Can’t We All Just Get Along?

“Nationalism, religion and partisanship are used as mediums to synthesise deeply ingrained tribalistic aspects of our monkey-ish brains.”

As the ludicrous antics of the Trump & Clinton Show are played out for the world to see, deep cultural divides underneath an otherwise successful multicultural liberal democracy are becoming more and more exposed. But both camps seem equally dogmatic and rigid in their political and moral values, a characteristic by no means exclusive to America and perhaps among one of our few globally shared experiences. But this shouldn’t surprise us, we are merely witnessing the back and forth of internet comment threads being played out on a world stage. Online, it takes only a line or two of text for a discussion to descend into the toxicity of ad hominem attacks and ethical pigeon-holing. Recognising this, there is no time more urgent and pressing than now for the developing of public dialogue skills so as to equip ourselves for the inevitably confronting and polarising issues of the future.

In the age of instantaneous technology, most of us have slipped into armchair liberalism where the principles of equality and liberty are defended through tweets and the circulation of text-embedded images. ‘Slacktivism’ through social media and symbolic acts of unification and solidarity with marginalised communities are employed in a delusional attempt to overcome systemic ideological issues. We must attack and engage with ideas at their core in order for any tangible progress to materialise. We must educate and cultivate the potential minds of the millions of young people in politically oppressive cultures who are indoctrinated with beliefs which are impervious to criticism. This is the crux of many problems which we face, and one that has become so divisive that the opposing sides are now presented through the black and white dichotomies of left and right, right and wrong, inclusive and exclusive, empathetic and detached, educated and ignorant. These labels are not only unhelpful, but they serve only to further segregate the debate. Here a philosophical concept that has come to be known as steel-manning can be used to oppose the most charitable and sincere version of another’s argument. Engaging in sensible, logical discussions will lead us to progression in our collective moral character.

We are living in an age of unprecedented technological and scientific innovation, though sometimes it doesn’t feel like it. Intellectual and moral progress, the cornerstones of modern civilisation, are being increasingly stifled by dishonest public discourse and the lack of engagement with opposing ideas. No doubt this is related to the West’s newly found social conscience, which now permeates through not only our political culture but also our prestigious academic work, as particularly sensitive ideas are intentionally avoided. This is largely for good reason, we tread cautiously around issues of civil rights and those of minorities, looking back on the wrongs of human civilisation with disgust and disbelief, refusing to slip back.

Furthermore, it seems that some of our ideas are intentionally shielded from and considered immune to the intense levels of rigorous criticism and scrutinising that our scientific ideas routinely undergo. For example, questioning the historic formation or legitimacy of religious doctrines is often times reflexively condemned as an attack on personal beliefs and labelled as bigotry or ignorance. This misguided sense of moral responsibility is slowly laying tighter and tighter shackles on the critical values that the liberal Enlightenment and other such movements have worked so hard over the last few centuries to establish as the status quo. Let us not forget that the Enlightenment philosophy was so significant due to the anti-intellectual and esoteric nature of authoritarian societies that were guided by religious scripture and left little room for debate.

We should challenge ideas that we are confronted with using logic and reason, the two pillars of human understanding. Why does ‘respecting’ someone’s beliefs entail not challenging them? Can we not acknowledge the flaws or consequences of particular ideas without provoking vehement emotional responses from its defenders? Nationalism, religion and partisanship are used as mediums to synthesise deeply ingrained tribalistic aspects of our monkey-ish brains. We must express explicitly that there isa distinction between one’s value and one’s belief, between discrimination and anti-bad-ideas and between the criticism of people’s identities and the ideas which they articulate. I think that it is our collective responsibility to keep each other to a high standard of thought and behaviour through the continual refinement, reflection and adaptation of our views and attitudes in the face of new and often times counter-intuitive evidence. This can only be achieved through an empathetic and investigative approach to arguments from all areas of the political spectrum.