*An opinion piece from someone with no formal political education* I support and fully welcome disagreement.
Our Current Reality:
“Well if you are wanting to move away and you enjoy California so much you should look into living there at some point!”
“Oh there’s no way I could do that, there are too many liberals that live there.”
To say I was puzzled when I received that response, after having put forward the idea of moving to a new state, would be an understatement (to make things worse this happened on a date). What followed was more than an awkward stretch of silence, thankfully have been broken when our server decided to stop by and check on things at a more than ideal moment. After treading lightly in conversation for the rest of the night, careful not to open Pandora’s Box any further, I had no choice but to reason with the fact that: political opposition has become so bitter, there are people who would refuse great opportunities, such as moving to a place of their dreams, because they don’t see any possible way to tolerate, let alone befriend, other Americans holding different ideas in their head. Giving up the idea of warm sunshine, tempered climate, towering mountain backdrops and postcard worthy sunsets, because of the intense bipartisanship we are being blindly submerged in.
“The dysfunctional state of the American political system is the best reason to be pessimistic about our country’s future. Our scientific and technological prowess is the best reason to be optimistic. We are an inventive people….and if I had a choice between a tournament of ideas and a political cage match, I know which fight I would be engaging in.” -Nate Silver “The Signal and the Noise“
Let’s go into the hypothetical realm for a moment: if I were to tell you that I refused to apply for a job of my dreams (*cough cough* Tesla test driver) because the majority of their employees were Lutherans, you would assertively let me know that I had fallen off the wagon. While the previous statement seems laughable, for some reason when it comes to politics, the dichotomy of ideas – in which both parties are striving towards an agreed upon moral code (freedom of speech/ assembly/ press/ religion, equality, due process of law, etc.) can cause families to resent one another and friendships to entirely dissolve. Now if you’ve got time on your hands as I have had lately, you’re likely seeking out answers to questions such as: How did we get to this point? Who is really responsible? What does the future of American politics look like? Let’s begin.
Homo-sapiens: strange creatures. We have put our own species on the moon, built pyramids to last for millennia, created steam engines, yet somehow we can still be so tribalistic that we are also still responsible for incidents like this:
Now, I’m not a father, but I can reasonably imagine that if a full grown man grabbed my teenage daughters arm to rip something as simple as a flyer away from her, to put it calmly: I would be one incredibly irate individual. What were the events that occurred prior to this moment in that mans life that would lead him to a point of such anger where he could commit such a heinous act? In America we enjoy the spoils of freedom, but in instances such as this, it is clear this man has forgotten what responsibility our First Amendment also adorns every citizen with.
“Freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.” ― Viktor E. Frankl
…we’re working on it
It’s no secret that we Americans hold strong opinions on many topics and usually aren’t afraid to share our feelings (ask anyone from Europe to describe our country in a few words and the list will likely include some of the following: loud, fast-food, Hollywood, patriotism, extroverts, Elvis, NBA, etc). With so many…we’ll say – mavericks, living in the US, it isn’t hard to see how disagreements can turn ugly, quickly. As America becomes more diverse year by year, we need to take on the responsibility of how to handle civil disagreements.
As a person, who you are today, is the aggregation of hundreds of thousands past experiences. Living in a country with immensely large numbers of individuals from greatly differentiating backgrounds leads to a myriad of perspectives and ideas on what is the best way to approach problems. To have opposing viewpoints is inevitable – and what’s great about this opposition is that diversity is a contributing factor for our continuous growth and innovation. But to allow our different ideologies to spiral into hate and violence, is preventable. Now in most cases when we have contrasting opinions, it’s no big deal. I lean towards Lucky Charms while you choose Reeses Puffs. Some people indulge with whiskey and some people smoke green. Like I said, it’s usually no big deal. Politics however, is becoming a much different story.
Within the last 30 years, thanks to a 24/7 relentless barrage of ever important *BREAKING NEWS* and hard takes by the likes of CNN, FOX, MSNBC and many others – it takes little to no effort to become over-politicized with pent up hostile energy toward the enemy. It doesn’t take a scientist to see how media coverage can lead to the resentment of fellow US citizens at large. While it’s not clear what the future impact of todays media will be, I personally believe, the writing is on the wall. This is concerning. When did we allow for our political views to become so internalized that the weight carried with claiming you belong to one party or another is akin to telling a person what family you belong to? What will the growing bipartisanship do to our country?
A Great Democracy of Past
While I would consider myself to be a (rational) optimist, it is without a doubt advantageous for us to at least acknowledge that even Rome once fell. The Roman Empire was longest stretch of singular power the world has ever seen: a 482-year-long Republic/Democracy, with over 1500 total years in total imperial power. If you placed America’s (relatively recent) Independence Day onto the timeline below starting at 27 BC, we would yet to have passed 284 AD, when Rome split into two (the irony…it hurts).
Now…I am not bringing this up to be seen as a doomsday narrative so that I can sell you on nuclear fallout shelter (although here are some cool ones). Rather I want to implore myself and others to manufacture solutions on our own as to how Americans can today, take action to leave our country in a better place for tomorrow. I don’t foresee it likely that the American democracy will face a similar demise as Rome (an invasion of barbarians), but is it time that we start looking for potential red flags near on the horizon? Are there signals showing us that we are mindlessly skipping along in the dirt of Roman footsteps?
Now to focus on our own nation, let me propose something that superficially may sound like a paradox: What if America’s heightened tension and apparent volatility we’re currently experiencing is because collectively, we don’t know what to do with ourselves in “peace” times?
“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” ― Blaise Pascal
There is a strong case that can be made for the current unrest and uneasiness we feel in our country lending itself to the lack of a shared enemy. While this idea may sound slightly off the hinges, there is a fair amount research and data that correlates Presidential Approval ratings to War/Crises. This is known as the “Rally Around the Flag Effect.”
