Sometime in 2011, I became really interested in politics and particularly American politics. This was mostly down to people like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert (closest British versions I suppose would be Ian Hislop and Paul Merton). Over this time I’ve exposed myself to different ideas and nuances about positions and people who run for office whereas before this awakening, I really didn’t care that much. It has been a really eye-opening and somewhat horrifying experience (it would be unfair to think of it as purely a journey of discovery). I am also aware that I do live in my own small bubble of news that gets reinforced to me on a daily basis thanks to social media and the news organisations I follow. I am trying to change.
But in this short essay I would like to tackle political discourse in the Western world, or more accurately, how many debatable issues are being coupled together.
In everyday life where ordinary people live, you can ask them their opinion on a certain issue and they will fall on a spectrum of how much they take one side or the other. However, there is a trend that has been happening for a number of years now where these highly charged and deeply complex issues will get grouped together. A recent one that springs to mind in America recently was how, particularly southern states pushed to teach creationism in schools as a counter argument to evolution and the Big Bang as to our existence. The argument from these religious people essentially came down to ‘we believe this at home and we just want you to teach the controversy’. The other side of this argument said ‘you can teach that in the religious classes but not the science classes’.
This is a debate that is still actually going on, but what has happened is that the people on the ‘teach the controversy’ side have tried to demonize the other side by saying ‘well those elitists on the other side believe in humans coming from monkeys and the world is getting hotter and just want to mooch off the state’. The people on the other side generally say ‘well if you believe in that you probably also think guns should be allowed in schools, that immigration should cease and capital punishment should be enforced’. The absurdity of it!
Another example, let’s take the issue of abortion. One side is pro-choice, the other is pro-life. One says women’s right to choose, the other says you can’t murder a child as a life choice. If you happen to fall on the pro-life part of the spectrum then it’s likely that those on the other side will say you also don’t believe that women should have equal pay, that campuses shouldn’t enforce sexual assault laws because it might ‘ruin a young man’s life’ and ‘the national minimum wage doesn’t need an increase, you just need to work harder’. If you are on the pro-choice side then the other side are likely to say ‘well you murder babies so why should I listen to anything you have to say?’
Even a little closer to home, if you voted for Brexit then you’re definitely a racist who no longer wants a Polish family living next door, if you voted remain then you want Britain to be ruled by a totalitarian regime in Brussels.
The result of this has left a lot of the population of the Western world opening political debates at the pub on a Friday night with “Are you Labour or Conservative?” “Democrat or Republican?” “Left or Right?” “Ice-Cream or Cookies?” It’s incredibly polarising to believe that anyone who votes differently from you must have had their moral code effaced by some outside and misplaced force in their lives. The truth is not only do they think the same about you but you are both also correct. That outside force is the inability to talk about an issue without thinking of your opponent as the enemy. In all likelihood, you and the person you find yourself struggling to not punch because of their views probably fall closer on these spectrum’s of political belief than you might realise. All it takes is a little nuance and a willingness to find common ground. If this trend continues the way it has, then an inability to come together to tackle one issue will become an inability to come together on any issue.
(I should point out several other things here. I haven’t taken a position on any of the above mentioned issues and if you feel I have sided with one over the other that was not my intention. Another thing I should point out is that this is not me advocating nationalism/Alt-right/Nazism as a ‘different point of view’. More of a reach to the moderates who have become falsely labelled as such)
Photo credit Calvin & Hobbs