Skip to main content

More and more as we have become a society with an ever-increasing gap between rich and poor we are also becoming a society more polarized than ever before. And everything in our technical infrastructure, popular culture and lousy educational system is encouraging this trend.

A friend asked me recently at dinner – “Why are we so polarized in our political views?” Sure I know we are so polarized politically that our congress is barely functioning. But the question I was asked was why? I have been giving this considerable thought and realize in light of the Gabrielle Gifford's murder how this question is at the core of the tragedy. Is this a complete nonsequitur – hang in there with me.

Some time ago David Brooks wrote a article addressing this very question and ascribing the answer to a more educated electorate then at any time in the past. Although he cites one academic he did not mention any surveys or research to support his position and I felt that his reasoning was, at best, specious. (Big deal as he is the one with the column in the New York Times not me.)

While I would love to find a simple answer to this question, a silver bullet if you will or some pithy verbiage that will explain away the conundrum, I believe, as with many other issues concerning societal trends and happenings, the answer is complex and convoluted rather than straight forward. There are a wide variety of reasons that contribute to this problem. And, the more I think about it, the more I see almost all of them stemming from a change in our social mores. Customs of behavior that are accepted as not only right but obligatory.

First I must state that I consider this polarization one of the biggest problems we face as a society today. It limits, even prohibits in some cases, common discourse and compromise and leads to an Us versus Them mentality. This polarization  prevents civil discourse and compromise – the necessary elements of an enlightened and properly functioning society.

It would be beyond the scope of this article for me to trace all the origins of these changes in societal behavior, for they too are many and quite complex. I will leave that to some academic with the time and interest.

First, I see quite clearly the role that our all-pervasive media and entertainment industry has played in bringing these changes about. We have become desensitized to the very act of killing by the insidious inculcation of violence into the very fabric of our pop culture.

Just a few small examples; How can a gang banger value life when he sees mass killings in a film intended for entertainment, and then sees a guy who was shot, moan and groan for a few minutes, and then get up, jump from a building and punch the bad guy out. Or the video games that are all about killing, be it monsters or bad guys. And all you have to do to make it all go away is to hit reset.

Are they simply satisfying a blood lust inherent in all of us or are they merely exacerbating this propensity with what sells? Sure our mass media, entertainment industries and public figures pander to the emotions of the crowd. Over the top garners attention, headlines and profits.

And just as we have become desensitized to violence we have become intolerant of those that challenge our world views. Rather than treat such views as genuine and heartfelt we belittle and denigrate the speaker in adhominum attacks. I joined you in laughing at the antics of the rabid tea partier's and fools like Sharon Angel, Christine O’Donnell and the Nazi re-enactor who ran for the House in Ohio. However, many others of those I do not agree with have come to their views and positions intelligently and with a strong moral or ethical basis.

It would be bad enough if it were only the media and entertainment industries that are guilty of perpetrating these egregious images and characterizations. But we actually have politicians on the far right who skirt the lines of unconscionable speech. Sara Palin had a map posted on her web site (I understand she had it taken down) which lists election districts with Democratic legislators who she believes should be turned out of office, identified with the cross-hairs of a gun sight. Or Sharon Angel, the far right wingnut, who ran for a Senate seat in Nevada recently, who said we should consider “Second amendment remedies” for dealing with domestic enemies - referring to the political left.

I see three basic sea changes that have changed our social mores that pertain to this question:

• A loss of common civility.
Starting with a No Ma'am or Yes Sir from children to their elders. I have seen children talking back to their parents public in such a rude and crude manner that I was embarrassed for them. Had I done so, when I was their age, I would not be here today to write about it and my father would have spend many years in prison. If civility is lost to children, it is most certainly lost when the children reach adulthood.

• An inability to admit to being wrong.
I have seen this tendency lead to lying and/or changing reality, or to the simple ignoring or refusal to accept facts. And here I differentiate between lying and changing reality. Those who change reality have repeated the lie to themselves so often that they now believe it to be true. At our recent county fair I was working the Democratic Party booth and handed a fact sheet (with all sources listed) on the economy to a passerby. He looked at it a moment and handed it back saying – “You don't really expect me to believe this do you?”

• A plethora of truly polarizing issues beleaguering society.
Contentious issues such as reproductive rights, personal freedoms and the like are viewed as irresolvable. And it is not as if we have not had such issues in our past - one such even led our civil war. But the discussions today become magnified by our technically aided ability to communicate with each other orders of magnitude faster, more frequently and in effect louder than in the past.  

