I’m worried about the polarization

of human political discussion.

In my lifetime, I’ve never before felt like the everyone is either a Conservative or a Liberal. I didn’t even think about their political thoughts.  I just met them as people.  Their political leanings didn’t enter into my judgement of their character.  But over the last 10 years, I have evolved an unconscious bias of judging people based on conservative or liberal.   ITS VERY DISTURBING.

The reason that I do this new character assessment is that for the last 10 years I have been breathing the ether of the internet on a daily basis.   When I’m on Twitter or Tumblr or Reddit – politics is everywhere.  Memes abound.  And what is interesting is that these people who post all seem to agree with ME.

Because the internet serves us our portions with algorithms that assess what we like and then give us more of that, our politics become a defining character of our internet experience.  Google, Twitter, Tumblr  all know that I’m liberal.  They feed me what I want to see.

Some of it I do to myself.  I chose my followers in Twitter – my first social media experience based on some things I was avidly interested in at the time.  Those things tend toward the liberal side of the coin – science and skepticism.  Then I started to play Favstar on Twitter.  I naturally followed the other people whose funny tweets I liked.  I, of course, thought tweets that reinforced my own liberal bias were funnier.   So I was choosing my own echo chamber.   I started on tumblr by following all my twitter followers and so it went.

I’m keenly aware that I’m living in an internet bubble because I work in a conservative fish tank.  There are 3 liberals and 47 conservatives where I work.   And this reminds me daily that being a conservative is NOT a character flaw.  Which is the message that is served to me daily in twitter and tumblr.

I’ve tried not to create my own echo chamber at WordPress.  We will see if it works.

Here’s the thing.  These echo chambers isolate our viewpoint.  They reinforce it and coax it out toward the edges of extremism.  Because there is nothing to temper it.  To remind us that perfectly reasonable people have different views.

The isolation of a viewpoint is how they create a terrorist.  They physically isolate them from seeing any other viewpoint and then keep hammering in the same ideas.  And those ideas become the ONLY way.  The only right thing.  It makes an unnatural extremism seem normal and right.

On the internet, we don’t have to physically isolate ourselves to only see one view point.  We only have to go to our favorite hangouts.  And the algorithms and our natural tendency to choose people who agree with us will do the rest.   Of course we all experience real life, so we aren’t in danger of being terrorists, but we ARE in danger of creating an unnatural dichotomy.  Of a confirmation bias that is setting us up for failure.

I’ve read from credible sources that this extreme polarization has happened before in the US, and I suppose it’s happened elsewhere.  But I can’t help seeing that uniqueness of our current lives on the internet is contributing.

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13 thoughts on “I’m worried about the polarization

  1. This is an excellent observation and important point. I was suffering from the delusion that everyone could see how amazing Obama has been. What could anyone criticize? I don’t want to listen to vitriol and haters but I do need to be a lot more open.

    For what it’s worth, according to my 25 year old nephew his peers are generally fiscally conservative and liberal on social issues and therefore disenchanted with both parties for different reasons.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. See, I think that describes a huge portion of the population. Myself included. I’m very worried about the deficit, but I’m also liberal socially.

      I think the Republican party hurts themselves by positioning themselves too conservatively on social issues. I think people tend to identify more with social issues and so that’s how we align our politics.

      That’s why liberals are pointing and laughing at them for having the Trump problem. They think Trump is the natural outcome of the Republican social position. But I think Trump is the natural outcome of the echo chamber reality of the internet. And I think Sanders is also that. Its worrisome.

      Like

      1. If the Republicans would get out of my uterus and leave gay marriage alone I might find some redeeming qualities. But those things are too important to me. And the ongoing obstruction I’m Congress is shameful. Dems are far from blameless but Reps are bigger problem. BTW I live in DC so particularly insulated with inside the beltway mentality.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post. I am weary of it all and have been dodging political discussions with friends. My friends are a mixed group leaning toward conservatives (and that may be an age thing). I get frustrated by the extremism. No president (or law or initiative for that fact) is all good or all bad. Even with the current “ta-do” on the supreme court justice. I don’t understand why there isn’t a review. The candidate could be turned down. I don’t understand the extremism on both sides. Wake me when it’s over.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree with the above I am trying to avoid any and all political discussions outside of my house. I am also trying to teach my children this and it is difficult as they are 12 and 15. I am trying to show them that most candidates have something we can find that we agree on. It comes down to what are the most important issues to us personally and the candidates positions on them. We will never fully agree with each and every candidate or party but we should be respectful of others choices as to what is important to them. My 12 year old has the hardest time with that part -as do some of the people I run across on FB.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was listening to a podcast that mentioned that election season causes the ad rates to triple. Which means that TV, Radio, Internet sites have every reason to emphasize the controversy and the differences because that gets us to look. But they end up creating this artificial divide that eventually becomes real.

      I was thinking I should go through all candidates on both sides and find their essential commonalities. Just to remind me.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Good post. In my view, the polarization started before the last ten years, with strident radio shock jocks who became purveyors of a biased view of the news to some and the advent of Fox News which said all other news is biased, when it is the most biased news in the US. MSNBC has provided a bookend of Fox, so people who watch these two sources are getting at best a filtered look at the news.

    But, I agree the last ten years has heightened the problem with the Internet focusing people to like-minded folks. Part of that relates to the anti-Obama crowd, who think the man is the spawn of Satan. So, if anti-Obama stuff is all you read about, your opinion of our fairly successful, but imperfect president would be different than how history will likely judge him. The sad truth is people don’t look to news sources and glean their news from sites that are right-leaning or left-leaning. You have to work hard to get real news and must consider the source – I watch PBS Newshours, BBC World News America and listen to NPR, as well as reading online and print, so I feel I am getting a better lens.

    Many don’t realize our country is doing pretty well on the whole, but does have some issues we need to deal with. The economy is doing pretty well, but a poverty problem has evolved over the last 35 years. The fear mongers have created this horrible place we live, but it is not as bad as portrayed. Yet, when I speak with data, people do not believe me. My brother still has a hard time believing unemployment is 4.9%, e.g.

    I know people do this, but I would not place equal weight on Trump and Sanders. Whether you agree with Sanders solutions, he is the most consistent candidate in speaking about issues with data that is believable. Trump is making stuff up as he goes along, with Politifacts and FactCheck noting he has lied 76% and 79% of the time in campaign statements, lapping the field and showing little remorse when his lies are pointed out. Yet, everything one needs to know about Trump’s lack of veracity is in his history and it is not hard to find.

    Sorry for the diatribe. Keith

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I think politics has always been a dirty business. I know you are a reader, so maybe you have read “Middlemarch” – it’s just one of many examples that show how power struggles – and that is what politics is – can get so . . . low.
    What is happening now is framed as the people being polarized, but I don’t buy that completely. We are witnessing one of our two parties in a long and slow process of self-immolation as they all scramble around trying to define what it is they believe in. The other party is preoccupied with the passing of the torch. The basic beliefs are intact between the generations, but the perception of the realities on the ground – the state of the world – are very different.
    As an optimist, my hope is that the Republicans will ultimately reject Trump’s reality show fascism and the Democrats will find a way to combine Clinton’s pragmatism with Sanders’s willingness to revolt against the hegemony of money.

    Liked by 2 people

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