Tuesday, October 23, 2012

On polarization

With the third and final presidential debate behind us (finally!), I wanted to relate a story.

I voted already. The early voting here began last Wednesday, and Friday I made my way to the local early polling place around lunchtime, the sky a beautiful blue and the sun shining warmly among the freshly fallen leaves.
But voting was kind of strange. Here I was, standing in line with three dozen other people, and somehow all of us were laughing and joking and chatting, both with people we knew and people we didn't. Holding doors for others. Holding someone's place in line, even if we'd never seen that person before.

And yet the thing we'd all come there to do seems to be the most divisive thing in history.

It's all the more poignant that we were early voters - the ones who have already made up our minds, the ones who do not need to wait for the candidates to debate. We are perhaps the most fiery, the most stubborn, the most convinced (if not convincing). But we treated one another like the neighbors we are, warmly and with respect. Perhaps it is telling that we didn't actually discuss the election itself, but instead how many local candidates there were, or whether it was too early for a flu shot, or if we'd seen each other around town lately.

In the end, it was strange feeling that dichotomy. To know, firsthand, that we were there to purposely choose one or the other, to polarize the nation; and yet we were also human beings, not so polarized ourselves. It is an important lesson to remember: we are all human beings, no matter how much we disagree.
We are more the same than we are not.

3 comments:

  1. Hi, Kelly-

    Good for you! We have some pretty contentious local races as well, actually!

    Yes, the process that provides us with candidates that roughly half of us find appealing is not such a bad thing. But then the psychological warfare kicks in, "sharpening differences", exciting group allegiences, generating fear (and disgust), and assassinating the character of the "other".

    It is all a game, and my questions would be: 1) Do we hold the media who play this game to its greatest extremes accountable for the damage they do to our society? 2) Do we change the funding mechanisms and media environment to promote civility over warfare? (Or do we wash our hands of any public role and consign our elections to the highest bidder/shouter/interruptor?) 3) Is our educational system up to the task of acquainting citizens to the nature of this game and its limits? 4) Are there really class warfare or other extremely serious issues taking place under the flag of this political warfare that merits such extremism? Or is much of its impetus competing corrupt interests getting high returns for a relatively small investment in all this political trash talk?

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    Replies
    1. 1) We don't hold the media accountable, but we should. That said, it's not entirely their fault, but they do contribute significantly.
      2) In the UK, for instance, spending on political campaigning is limited to something like $100k. We waste millions of dollars buying our elected leaders. It needs to stop.
      3) No, it isn't. But those in power tend to hate anything that threatens that power.
      4) I think my anecdote seems to show that the issues really aren't so dire that they warrant such horribleness. People have differing opinions on things like taxes or LGBT rights, and that's ok. Of course we want to make sure the system runs the best it can, but so long as it has 300 million cogs, it won't run perfectly.

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