This in turn is compounded by the fact that most Americans have not been taught to think critically about complex things. Numerous non-political issues spring to mind, but to cite just two - the belief of some that childhood vaccines lead to autism or the denial of human involvement in global climate change. This is better understood when one looks at the surveys that indicate that some 70% of Americans get their news from the nightly network broadcasts. Everything explained in three-minute sound bites without analysis, discussion or contrary argument.

Once while driving I tuned in on Rush Limbaugh and heard him accuse a caller of treason for questioning the efficacy of the war in Iraq. Truly, he actually called him a traitor, and not once but five or six times, screaming over the radio. And he resorted to this behavior because the caller disagreed with a political position that he happened to support. I can imagine the less articulate, less educated listener picking up on this and swinging into action at their work place or other venue. We even have a term for this behavior – Going Postal.

The behavior one develops in civilian life is carried over in political life when certain individuals get elected to public office. Newt Gingrich and Mitch McConnell immediately come to mind. I fondly remember Senator Everett Dickson, as a Republican who would vote for a Democratic sponsored bill if he though it made sense and would benefit the country.

More and more as we have become a society with an ever-increasing gap between rich and poor we are also becoming a society more polarized than ever before. And everything in our technical infrastructure, popular culture and lousy educational system is encouraging this trend.

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  One reason we can't all get along (0+ / 0-)

    is because there's no "we."  What little common heritage Americans have is either Calvinist (if your neighbor is poor, he deserves it) or libertarian (no further explanation necessary).

    Dogs from the street can have all the desirable qualities that one could want from pet dogs. Most adopted stray dogs are usually humble and exceptionally faithful to their owners as if they are grateful for this kindness. -- H.M. Bhumibol Adulyadej

    by corvo on Thu Jun 27, 2013 at 03:30:21 PM PDT

    •  What about belief in our Constitution (0+ / 0-)

      and in values like freedom, respect for individual rights, and democracy? What about patriotism? I definitely feel a bond to other Americans, even if they drive me crazy. We're not the same as every other country on the face of the earth -- we're better in some ways, worse in others, but different in many ways.

      Please visit: http://www.jkmediasource.org

      by Noisy Democrat on Thu Jun 27, 2013 at 09:42:16 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Not much of this (0+ / 0-)
        What about belief in our Constitution and in values like freedom, respect for individual rights, and democracy?
        in the American psyche, sorry.

        Dogs from the street can have all the desirable qualities that one could want from pet dogs. Most adopted stray dogs are usually humble and exceptionally faithful to their owners as if they are grateful for this kindness. -- H.M. Bhumibol Adulyadej

        by corvo on Fri Jun 28, 2013 at 06:16:54 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I disagree (0+ / 0-)

          I've spent some time around Republicans lately, for the first time in my life, and the ones I've been talking to are passionate about all those things. We may -- and do -- disagree about aspects of interpretation and implementation, but love of country and concern for our principles -- they've got all that. So the reason for polarization and inability to communicate can't be that a committed Republican doesn't feel bound to this country by our shared history and love of our Constitution. There must be some other reason we find it so hard to communicate.

          Please visit: http://www.jkmediasource.org

          by Noisy Democrat on Fri Jun 28, 2013 at 07:33:38 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I'd distinguish between those (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Noisy Democrat

            who say they love the Constitution, and those who actually do.  Bush v. Gore was quite an eye-opener there.

            Dogs from the street can have all the desirable qualities that one could want from pet dogs. Most adopted stray dogs are usually humble and exceptionally faithful to their owners as if they are grateful for this kindness. -- H.M. Bhumibol Adulyadej

            by corvo on Fri Jun 28, 2013 at 08:31:14 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Thanks for your note (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Noisy Democrat

            Espousing a love for our country and saying that our shared history and love for our constitution binds us together as a nation is naive, to say the least. You must have been hanging out with the three moderated Republicans left.

            This disagreement you cite to be simply "about aspects of interpretation and implementation" is a huge hole in our national psyche. An trenchant example is the second amendment absolutists. It is not as if no other freedom or right conferred by the constitution has ever been limited in some way.

            The GOP has found a way to control the process in congress - and that is by not joining with the other party and governing but by being obstructionist to the extreme. Thus a political goal wins out over governing our country.

            What it comes down to is that of a replacement of reason and logic by hate and fear. That moves the great unwashed. Thus we communicate alright - just not meaningfully, thoughtfully or constructivly .

    •  Thanks for your note (0+ / 0-)

      A bit skewed in outlook and cynical to boot. Surprisingly there is another stratum in America it just waxes and wanes over time but stubbornly remains  - a voice of reason.

      I heartedly recommend Susan Jacobie's book The Age of Unreason. And for a brilliant historical perspective and chilling account just a few short years after the McCarthy era Anti Intellectualism in American Life by Richard Hofstadter.

