’ve repeatedly pointed out in my blogs, facts have become irrelevant.  Only image and emotion matter any more.  Each side picks the facts that support its views, and their images, and categorizes and objectifies anyone who doesn’t agree as the enemy. 

And those of us in the middle are becoming fewer and fewer, because we don’t agree fully with either “side,” and that means both sides view us as the enemy.

And then people wonder why there aren’t any compromises.

13 thoughts on “Personal Polarization”

  1. Sam says:

    This may not apply in the US but a while ago I came to the conclusion that here in Australia the right and the left side of politics regard each other with a very different mentality.

    On the right side of politics there is a born-to-rule mentality that is born out of the notion that they are rational pragmatists and that those on the left are head-in-the clouds idealists who don’t live in the real world. Much of the rhetoric that comes from politicians on the right frames the opposition on the left as incompetent and unable to govern.

    I see a different type of rhetoric and mentality coming from the left. The right side of politics frames the political debate as being between right(correct) and wrong(left) whereas the left frames it as being between good(compassionate) and evil(heartless).

    It’s not that the two sides are diametrically opposed but rather that they are looking at each other through different lenses.

    The left are condescended to and the right are vilified.

    1. R. Hamilton says:

      Compassion via government is counterfeit; if you don’t help someone personally, it doesn’t count. 🙂

      1. Lourain Pennington says:

        Doesn’t count for whom? If it isn’t personal, does that mean you don’t get your karma points?

  2. Jeff says:

    That’ll preach!

  3. Matt says:

    I am not sure if he originated the comment or was quoting someone else but the comedian Ricky Gervais summed this up pretty succinctly.

    “People don’t look at the argument any more. They look at who’s saying it”.

    We have (mostly) divided into tribes and because of this we have lost the ability to consider alternative points of view.

    1. Tom says:

      It seems to me that we can only argue and we have lost the ability to debate. (Some consider arguing and debating to be the same: they forget that debating has rules).

      I would argue that we do not even truly consider “… who’s saying it”.

  4. Jon Moss says:

    I attended a lecture Wednesday night whose subject was the book “The Age of Eisenhower” and the lecturer was the author, William Hitchcock. He ended his lecture stating that Eisenhower held the harder middle ground against polarization of his times. Unfortunately, I’m too young to have a frame of reference to relate to (being born in the middle 60s), but the last 3-4 decades have left me quite lonely in the middle, besieged on two fronts by extremists.

    Compromise is needed. Without it, I see little hope for a peaceful retirement. 🙂

  5. Wayne Kernochan says:

    Maestro Modesitt, I hope I’m not moving off-topic, but I really want to know as an ex-Interior guy: how has the BLM mismanaged those things? I’ve never been able to get a decent handle on this; those affected tend to overstate their case as you’ve described. I’d appreciate any insights …

    1. These are complex issues, and I don’t want to oversimplify, but one example is the Cliven Bundy case in Nevada. He didn’t pay his grazing fees for something like ten years. Then the BLM moved in force and tried to impound all his cattle, which led to an armed standoff. I can’t find any record of the BLM dealing with it until it got out of hand. I also know that a number of ranchers spend time and money for things like improving water sources or fences on the lands they lease, and quite a few of them believe that the BLM agents go far too much “by the book,” rather than by the character of the land in question. Whether this is true or not, I’m not enough of an expert to know, but they certainly believe this to be so… and that in itself is a problem.

      The wild horse thing is even trickier, but the basic problem is that the BLM allows so many “animal units” per acre of grazing land, which generally refers to cattle, but if you’ve got wild horses, that puts more pressure on the land. BLM is reluctant to round up or cull the horses because, first, they’re short on money, second, they don’t have anywhere to put them, and third, they face holy hell from the environmentalists if they put them down. So the ranchers are mad because the horses are using resources they believe they’ve paid for, and in places the land won’t support the amount of cattle and horses that are there.

      1. Wayne Kernochan says:

        Thanks much. That’s definitely closer to understanding both sides than I’ve gotten from any sources before.

  6. Hanneke says:

    Even in the Netherlands, where both the multi-party political system and the poldermodel way of dealing with labour disputes are strongly geared towards reaching compromises, you can see the polarisation happening.
    You see it in the media, both mass media looking for soundbites and controversies and in social media; and you see it in some irresponsible politicians looking for media attention and getting people riled up because that leads to votes, and personal power for the politicians.

    It’s not near as bad as one sees in the USA, or in England regarding Brexit, or in several other European countries with the rise of the far right.
    Still it’s worrying, if even in one of the richest, safest and happiest countries in the world, where the social safety net is still strong enough that extreme poverty is very rare (though some illegals who aren’t part of the safety net are homeless and very poor), people are still so vulnerable to disaffection and manipulation to fear, envy and blame any handy scapegoat “others”.

    A growing inequality between rich and poor, and a slow erosion of the social safety net from decades of right-leaning coalitions seems to play a role in a growing sense of disaffection of those “left behind” with the status quo, even when our income inequality is still objectively one of the smaller in the world.

    It’s hard to see what can be done about that.
    In politics, the left-leaning voters are more inclined towards individualism and splintering into many small parties, while the right-leaning voters are more inclined towards following a strong leader and thus are less divided; which means tgat a right-leaning party generally ends up being the largest and allowed to form the ruling coalition, even when all the left-leaning votes together are more than all the right-leaning votes. This does mean that some splinter parties will get one or two of their pet issues addressed in return for supporting the coalition.
    The end result is that a lot of left-leaning voters have become disaffected with their favorite center-left party never getting to achieve their goals, and have started to move towards both extremes.
    Maybe the system needs to be changed so that parties can organise coalitions before the voting, and that those coalition’s votes are counted in total. But maybe that would be a step backwards,toward a two-party system, which no-one here wants.
    In the US, lessening the hold of the two existing large parties on the system would seem to be a way the deadlock could be broken; but as long as one party can game the system to their advantage I don’t see them cooperating towards achieving a better representation.

    In media, one could make a law that mass media has to provide factually correct information, that lies need to be fact-checked and exposed as such, and that opinions need to be clearly marked as such and balanced, and also debunked when they are counter-factual. This doesn’t stop the chasing after soundbites and controversies, but it does reign in some of the excesses of “alternative facts” and wild accusations ruling some of the media at present.
    This doesn’t do anything about the polarizing effect of social media, which is a different problem.

  7. geoff soper says:

    Lee you’re right. And I thought Sam’s observation on the Australian Left and Right, both apt and to some extent to hold more universally. Forgive me please, if I’m mentioning the obviously known, and already discounted.
    Inexperience aside, I suspect that the lamented extreme polarisation currently found in the US, is the ingrained consequence of an enshrined binary-natured tradition. Take the Presidential Election for example. And opportunely, tbe feared split in the Democrat vote, that wjll arise with an Independent trying for president.
    Such last, doesn’ happen, and in fact cannot happen, with Preferential Voting, Whereby even with two or three Democrat candidates, plus an Independent, there is no split in the Democrat vote. Consider…
    … A Presidential Race between R1, D1, D2, D3, and I1. In turn, Preferential Votimg determines the best four candidates, the best three candidates, the best two candidates, and the President. Every US voter having voted explicitly on each outcome. All with one visit to the polling booths. Does that impress. Yeah, me too.
    The importance of every US voter being involved at each stage cannot be stressed highly enough. They themselves determine who the best candidates are, avoiding near entirely the current system whereby the sic two best candidates are determined by vested interests. They get to choose between two candidates who they themselves have determined. Not between two candidates not determined by the US voters. A Henry Ford’s no-color choice.
    So how does this relate to polarisation, that corrupts and permeates all aspects of US politics…
    … the current system favours the power-broking elite at the expense of the innate preferences of the US voters. Sure they get a circus. Julius Ceasar used the same tactic for the same reason.
    Preferential Voting places power back in the hands of the US voter. At the expense of power- broker influenced/determined government.
    Polarisation is the perpetuated sign of sic making mandated binary choice. Just part of the circus of distraction. Except insofar as US voters are caught up in it.
    Then too, the success of hate-fueled polemic in the US drives polarisation’s political appeal. (and again US voter’s get a circus). Again enshrined. And completely avoidable by the adoption of a negative vote option to ballot papers.
    Then too, there is the question of who benefits from polarisation? Generic voter or power broker.
    So, what, can be done, and are you going to do, about it?

  8. Tim says:

    When it comes to elections there must be clear political water between the parties.

    The UK and the US both have essentially two party systems, whereas most of Europe now seem to have fragile coalitions where compromise is the order of the day. I would argue this is not good to get things done, though my friends in Europe feel it puts breaks on bad policy.

    The UK now has clear water between the parties for the first time in over a decade, though BreXit is muddying the waters and causing Parliament to be diverted from debating day to day business. Hopefully that will change when we leave.

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