Of polarised opinions and great conversations

I’ve been thinking about divisiveness. We hear a lot about the world being divided, and conversations between sides being fewer. We fear the other side isn’t willing to concede, even on things that feel like common ground.

And it seems like the purpose of discussion is to share ideas. To bring people closer together and find common ground. If only we talked more, we’d see things from another’s perspective.

But I’m beginning to realise, I might have the whole thing backwards. Breeding divisiveness may be the whole point of discourse to begin with. We may be driving each other away to make conversations better.

The phrase that’s putting this in perspective for me is “militant” ideologies — militant feminist, militant atheist, militant conservationist. Any opinion that we hold, pushed to its evangelistic peak, is often described as militant.

The thing about militaries though, is they tend to fight other militaries. Wars are fought between militarised units, with civilians caught in the middle. If you are a military, you go out to fight opposing militaries, and not people at large. And this makes sense. You’re trying to get rid of the most dangerous forces you feel threaten your way of life.

You also don’t get hailed a hero for fighting unarmed civilians. Most people you encounter aren’t going to engage with you. So you go hunting for the big guns.

You do the same thing with conversation. When you have a strong viewpoint, the people to convert aren’t those in the middle, but those as far firm as you, with an opposing view. So you… go hunting for the big guns.

Don’t start none… won’t be none.

If you’re militant about a subject, what conversation engages you more? One with most people who kind of agree with you because they have no arguments against you. Or that one person with exactly the opposite viewpoint who challenges you to think critically and hone your argument?

And what happens to your opinions after this conversation? Do you tend toward each other’s viewpoint to a comfortable middle ground never needing to argue again? Or do you each take away optimisations that make your argument stronger, your opinion more polarised…. Did you just practice being better at expressing your viewpoint?

Does sparring make you a better fighter, or a better hugger?

Note: I am saying sparring specifically because most martial arts do tend to infuse the ideology of peace into their teachings. To know you are truly stronger than someone can give you the peace to step back and choose non-violence. So the handwritten quote can be re-read the other way.