      Hofstadter's book is his magnum opus but also see his essays collected in The Paranoid Style in American Politics.

      I do not mean this as a class reading list but point out that we have been there before. In point of fact my research highlights the fact that we have encountered these anti intellectual waves throughout our history in forty to sixty year cycles.

      There is a middle it is just quite small at present.

  •  Erm, Gabby Giffords was not murdered. Shot, yes. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Pinto Pony, Catte Nappe, BadKitties

    But she's still alive.

    And mass shootings are actually extremely rare.  The vast majority of American gun deaths are suicides, done with pistols.

    Also, polarization is a tool.  Those who already have power and wealth use polarization as a tool to set various groups against one another to maintain their current power and wealth, and expand upon it.

    I also hardly think a 'loss of civility' is a bad exchange for a society in which parents would behave violently to their own offspring as you suggest your own father might have.  While I'm not thrilled by rudeness, it seems an improvement over societally-approved child abuse for minor anti-authoritarian behaviour.

  •  The polarization is an (0+ / 0-)

    artificial construct brought to you by our friends @ Plutocracy.com.

    Its a house built on a foundation of sand. It always has and always will be built on sand and will always fall because of that. when it comes to bread and butter issues, we're all the same, job, food on the table, a roof over out families heads. Now wheres the so called polarization......

    For example:
    Reproductive rights: who wants to see the number of abortions go up..... no one. But using the issue as a way to fire up the base and inspire them to donate and vote......well thats a real effective way of getting the base fired up.

    And thats the short version of why your dairy is a fail.

    I consider this polarization one of the biggest problems we face as a society today.
    I must disagree, as outlined above, its the Plutocracy.
    This in turn is compounded by the fact that most Americans have not been taught to think critically about complex things.
    Its been that way in America for 230 years, the vast majority of humans are not multi dimensional thinkers. After all we did learn to hunt & farm. But it took Copernicus to posit 2 body orbital mechanics.

    .................expect us......................... FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

    by Roger Fox on Thu Jun 27, 2013 at 03:48:12 PM PDT

    •  I disagree (0+ / 0-)

      As I see it, we Democrats and liberals often refuse to listen to anything that worries the other side, and Republicans and conservatives often refuse to listen to anything that worries us. There is genuine, deep ignorance about what people on the two sides of the political divide are worried about, and that is one factor that leads people on each side to think that people on the other side are simply crazy.

      Please visit: http://www.jkmediasource.org

      by Noisy Democrat on Thu Jun 27, 2013 at 09:44:33 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'm tired of just "get'in along" (0+ / 0-)

    I detest the Tea Party and honestly I've tried to "get along".  I've come to the conclusion to just say F- - - K it.  I'm in Texas and it appears that these Tea Party nuts need more than me just trying to "get along".  It's a sign of weakness to these f---king idiots so maybe what they need is a little hit with a 2x4 upside their heads.  

    Don’t argue with idiots because they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.—Greg King

    by Pinto Pony on Thu Jun 27, 2013 at 04:12:49 PM PDT

    •  Thanks for your note (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Pinto Pony

      I am truly and completely tired of the proposition that both sides are equally at fault.

      Obama for one has tried repeatedly to reason with and accommodate the right only to have them piss on his shoes.

      Do not try and count on the GOPs better nature they do not have one - only by playing to their self-interests will you get anywhere. When getting reelected is more important than governing we are lost as a nation.

  •  It's much easier to get along with someone else if (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ciganka

    both of you see/believe that you've got enough resources to not only survive on a day to day basis, but to cope with at least minor emergencies.

    It's even easier if both of you perceive that there are unallocated resources available above that minimum that can be tapped with extra effort, and even more if that effort needs to be communal.

    It's easy to get along with other people who agree that they're not playing in a zero sum game, and that more for one person doesn't mean less for another.

    Create a zero sum game, or what seems like one, however, and it's a rare person who can maintain what we call a civilized attitude toward people who get tagged as competition.

    When job prospects are broad, salaries steady or rising, and the necessities and some of the luxuries of life are readily available, paranoia tends to decline. If you've noticed, though, we're kind of in the opposite condition. Paranoia is on the upswing, with some legitimacy, and when you have increasing paranoia, there's much more of a tendency to defend rather than explore.

    At least half the future I've been expecting hasn't gotten here yet. Sigh.... (Yes, there's gender bias in my name; no, I wasn't thinking about it when I signed up. My apologies.)

    by serendipityisabitch on Thu Jun 27, 2013 at 04:30:22 PM PDT

    •  Thanks for your note (0+ / 0-)

      Your vision is Utopianistic in the extreme. Your's is loverly view that in not just unrealistic but actually so naive as to be dangerous.

