The people of the United States has always had an us vs. them attitude; it’s very much just human nature. There may be or have been socities that escaped such thinking; but they would be a severe oddity. Yet, one can’t look at our society today and not think how we may have gone a bridge too far with our us vs them attitude. We see this dichotomy in every facet of our lives, but no more so than in our politics.
If you look back in history, our nation’s two party system has emblazoned such feelings; encouraged them even. You need only go back to our very founding of our nation in the lead up to and during the US Revolutionary War. There were the “Patriots” that supported the revolution and American’s rights to a free and independent state. Then there were the “Loyalists” who were loyal to the crown and believed that while Americans should have a greater say in their government that we should remain part of the British Empire. The two sides deplored each other and if you ever read some of the rhetoric of the day there was no love lost between the two. In some cases, the fire of disgust burned so hot it split families. America wouldn’t see such animosity in families again until the US Civil War. Another time where politics would drive a wedge right down the proverbial center of the country.
Fast forward to the 21st century and the hot bed of divisive politics that has entered American cultural. So deep this divisiveness dwells that again families are being torn asunder. If you listen to some of the tales, the animosity has grown so great as to go well beyond awkward Thanksgiving feasts to outright family abandonment by one side or the other. Families have always suffered differences of opinion surfaced through different life experiences and of course generational belief changes. While those most certainly burn at the center of today’s political differences there is a great deal more at play.
In the past while some would play into the hands of those differences, most would at least attempt to find common ground. The right and the left, the “us” and the “them” would look upon one another with a level of respect; if only one that said “I respect your right to be completely wrong on this matter; but you are wrong.” Today our culture embraces a totally different value system of disagreement that is best summed up with a statement along the lines of “You are wrong, so, so wrong that you must either be an idiot, mentally unbalanced or very likely both. I will not listen to your ridiculous rechtoric and will do everything in my power to destroy you and the ideas you subscribe to. We can’t find common ground because you ideas have no foundation in reality or worse are intended to burn away the very fabric of what I hold dear.”
In truth this type of thinking isn’t all that new. We might have thought it, but we knew if we said such things it would not serve our cause or the cause of finding common ground in the form of “compromise.” Two things have changed, the civility of such discourse and the belief that “compromise” is equivalent to surrender and the total abandonment of the cause. The change in discourse has been encouraged and enflamed through social media. Social media has allowed the society as a whole to speak on platforms in such a way that they feel anonymized, even when they arne’t actually anonymous. In posting on social media they can let their “true feelings” out without fear of immediate repercussions. Were they to say them in a physical public forum they would have to face those individuals in person as they spoke the words. On top of that the barrier to entry into such statements or conversations on social media is practically non-existent. People always had the opportunity to speak their mind in a similarly or totally anonymous manner; but they had to write a letter to the editor or call a radio station and wait on hold to speak their mind. With social media they think it, they write it, they post it.
Early in the days of social media individuals separated their social media thoughts, call it their inside voice, from their public thoughts, call it their outside voice. Over time the inside voice has entered into the public discourse becoming in greater frequency the outside voice. People feel they should just say whatever they wish, whenever they wish. Their thoughts are just as important as everyone else’s thoughts. Which is true. The part that gets left out though, diplomacy or better put - politeness.
If you take that change in culture and then add in “us” vs “them” we start to see these unfiltered voices speaking in unison. Individuals feel that they can say whatever they like about “them” but should the “them” say negative things about “us” then that’s an attack that requires a retort of not just a proportionate response but one of overwhelming force. The opposite side feels the same and now we have a wonderful game of escalation with no end.
Now to this soup of discontent we add in the echo chamber created by algorithms that show us what we want to see which equates to information that basically matches what we believe and leaves out dissenting or just different view points. News providers, who are in the business of making money as well as providing news, see this relationship and begin to cater to “their” audience. Once the provider begins to cater to their audience, then they build their news collection, presentation and eventually their staffing to match. Imagine a snowball rolling down a hill, not only does it move faster but it gets bigger and bigger. All of this soup mixing together, becoming more of a stew than soup as people, social media, news agencies and ideas get mixed together to support each other and reinforce each other’s ideas, beliefs and understanding of the world at large.
So in the end, we have the left seeing only what the left wants to see and the right seeing only what the right wants to see; with the two sides not even seeing the events surrounding them in quite the same way. They see the same coin, but each only sees one side of the coin and is happy to only see that side of the coin. So enriched are they in how they are seeing the world, that they just don’t have a desire to even attempt to see the world through any other lens but their own.
Where does that leave us? If we don’t find a way to break away from the cycle of feeding ourselves without our own ideas; it will most likely only end when one side finds the means to obliterate the other side. How that comes to be is anyone’s guess; but throughout history it has usually been at the point of a sword.