Lately, if turning on the news in your house has started to feel like 1984's famous two minutes of hate, then you're not alone. The United States has begun to adapt an Orwellian state, and the truth is, it's not because of technology or surveillance: it's because of our politics.
We’ve all heard that citizen participation is the key to democracy.
But what happens when the citizens begin to turn on one another? Well, in short, violence, chaos, and civil unrest. It’s called political and social polarization. It’s what’s happening to us right now.
There are three ways of measuring this so-called polarization. One, through the platforms of competing parties (i.e. Republicans and Democrats), the second, through a single party’s ideological homogeneity (how many party officials are moderates or bridge builders), and the last through the emotions of ordinary citizens, tracking how they feel about the members of the other parties.
While the United States is no more separated in policy now than it was 30 years ago, the animosity between the two major parties has increased dramatically.
In an article on The Conversation, Robert B. Talisse brings up the phenomenon of something called “group polarization”, or as Talisse describes it, "when you talk only to those you agree with, or listen only to news that affirms your opinions, you become more radical in your beliefs.”The issue with radicalization of one’s own beliefs, is that it makes it that much harder to understand anyone else’s point of view. This causes a widespread dislike of people in the “other” party.
The original thought was that people who identified themselves as more liberal would concern themselves with different moral issues than those who were more conservative; however, what they discovered was that the nature of the moral violation was not the most important factor. Rather, it was the political affiliation of the violator that revoked a greater response.
Democrats were more willing to let other democrats slide, and Republicans were even more likely to do so with other Republicans.
This unfortunate social diagnosis is getting increasingly obvious, with the inability to place morals above partisan allegiance when it comes to Black lives and COVID-19.
Now, I doubt in the 21st century that most people would disagree that a Black person has just as much of a right to live as comfortably and easily as a white person. Not to mention just living in general. However, the Black Lives Matter movement is considered by the public a more liberal cause, and as a result, we are seeing this rather hideous wave of “all lives matter” and “blue lives matter” taking place simply as a way for people to avoid agreeing with the other side.
The EXACT same thing is happening with the COVID-19 outbreak.
Ever since President Trump was wrong about what he considered to be a minor issue, he has become the face of the mask and virus deniers. This in turn forced the Democrats to become the party to push wearing a mask, following social distancing regulations, and taking the proper precautions.
This is not to say that all Republicans are handling the virus poorly, in fact, my own Governor, Larry Hogan (R), has done a relatively good job with this crisis; however, labeling a policy with a political affiliation immediately makes it controversial. By allowing this virus to become a partisan issue, we have caused the death of thousands who did not need to die.
Let me get one thing straight, you can catch COVID-19 anywhere.
You can catch it at a Trump rally, you can catch it at a Black Lives Matter protest, you can catch it in a church, you can catch it at a friends house. Why? Because COVID-19 is a virus. It does not have any political agenda.
Now, if you take the right steps and precautions, the chance that you’ll catch it decreases substantially. Unfortunately, due to the partisan nature of this pandemic, people have become too stubborn and selfish to take those proper precautions.
We need to stop playing politics with people’s lives.
Breonna Taylor did not have to die. George Floyd did not have to die. Those almost 200,000 victims of COVID-19 did not have to die.
This is a scary time to live in the United States, but it shows just how important it is to understand the psychology behind polarization. It is quite literally a matter of life and death, and once party alliances begin to force us to lean towards death, we know we have a problem.
Now, how do we fix it?
There are many theories, including one thinking simply -- we can’t. Once we allow our country to get this far, there's no going back. The idea is that people have to want things to change in order to induce change, but the fear is that the country has become too stubborn to accept change. I choose to disregard this fear, for if one begins to think cynically, there is absolutely no return.
Instead, people need to educate themselves on the following solutions:
1. Facilitating more intergroup conversations
As a country, we often live in our own personal bubbles, where everyone thinks the same and agrees with each other. Talking to people within that bubble about your political opinions will accomplish nothing. You need to take the initiative to start a difficult conversation, and it’s been proven time and time again that simple conversations can solve a lot of problems. If you’re having trouble starting these conversations, click here to read some helpful tips!
2. Expand your media intake
Consuming information from only a single site can be toxic for many reasons. One, is that the site will most likely contain a biased perspective. Without corroborating that information with another site, you can never know whether what you're reading is true information, or merely opinion.
You should never rely on a single news site or media source to provide all your information. It also makes it much harder to relate to a person from a different party if you have only been reinforcing your own ideas. To keep an open mind, one must consume information from all sides.
3. Educate yourself
This may seem self-explanatory, but you must understand the problem in order to solve the problem. Reading this is a start, but you shouldn’t take just my word for it. Conduct your own research.
Find something that matters to you and (from multiple sources) study it. If we want to save our country, we must take matters into our own hands.
So yeah, politics are fun and all, but we all have to be willing to work together if we want to avoid the imminent splitting of our country.