      One goes along thinking nice thoughts and watching the butterflies while getting stabbed in the back.

      It is not horrible to think that a substantial portion of the populous is mendacious to the core - but this is the reality. It has been proven time and again - anarchy is a survival of the fittest game - and that makes it a zero sum world.

      I have a friend who is a very compassionate psychiatrists. He always looks at the better side of some very sick patients.  Yet even he says of some that they simply have "bad brain disease".

      I laude  your optimism - but fear for your well being.

  •  To my knowledge the universal "we" has never (0+ / 0-)

    gotten along.  I'm sure the things you mention played a role and continue to do so, but on the grand scale it's always something else that involves man's inhumanity to man at all levels of society.  Even when economic times are good there are social, religious, and racial bigots and theft of money, justice,  rights, privacy and other things on huge scale....

    The rich and powerful are often the catalyst behind these divisive forces...as they are today, hand in hand with some organized religions and their often perverted views of right and wrong.

    With communications technolgy being what it is, we all get buried in who is doing what to whom.  We get saturated and many say "there's nothing I can do"...and many in fact do nothing until the shit affects them personally.  Thank goodness for the activists..here and elsewhere that keep trying to make these things real before they actually smack us personally.  

    Today there are lots of people being smacked...and they're angry about it.  Not yet angry enough to risk enough to phyically change or confront the forces that are screwing them.  But, the pendulum is swinging and the oppressed will rise when it gets bad enough and it's personal for most rather than just...oh, say 20%.

    The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis. - Dante Alighieri

    by Persiflage on Thu Jun 27, 2013 at 05:06:50 PM PDT

    •  Thanks for your note (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Persiflage

      I am glad that you brought up religion in the discussion of polarization and our inability to get along with each other.

      Religion is by it's very nature intolerant of dissent since faith is the voluntary suspension of critical thinking. It is interesting to note the overwhelming percentage of evangelical Christians on the right.

      And yes greed plays a huge role - just look at Bernie Madoff or any of the banks that led us into the recent financial crisis..

      •  Organized religion..or perhaps I should say the (0+ / 0-)

        leaders of many organized religions...put their beliefs before everything...including treating others humanely.  Some of their followers...ditto.  

        The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis. - Dante Alighieri

        by Persiflage on Sat Jun 29, 2013 at 10:09:47 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I agree about polarization (0+ / 0-)

    One factor is that people assume that certain concerns must come attached to a complete political agenda, and if they don't like that agenda or the people who espouse it, it's difficult to broach the issue at all. Often they have elaborate defenses to convince themselves that anyone who even expresses any concern about the issue must be "one of those people" and therefore must be wrong, must be lying or using false data, etc. That way they don't have to think about the issue that they think will force them to take on a certain agenda.

    Example: Climate change. Many right wing people believe that climate change is essentially a hoax, or at least has been overhyped by the Left, and that even acknowledging that there's a problem would mean signing up for some regimen of strict government control of our personal energy usage. So if you even bring up the topic of climate change, you're likely to be dismissed as a liberal troll. The quality of the data you have doesn't matter, and you can't even get a discussion going about conservative solutions to climate change or how we can work together to solve this without too much government intrusion, because in their minds, climate change = liberal plot to take over our lives. People don't want to "go down that road" because they think they already know exactly where it leads.

    Example: Radical supremacist Islam. Many left wing people believe that the problem of radical Islam is just a tiny, isolated fringe element within the Muslim world, and that anyone who says that we have a much bigger problem in the form of a large, well-funded Islamic effort to fundamentally change Western society must be some kind of racist scumbag who wants to oppress minorities or take away people's rights. So if you even point out some of the facts about Islamist organizations and leaders that have stated outright that they expect Islam to dominate and reshape the Western world, you're likely to be dismissed as a right wing troll. The quality of the evidence you have doesn't matter, and you can't even get a discussion going about how we can stand up to a totalitarian ideology while holding onto our own liberal values, because in their minds, Islamist threat = conservative paranoid claptrap used only to scare people into embracing some kind of fascist ideology. People don't want to "go down that road" because they think they know exactly where it leads.

    This is the problem I see. I think there's probably a long list of issues on which you get this kind of attitude of "I already know what agenda these people will propose in order to solve their so-called problem, and I hate their agenda, therefore I'm declaring that the problem is imaginary and that they're continuing to yap about it just because they're manipulative a*holes."

    I don't see how we can solve any problems if we can't even talk about what the problems are, but that's the situation that we're in.

    Please visit: http://www.jkmediasource.org

    by Noisy Democrat on Thu Jun 27, 2013 at 07:24:06 PM PDT

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site