Wednesday, July 05, 2017

The Absurdity of Our Insularity

One of the biggest problems facing America today is the insularity that appears to spread across the political spectrum, or at least outward from the center with increasing magnitude as it nears the dual poles. There are arguably many reasons to explain this insularity from the echo chamber offered on digital and traditional media platforms that allow one to only receive news and perspectives that reinforce what you already believe to the increasing segregation in society in general. Both conservatives and liberals are both guilty of abiding this new paradigm, existing in blissful ignorance of arguments that might differ with their own.

The costs of this insularity are profound, from the inability to engage in political discussion and debate across ideological lines to the very real and deleterious ways it has created an uber-partisan environment in DC that undermines compromise and forward movement on issues that affect our lives. It has led to increased violence, though predominantly from the right-leaning end of the political continuum, and an inability to even consider confounding evidence or arguments. Maybe most troubling to our long-term prospects, is the ways it has cut off the critical thinking facilities essential to the effective functioning of democracy.

One way in which we see this new political insularity is exposed is, of course, through those who continue to support President Trump, and those who blindly reject everything conservatives do from one day to the next (though one has to admit that has become more reasonable in recent years). Another way is the reactionary fervor that seems to sprout out from every corner of our cultural landscape, often more fervent and fiery than an Evangelical sermon.

The latest example emerged just yesterday, on the heals of the absurd imbroglio started by Trump himself, as he tweeted a video of him body slamming and punching CNN, followed by claims that CNN blackmailed the adult reddit user that made that video. The latest event to cause an Internet uproar? Well, that most offensive of American documents, The Declaration of Independence.

That’s right. A group of Trump supporters thought that NPR was tweeting propaganda, as it used 113 consecutive posts over a 20-minute period to convey the entire 1776 document to its followers, a tradition, one might mention, that has been going on for 29 years now. Some just thought it was spam, but others figured lines like “He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary power” and “A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people” were a reference to our current Commander in Thief. And they were not going to take those remarks from the very media outlet they are hoping to defund as soon as possible.

While this is a minor example, and some even took the time to apologize for the reactionary posts, it does show how quick many are to apoplectic frenzy any time anyone writes, says or posts something they disagree with. It is a troubling trend that only seems to worsen with each passing year. On the left, activists seek to silence anyone who says anything offensive to their social justice agenda, which I do largely ascribe to I should admit, while on the right confounding perspectives are attacked like the words of Beelzebub himself.

I don’t believe the answer is simply more civility in the public sphere, as many have argued, as there is nothing wrong with being impassioned about your positions and arguing for them vigorously. In fact, one could argue the Democrats tendency to try to stand above the fray of political disagreement has cost them dearly, maybe none as clearly as Hillary Clinton. Others call for increased tolerance, but as Zizek so cleverly points out it too has its limits. Maybe the answer instead resides in finding ways to cross ideological boundaries, to talk to one another without the generally held notion that whatever your beliefs, those who disagree with you are just less intelligent, and to seek to stem the inflamed passions that have stoked the insularity toward silos of identity that are immune to all outside influence.

More than anything, we need to return to public spaces that are diverse, whether in our schools, our media or our daily interactions with others. We need to learn to actively listen, rather than simply wait for our turn to talk. We need content producers to stop feeding the flame of partisanship and violence. Ultimately, we need to find ways for those with different values, beliefs and cultural traditions to live harmoniously together. Easier said than done, one must admit, when one of the two founding documents of our country sends those who claim to love it most into a fury, on the very day we are celebrating its birth … 

No comments: