Rejecting Cultural Bipartisanship — Origins
Make no mistake. We are privileged to live in a society that allows us the freedom to choose our various stances and views on any topic, interest, or issue. Yet, we consistently allow that same society to limit all possible viewpoints to only two, no matter how complex the topic may be. We seemingly must choose between:
Republican vs. Democrat
Art vs. Entertainment
Free Market vs. Responsible Regulation
Fundamentalists vs. Progressives
Classical Arts vs. Pop Culture (or commercial arts)
Avante-garde vs. Mainstream
Pro-Life vs. Women’s Health
Feminism vs. Chauvinism
Black Lives Matter vs. Law Enforcement
“Make America Great Again” vs. “Change We Can Believe In”
Society’s inherent peer-pressure forces many people to join a side without supporting every aspect of it, therefore compromising important personal beliefs in order to fit into the mold. The necessity of such compromise is inevitable, but I believe it does not happen purely as a result of “getting things done.” I believe we have a systemic failure of society to give credence to more than two viewpoints on an argument. Here is why:
Levels of Reasoning
Even well-intentioned people, such as the anonymous founder of the quote (pictured above), have a limited view of cognition. There are far more than two sides to any issue, but most people are unable to process more than two.
Teenagers typically graduate high school while transitioning out of a dualist cognitive state. In other words, they strongly and emotionally believe everything to be either right or wrong, with little room for middle ground. If they enter college (or middle-aged adulthood), they likely reach the dialectical stage, which allows them to contemplate and empathize with both sides of an issue, though they will likely prefer one over the other.
Very few people make it past the dialectical stage of cognition. However, there are other stages that lead to even higher level thinking. The most prominent theory to date calls the next level (beyond dialectical) “postformal reasoning.” Postformal reasoning, in a nutshell, allows people to understand multiple perspectives to an issue. Postformal reasoners maintain opinions and preferences, but they also contemplate multiple (more than two) perspectives for each issue.
The vast majority of people in the world do not reach postformal thought, and therefore understand only two sides to any issue. Many do not even attain dialectical thinking until later in life; they still believe vehemently that everything has a right or wrong answer with no other alternatives. Every individual receives an equal vote regardless of education, monetary, or social standing. Unfortunately, it is frequently with a “with us or against us” mentality.
Cost-Benefits of Polarization
Dualist and dialectic thinking are not the only reasons for two-sided approaches to problems. Finance also plays a prominent role.
The economics of bipolarity are simple. In order for voters, consumers, or audience members to learn about the existence of someone who represents their interests, that someone must have the money to spread awareness of him/herself and the respective cause. To get more money (and consequently more awareness among the target audience), people team up to gain more donorship. Too many teams creates too many divisions of the money. Fewer teams can have more money per team. The minimum amount of competing teams? 2.
Let us use political parties as an example (to be examined more thoroughly in a later post). According to Wikipedia, voter turnout for the past few presidential elections has been between 49% and 55%. Both political parties want to gain more votes from the missing 45–51% of eligible voters to increase their power in the congress and presidency. Their seemingly innocent method is to increase the populace’s passions about political issues. People spend money on what they are passionate about. How does one incite more passion? By radicalizing your own views, and therefore making an enemy out of dissension, you give people financial cause to rise against their “opponents.”
A 2014 study by the Pew Research Center found that America is now more ideologically polarized than at any point in history, including the Civil War. Meditate on that for a moment: We are more politically divided now than we were when slavery was still a constitutional issue.
The simple fact is, it is financially profitable to fuel division.
By encouraging division throughout the country, political parties receive more funding to “beat the other candidates.” The result is baffling to me. Countless people are voting for Donald Trump simply to keep Hillary Clinton out of office, and vice versa. In this circumstance, why are third parties not gaining significantly more traction? Dualist and dialectical mindsets, combined with the financial power of political parties, cripple any alternatives. More on that in my later post specifically on our two-party political system.
These financial implications go far beyond political parties. For instance, in television, revenue and ratings are directly linked, and ratings are fueled by drama. How else could reality TV and Game of Thrones have the highest ratings in television? People love to hate. Ergo, even the news creates as much drama as possible through partisan arguments and sensationalism (HBO’s Newsroom depicts this masterfully).
The purpose of this blog series is to encourage diverse perspectives and end the limitations of our bipartisan approach to major issues. By exploring bipartisanship in several cultural arenas, such as those listed at the beginning of this post, I hope to unveil and unravel society’s systematic failure to address diverse perspectives.
Thank you for reading, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts as this series unfolds.