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:
- SEDUCES with loaded, heated language and childish name-calling that appeals more to emotion that reason.
- BLINKERS by using cherry-picked facts, and ignoring or mocking opposing arguments and evidence rather than actually addressing them.
- TRIVIALIZES by focusing on “straw-man” issues whose value in re-enforcing biases is clearly greater than their substance.
- BULLIES by making you feel like a dupe or a traitor if you even listen to the other side.
- 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.
- FRIGHTENS by portraying the other side as not just wrong, but a dangerous, evil enemy, replete with wicked hidden agendas.
- “CLANS,” that is, plays the “us vs. them” identity politics game of associating the other view with groups or people (implicitly) “inferior” to “us.”
- “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 week…sadly demonstrated how little is sacred or off-limits to polarizers. The gesture of honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of our country was callously used again and again as an excuse to point fingers at “them.” As is often the case, the rancid game may have ignited with a single thoughtless, ugly incident or remark. But quickly, the pile-on began, with supporters, critics, readers and commentators playing along, pumping it up, accusing, cheering, whining, defending, attacking, labeling – trotting out the full arsenal of division, utterly disgracing the very ideals of freedom, decency and honor that the fallen had sacrificed and died for. These soldiers did not go to war for the cause of the right or the left, the red or the blue, but for cause of one nation, under God, indivisible. Polarizers demean everything they purportedly defend. And this past week’s school-yard squabbling over our country’s loss was particularly shameful.
When reading these examples, check the above list and ask yourself: regardless of whether you agree or disagree, is this really advancing an intelligent resolution through the persuasive, rational arguments of advocacy…or simply fueling the fire of conflict through the divisive, emotional manipulations of polarization?
Here are some of the week’s most polarizing articles, from the left and right: