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… wading back into the pool of jarring political headlines after the holiday break, it’s easy to get pulled into the outrage and lose sight of the fact that depolarizing is not about “turning the other cheek.” It’s about actually respecting the importance, not of your opponent, but of the argument—the issue—itself. Polarization turns a disciplined boxing match into a no-holds-barred brawl. Politics, if course, is no game. It’s more important than a game. It is the life-and-death process of building civilization. And yes, a short-term victory might be scored by viciously hitting below the belt rather than playing by the rules…or shouting names rather than rationally dissecting arguments. I’ll admit it’s not easy to play by the rules when the other side comes out again and again with cheap shots and low blows. But sucker punching is not the art and discipline of serious boxing, just as name calling is not the civil discourse of serious politics. And though you might gain a quick advantage by fighting back “in kind,” in the long term it means they’ve won because you’ve let them change the rules…and destroy the game. So try to curb the impulse to fist-pump when “your side” lands a nasty blow. Because forsaking the rules of the civil discourse of politics, means you lose. We all do.
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: