The Wild Goose Chase of Substantive Political Discourse
By Benjamin Noel
In the modern world, it is nearly impossible to go a day without interacting with politics in some way, shape, or form. Whether it’s on television, social media, or in conversation with friends, politics are everywhere. This begs the question: is our culture overly political?
Yes. In regards to politics, we’re talking a lot. But we’re talking in circles. Two drum circles, to be specific, sitting in the same room banging on their goat skins, trying to out-drum the other.
When talking politics, a great divide comes to mind. Granted, the divide is feeding the beast of what is deemed relevant discourse.
With every election cycle, a clear growing polarization of the Democrats and Republicans has become apparent. “The overall share of Americans who express consistently conservative or consistently liberal opinions has doubled over the past two decades from 10% to 21%” (Pew Research). The rate of divide has been exacerbated by how tightly connected party and ideology have become, with Democrats becoming uniformly left, and Republicans, right. “Today, 92% of Republicans are to the right of the median Democrat, and 94% of Democrats are to the left of the median Republican” (Pew Research). This gives way to the thinking that one must line up 100% with their party’s entire playbook as if it is some sort of concrete, uniform moral code, effectively stripping away individual thought.
The increasing ideological divide is manifesting itself in two diverging ideas of the American ideal. The one side genuinely believes the other is morally repugnant, and will cause the utter destruction of our country. This makes it near impossible to have a constructive conversation with the average member of the party on the other side of the aisle. And the most dangerous thing to come out of this vicious dichotomy is the single headedness of the people participating. A single disagreement with your party casts you off as somehow incoherent and morally confused, regardless of how qualified your stance is. There are two clear cut sides, and crossing the line isn’t looked fondly upon.
In our hyper connected digital age, political views have social value. It’s clear when seeing civil rights leaders’ quotes being re-posted and traded like baseball cards, and more people wearing red hats than at an Angels home game. American political affiliations have slowly, but surely, created two generally homogeneous groups, in which diversity of thought is steadily declining. The entirety of America’s current political discourse revolves around being surrounded by those that won’t help question one’s beliefs. A lack of diverse thought within discourse groups lowers the level of discourse that may be had. Too often are people being spoon fed rhetoric, via celebrity politicians and political commentators, without questioning why they agree with the claim, opting to agree on the basis of party lines. This strict divide gives rise to a culture of unquestioning agreement, but not steadfast belief in one’s political stance. Be it politics or morals, the level to which one questions their beliefs equals the conviction to which those beliefs can be held.
When we think of politics infiltrating every aspect of our life, it’s final frontier seems to be social media re-posts. Sure at face value, spreading knowledge is the first step in creating change. But taking into account one’s audience is of great importance. One’s social media following is typically a choir of similarly minded people. Thus, the preaching of social justice or Constitutional rights resembles more of a drum circle than a Socratic forum. There is no significant change being influenced in or by these echo chambers of thought, save the sounds of politics in the air.
All that’s to say, there is virtue in political thinking, granted it results in appropriate action, such as petitions to lawmakers and social outreach. The spreading of knowledge via social media re-posts, and talking with like-minded people is a great start, but it cannot be the end of our political involvement. The talking of politics without an end in mind is one of the most disastrous things one could get involved in. We’re talking more politics than ever, but it’s almost as if we forgot why. Facebook arguments won’t create legislation, re-posts won’t end racism, but directing one’s beliefs into the betterment of your community will do worlds more than a digital scuffle.
Melanie Moyer '22,