This Week We Learned . . . Not Much

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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 weekwe learned that “they”  support hate…accept pedophilia…are attacking a life saving program…are responsible for the college admissions scandal…suck up to Big Pharma…are trying to miscarry justice…are a warped version of Christianity…are messing with voting rights…and so much more. What a relief to finally get clarity, enlightenment and wisdom in this time of complex and very real problems and worries.

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 just a few of the inspiring blue and red polarizing headlines from the past week.

More to explore

Two Kinds of Half-Depolarization

Depolarization, as we at Better Angels see it, is not so much about reducing partisanship or increasing moderation, as it is about re-building social ties and relationships across partisan divides, and reducing individuals’ sense of disgust for people of opposing political opinions.

Bob Shrum

Diagnosing the Divide with Bob Shrum

Democratic strategist Bob Shrum stops by The Better Angels Podcast to talk polarization, campus politics and the challenges facing the Democratic field.

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