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And the Beat Goes On…

Women holding "No Hate" sign

We, as Americans, cherish the freedom and right to disagree—which we do, often deeply about important issues that need resolution. But polarization undermines that freedom by tightening prejudices rather than opening thought, thus diminishing the chances for finding resolutions and moving forward.  So while polarization may feel like a righteous champion of freedom and right, it is in fact just the opposite—a stick jammed in the spokes of the democratic discourse of freedom. Here are some of the common ways it does it:

  1. SEDUCES with loaded, heated language and childish name-calling that appeals more to emotion that reason.
  2. BLINKERS by using cherry-picked facts, and ignoring or mocking opposing arguments and evidence rather than actually addressing them.
  3. TRIVIALIZES by focusing on “straw-man” issues whose value in re-enforcing biases is clearly greater than their substance.
  4. BULLIES by making you feel like a dupe or a traitor if you even listen to the other side.
  5. FLATTERS with language and a tone that makes you feel like an insider, who, of course, agrees with them because you “get it” … just like they do.
  6. FRIGHTENS by portraying the other side as not just wrong, but a dangerous, evil enemy, replete with wicked hidden agendas.
  7. “CLANS,” that is, plays the “us vs. them” identity politics game of associating the other view with groups or people (implicitly) “inferior” to “us.”
  8. “TRIBES” by using the knowing winks and nods of sarcasm, coded language, words in quotes (suggesting they’re misleading) and innuendo which you, as a member of the tribe, of course, will understand without explanation or justification.

This weeksame as last week. And the week before. And the week before. The goal of  exciting bases, pointing fingers and characterizing the “other” take precedence over finding common ground, resolving differences and finding solutions.  

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4 thoughts on “And the Beat Goes On…”

  1. Erica Etelson

    There are 2 articles above that don’t strike me as polarizing– “The Right Wing is Trying to Make it a Crime to Oppose Fascism” and “GOP Politicians are using video games as a scapegoat.” Both of the articles seem factual and well-reasoned to me. Greg, can you say more about why these articles made the list? Is there a way that these reporters could have covered these issues that would be less polarizing?

    1. My measure is simply: Does the headline purposefully tend to widen rather than narrow the polarization gap. The word choice in “The Right Wing is trying to make it a crime to oppose fascism” is fully loaded to anger conservatives and delight liberals. Imagine sitting across from your conservative uncle and saying this. (His probable response: “Oh My God – you think THAT’S what we’re trying to do????”) You’ve started a fight before the conversation begins.
      Same thing with the “scapegoat” term. No way would a conservative feel they were “scapegoating.”

      I happen to agree with the bias of these two headlines, and yes they are technically, factually correct. But to me they serve more to enflame the “other” and flatter “our side” rather than simply inform or, better, move the debate to rational discourse and resolution.

      I know this is the difference between editorial writing and reporting – but this is the soup we’re in. That these headlines seem factual and objective (to those agree with the bias) is an indication of how corrosive the atmosphere of polarization has become. We don’t recognize bias…as long as we agree with it.

  2. Erica Etelson

    Thanks, that’s helplful. So a non-polarizing version might be “GOP resolution would label antifa a ‘domestic terrorist organization'” or “Left activists fear GOP’s antifa resolution would suppress dissent”?

    1. Yes – but of course that brings up the issue that, often, when you remove the polarizing fire, its kind of boring –
      because in fact there’s not much of a story. Which is exactly the point and the problem.
      Making a nothing story “hot” by pumping up the polarizing aspect is a great way to get attention…but at the
      risk of fanning the flames that threaten to burn down the house.

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