The political landscape has become so toxic that even when we try to engage in conversations with like-minded people, rage can enter the dialogue and shut out any hope of consensus, cooperation or growth. Have we become so polarized in our thinking that we have lost the ability to recognize truth? Is self-examination no longer necessary? How about challenging our own beliefs and the effectiveness of our efforts to change the world for the better, or are these topics now off limits?
I am often amazed by how my words can be so wildly misinterpreted. I’m not offended by it, I put my ideas out there and I expect to get a wide range of responses including those who disagree wholeheartedly with what I have to say. That’s just the way it is and I stand by my what I write, good or bad. But I find it disconcerting that the filter through which we view the world is making it increasingly difficult for us to come together in any real or meaningful way, and our filters are becoming fixed and impenetrable.
A reader sent me a link to an interesting study that reveals both Democrats and Republicans are equally proficient in ignoring facts that don’t jive with their political views (I’m not vouching for the veracity of the study, in fact I would posit that liberals would fare better than middle of the road Democrats on this one, but maybe that just proves the point). The researchers used brain scans to track what part of the brain was activated when presented with partisan talking points, and apparently reason never entered into the equation. This doesn’t really surprise me but it does concern me greatly. I like to think that I am able to reasonably assess information that is presented to me, but maybe that’s just wishful thinking on my part. I know that each time I hear words coming out of George Bush’s mouth, my bullshit meter runs off the charts red. I can tell Bush is lying because his lips are moving, but does that mean I am resistant to information that may be reasonable simply because it comes from him? I certainly hope not, but that would have to actually happen before I could test the theory.
Wednesday I got a dose of what it feels like to have your words viewed through an impenetrable filter. The Smirking Chimp picked up my post about why my generation is having such a hard time coming up with an effective way to fix what we see is wrong in this country. It was meant to be a light piece about how we were raised by a generation that believed the world could be changed and used protest as an effective means to do it, yet we haven’t been able to take their example and run with it. Instead we find ourselves disgusted with a war of choice, appalled by our eroding freedoms and wanting so desperately for things to be different but somehow feeling bewildered as to how we should go about it. Somehow my intent got lost in translation. What was meant to be a tribute to what the young people of the 60s accomplished and a plea for their help in giving us, their offspring, some guidance, was received as an attack and was responded to as such. I was even accused by one reader of being a shill for Karl Rove! Go figure.
Perhaps our polarization is merely a function of being bombarded with so much information, most of it useless. We are marketed to by corporations, pandered to by politicians, appealed to by causes and lied to by news media. We must have a filter just to make it through the day. But we should still be willing to open up to new ideas and be able to give weight and attention to issues that are important to us. And we should be able to look at those issues from many sides, not just the one that mirrors our already firmly entrenched views. Challenging each other as well as ourselves will make us more effective in combating the injustices we see all around us. But challenging is not attacking, as one is intended to widen the debate and hone the idea, the other to shut down debate and kill the idea. The former should be used amongst ourselves and the latter reserved for the true enemy, the neo-conservative, religiously fanatical, corporatist elite who are screwing us blind and running our country into the ground.