What seems more sinister than Russia when digging deeper into the Rally Around the Flag theory, is that the likelihood of mass-scale wars seems to be decreasing every year. Is there a chance that in the past, we may have been unknowingly relying on a mutual enemies across thousands of miles of ocean to unite us as a country? America has seen no existential threat of an enemy formidable enough to potentially alter the livelihood of our entire country in a single moment since the Cold War days – when the fear of Russia hovered above like an ominous thunderstorm ready to crack down.
As Yuval Noah Harari points out in his book “Sapiens”, the majority of wars in history were based around quests for material possessions. Conquer land, reap the benefits of oil, earth, trade routes, or the heavy metals you’ve attained. What’s changed is that we are now living in a society where the bulk of value is not placed in physical objects, but in collective knowledge. The most powerful companies: Apple, Google, Facebook, etc. would be nothing without each individual employee contributing to the greater goal. If China invades Silicon Valley and/or takes over Googles HQ, what will they do with the building full of relatively useless equipment once all they employees/operators have perished or fled? If future wars are fought in the frontiers of tech or biology, and full-fledged physical wars are a thing of the past, is America soon to appear as restless in our own skin as a 4 year-old who refuses to play the “quiet game”. Are we going to be able to maintain our historically unwavering patriotism that has made proud Americans a stereotype that we gladly accept?
Dualism and Antagonists
When there isn’t an immediate enemy to be dealt with, we humans do a pretty good job of finding one! The Globetrotters can’t win a game without the Generals, and what fun is Batman without the Joker? Right now in America, we don’t have strong enough reason to point a finger at any specific enemy country. Meanwhile we find ourselves still pointing at “evil”, unfortunately that frequently means our own citizens. This is the concept of dualism. Similar any Shakespeare story with a protagonist/antagonist woven throughout an intricate plot line, dualism is our answer to anything bad or evil that happens around us. Rather than attributing events to a statistical anomaly or accepting once in a while we find bad eggs, we prefer the blame game and generalization. “Those damn communist liberals at it again.” “The gun wielding hicks will never understand.”
America is fractured into two tribes playing a zero-sum game, “Is he with us or them?” While I mentioned that disagreement is certainly unavoidable and vital to progress and balance, without the ability to recognize areas of shared interests – the American political system has shifted from a Non-Zero Sum game to Zero Sum.
Now if your political views lean left, there is no dearth of cringe worthy comments made by Trump (probably a few just since I’ve written this sentence) or any Fox news anchor – such as when Laura Ingraham distastefully told THE LeBron James (a family man who has: donated more to his communities than any of us ever could ever imagine, shattered every expectation given to him without even so much as a blemish, and been a voice of reason for an entire generation) to “Shut up and dribble” after LeBron simply voiced his dislike for Trump. Now if we stopped here, it’s quite likely that all liberals would be smirking to themselves and chuckling under their breath saying “Well if only they would get with the program everything would be better.” But…as Lee Corso would say, “not so fast my friend.”
If you consider yourself a conservative, you surely are quipping back, citing ill-viewed events such as *Insert First Name* Clinton lying about (pick one) *an affair/deleted emails* – or more recently something as atrocious as Joe Biden telling Breakfast Club co-host Charlamagne that “If you have a problem figuring out whether to vote for me or for Trump, then you ain’t black.”
If you want into mainstream politics (product of the two-party system), the current barriers to entry require a soldier like allegiance to obeying the accepted viewpoints of your party as a whole rather than being able to offer your individualized take on a particular issue. It would be career-suicide in politics to be a self-proclaimed democrat who is also pro-second amendment. News anchors and politicians need to keep their careers and in order to do so they are forced to keep everything neat and tidy along along party lines. As each side digs their heels deeper, we find that this inherently leads to censorship and may soon become a real problem as we saw with the Epstein case. Did you notice how that story somehow fell of the face of cable news? A story where Michael Shermer (publisher of the one and only Skeptic Magazine…as you could guess, the ultimate skeptic) was quoted as saying “It’s looking more & more like this conspiracy theory may be true regarding the death of Jeffrey Epstein.” So why did this story disappear into the woodwork? It disappeared because of a systematic flaw we are beginning to see exposed. Epstein himself wasn’t on only one side of the aisle, he dabbled with both. As more and more information was leaking out, neither party was fond of the idea of digging just a little too deep on the story and risk revealing their own skeletons in the closet. Did it benefit CNN to talk about it? No. Did it benefit Fox? No. Was it adequately covered? No.
*Based on the sheer amount of text in this post I’ve decided to split it up into Pt. I and Pt. II (which will be online by next week) – alas: here is a preview of Pt. II*
Our Path to Talking Parrots
Beginning in the 1920’s with mass broadcast radio, the goal of the platform was straightforward. Relay facts and information while grabbing the largest market share possible by using the entire nation as a target audience. The unbiased and unfiltered stream of news and events in the 20’s wasn’t such simply because there were kinder humans with our well-being in mind. The saving grace in news of past a relative purity compared to now, was their lack of interest in ratings and user-engagement. Rather than tailoring news to the audience, the assumption was that the public could take in the “raw material” and form it into an opinion on their own.
“The old-school anchorperson was a monotone mannequin designed to look and sound like a safe date for your daughter: Good evening, I’m Dan Rather, and my frontal lobes have been removed. Today in Libya…” – Matt Taibbi
The overarching goal of turning a profit from journalism, reporting, and broadcasting is still the same today – one hundred years later. What has changed however; is that today we’re receiving our “material” as heavily processed, refined, and addictive substances that are delivered to us in flashy, colorful and convenient packaging (a recurring theme we have seen replicated and perfected in the food industry).