Turn on the radio. Turn on your T.V. Log onto Facebook. Complete any of these actions, and it won’t take long before you come to perhaps, the only absolute truth you can unequivocally proclaim on your Facebook status: Americans, and people in general, can’t agree on anything. This statement’s accuracy isn’t just limited to a few select topics either; from which college basketball teams will make it to the final four, to the viability and necessity of organic food vs. GMOs, and even whether the world is round--Americans just can’t seem to agree on anything. Now, one may naively think that he or she can persuade others with facts, statements I learned in elementary school were unaffected by my, yours, or anyone else's’ opinions. But even these don’t seem to work anymore. Here’s our current reality: any fact that challenges a group’s ideological beliefs are rejected as either “fake news,” or a truth being “spun” by the other side of the political aisle, even if the source is credible. These excuses safely protect these groups from having to deal with the fact that maybe… just maybe... they’re wrong.
Now, if you’re like me, maybe this has been a thorn in your side for a long time. Maybe someone says something you disagree with, you dispute it with facts and sources you spent time researching, hoping you can get them on the straight and narrow, and what happens? They reject it, probably calling you names, maybe topping it off by sharing a second rate meme with information they got from a magic eight ball. After a while of this, it's easy to get frustrated and ask that obvious question that everyone asks…“are we doomed as a species to forever wonder through the sewage of logical ambiguity?” and the answer is yes. Probably. After all, if facts can no longer determine what is true, then what exactly is the standard for truth? Questions like these can get you down, but rest assured: facts are still facts. They haven't disappeared off the face of the earth, never to be heard from again. Facts and Truth are the same as they’ve always been, waiting for us to reach out and grab them; the problem is with us. We’re the ones who’ve muddied the waters. And if the problem was created by us, the good news is that it can be fixed by us.
“So how we gonna fix this thing?” you may be asking impatiently while nursing your fingers back to health after a night of keyboard warring on Facebook. Short answer.... I’m not 100% sure. No one is. But the first steps to fixing any problem often involve discovering and highlighting its causes, so let’s start there.
I. We Hate Being Wrong
People don’t like being wrong. I mean, do you? I don’t, especially in this political climate where it seems as if half of our TV and radio programs, from news to sports and even dramas, incorporate some sort of debate/argumentative element and have equated the winner with not only intellectual superiority, but social superiority as well. Being wrong is often equated with being less than-- less intelligent, weaker, and less important, often invokes mockery. People generally don’t like feeling this way, resulting in a “win no matter what” mentality where people rarely, if ever, admit defeat. This act of arguing for the sake of winning instead of truth-seeking is counterintuitive and destructive, usually resulting in all parties having wasted their time and just getting angry. This assertion is especially true in the political arena, where everyone, from individuals to news and political organizations do whatever it takes to win, regardless of truth. No longer is political discourse a way of figuring out what we believe and what actions to take--- it’s become a way of reaffirming what we already think and do.
II. Social Media
Now don’t get me wrong, I understand that politics have been dividing people since ancient times, and isn’t likely to ever change; however, with the rise of social media, I firmly believe that the divide has become deeper and more pronounced than ever before.Social media platforms, like Facebook, made the founding fathers’ First Amendment dreams come true in ways they didn’t think possible. Unlike back then, today the vast majority of people have an avenue by which they can share their opinions to the whole world. When Facebook and other social media began, many, including myself, naively thought that people would use this tool to discuss ideas and find solutions, especially in the political realm. But sadly, it seems we had it all wrong. Because although technology does gives us a wider range of communication, it unfortunately doesn’t change moronic human behavior. In fact, it often shines a spotlight on it.
So what happened instead? Well, instead of people coming together to discuss the important issues and find effective solutions, they just found and joined clicks filled with other people who agree with them. It’s basically the same rules as high school. You see, there’s a popular logical fallacy out there in our collective social conscience that says numbers equal correctness. No one wants to be told they’re wrong, so they try and surround themselves with people who tell them what they want to hear and give them information they can use to reaffirm their political ideology. Now, just to be clear and fair, this has been going on for decades with news channels like Fox and CNN that notoriously pander to one side of the political aisle. But I think we can agree that this pandering has become more pronounced and increasingly noticeable since the creation of social media, specifically on Facebook’s numerous political pages, which include traditional presences like Fox and CNN, but also newer secondary “news” pages like ‘Being Liberal’ and ‘Right Wing News’ known more for their memes than journalism.
III. Socio-political Incest. Hot.
So what is the point of all this information? And where does it lead us? Well, as a result of so many people exclusively congregating in discourse communities that regurgitate and reaffirm their own beliefs, we have an epidemic I like to call, Political Incest. Sounds disgusting right? Well it is. Because just as a herd of cows become unhealthy when new genes aren’t introduced to their genepool, these groups have become diseased because new ideas and view points are rejected from their community, leaving only the same stale, rustic talking points without any purifying filter. This results in the disease that muddies the waters and keeps us from facts and truths. These incestuous communities will spin any truth and disregard any statement that contradicts their political ideology, thereby preserving the status quo. If you don’t believe me, get on Facebook and comment a dissenting opinion on one of their threads. I think you’ll change your mind.
And if still you don’t see the danger here, understand that this doesn’t just affect the common citizen. No, this disease has spread all the way to Washington, creating the cancerous, paralyzing, partisan atmosphere with which congress has become synonymous. If you’ll remember, it got so bad in 2013, that the government actually shut itself down because we couldn’t agree on a budget. In 2016, the republican-held congress wouldn’t even give supreme court nominee Merrick Garland a hearing, and in 2017, Democrats did everything in their power to stop Neil Gorsuch from being nominated, forcing the Republicans to invoke the so-called “Nuclear Option” to finally get him in. Why? Because both sides of our political system refuse to listen to the other and work together. Because they view the other as sinister, and value preserving their ideologies and status quo over facts, effective compromise, and real word solutions. That’s what political incest does: it breeds stubbornness, builds walls, and kills compassion. And unless we break up these monolithic communities, and build bridges between them, we’re going to get sicker and sicker until we’re reduced to nothing.
Until we morally and intellectually die.
So maybe, if you’re reading this article, maybe you don’t want that. Maybe you want a more compassionate, understanding world. A world where facts and truth take precedent over political tribalism. I feel the same way, and I have a feeling that there are millions just like us. But if this is what we want, we have to do more than just talk about it online. Talk is cheap. We have to make real, meaningful changes to the way we view and interact with politics. Only then can we break ourselves from this incestuous cycle.
Here are a few suggestions that will help us accomplish this goal.
1. Get rid of Labels.
Let’s stop identifying ourselves as conservatives and liberals. Republicans and democrats. Without these labels, we can approach human issues with a sense of unity without politicizing them into oblivion.
2. Give people a chance.
If someone says something contrary to what we believe is right, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. Most republicans aren’t racist bigots. Most liberals aren’t crazy Social Justice Warriors.
Remember: those with different opinions than us are real people, with real life experiences that have shaped their politics. Let’s treat them that way, and learn from each other.
3. Self- Reflect (And here’s the kicker)
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, let’s be sure that in any given argument, on any given issue, we aren’t the ones hiding from truth. If someone hits you with some knowledge, instead of running from it, embrace it, and be willing to change your views accordingly. This is the essence of dissolving political incest; only by allowing ideas that challenge our viewpoints into our circle, can we encourage the same in others. The change starts with us. Hopefully, by putting these suggestions into practice, we can perhaps start on a path towards recreating an actual democracy where both sides of the political aisle can actually start a respectable dialogue.
Or at least the very least, maybe Thanksgiving will be less awkward.
© 2018 Skyler Hornaday