[Editor: This post was originally posted last night, but for
some reason wasn’t reliably showing up in the outgoing feeds. Those of
you who have already seen it, I apologize to both of you.]
Pat Sajak, known to many as the host of TV’s The Wheel of Fortune, has a blog. It’s a damn fine one, too. He recently wrote a very good piece on why he no longer argues with Liberals. Read it now; he makes a very valid point.
Okay, now that you’ve read it, I’d like to point out that he doesn’t
take his argument far enough. Pat has his finger square on one of the
major problems we face as a nation today even while continuing to
indulge in the very behavior to a lesser degree. It’s called polarization,
or very simply, “us vs. them.” I don’t know who started it — and I
honestly do not care — but the American political process today is
filthy with the practice of polarization. Everything gets cast in terms
of black and white; you are either for us or against us; if you’re not
part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. The Republicans are
all conservatives; the Democrats are all liberals. All conservatives
want mandated school prayer and evolution thrown out of the classrooms;
all liberals want the legal right to kill off their vegetative gay
How did we get here? Good question. It would be tempting to give you
an easy black & white answer, but then I’d be doing the same thing.
In reality, there are quite a few factors.
It starts with our two-party system. While we have far more
political parties than two, the stark facts are that there are now (and
for the forseeable future) only two realistic choices for political
parties: the Republicans and the Democrats. At times in our history,
there were significant differences between how the two parties acted.
You’d never have caught a Republican president enacting some of the
measures that FDR pushed through in his years in office, for example,
and even as recently as the ’80s, there was a clear difference between
Reagan’s politics and those of his opponents in the Democratic party.
As our politics have gotten progressively more polarized, however, the
differences between the parties have become harder and harder to
Add in the big media conglomerates. Quite frankly, polarization sells.
Bread and circuses have long been a favorite of those who would control
the masses, and polarization accomplishes that nicely. (Look at the
minsicule, nay non-existent differences between the various chariot
racing and gladatorial factions in Rome for a chilling object lesson.)
The more we make our target seem like the Other, the less time you
spend checking what we say. I don’t think there’s any malice involved
here; I think it’s simple human behavior. The less you have to compete,
the more likely it is you’ll stop working to your very best. Big media
companies have killed off their competition and as a result,
journalists have gotten lazy. This, by the way, is why bloggers piss
off the big media; we are lean and hungry. We’re willing to dig, we’re
willing to work, and we don’t have any editors to be accountable to.
Since most of us don’t derive a living wage from the sales of our
writing, we don’t work under the same imperatives. By and large, we
gain our following by finding and amplifying a common voice, not by
creating one from whole cloth. If we cheat or cut corners, we’ll lose
Next cause? Information overload. We’ve got too many sources of
information, far too many bits of data being flung at us. Everyone is
clamoring for our attention. How do we respond? By looking for the
viewpoints that reinforce the way we naturally think. We want
validation and the comfort of knowing that we’re not standing alone in
how we look at the world. We’ve got a wealth of information available
to us, but to make best use of it requires the willingness to be wrong,
to hold final judgement on our opinions until we’ve weighed the matter
from all sides. Our educational system hasn’t been teaching us the kind
of critical thinking we need to do this well for years.
So, we end up with Skins vs. Shirts, Red States vs. Blue States,
Rocky vs. Apollo Creed. (Remember that Rocky and Apollo ended up being
friends? We should be so lucky.) Bloggers aren’t any better about
de-polarizing our communications; we’re just as likely to do it as the
next guy. Hell, it’s that validation thing again. You don’t see it
exactly the way I do? You must be an idiot, and a pox on your house!
Enough, I say. A pox on both your houses.
It’s time for everyone to spend five minutes in the corner, more if
you can’t learn how to disagree nicely with the other children. Don’t
get me wrong; I’m not against strongly worded disagreement. I’m more
than willing to call someone an asshole if I feel their beliefs and
behavior warrant it. What I am against is labelling everyone who is aligned with the asshole for that particular issue
an asshole as well. Our two political parties both need to sit the hell
down and shut the fuck up until they regain some common sense and
simple human decency. We need to relearn how to look for common ground
instead of searching for differences to exploit.