American Political Dysfunction Part 1: Perceived Infallibility & Ignoring Valid Arguments

Political disagreement has gone from being about listening and exchanging ideas to simply demonizing differing points of view.

Politics. It’s a rather touchy subject, and one that is so polarizing that it is often compared to differing religious viewpoints in terms of divisiveness. Lifelong friendships and family bonds are often strained just because you or someone else sees the world differently than everyone else. How did we get here? This is the first post in a series about how American politics has become so toxic.

Let’s start with the first and what should be the most obvious problem. Politics among the masses seems less about discussion and more about demonizing or disparaging a different point of view. Nowhere is this more clear than on the internet.

Whether left or right leaning individuals hang out in blogs or chat rooms that cater to their viewpoint. Here, they find more people who agree with and reinforce their particular view of the world. In the event that they interact with another person who sees the world differently, (say in the comment section of a news article) then the pejoratives and expletives start flying.

The comments section will be full of terms like “Libtards”, “Conservatards” and worse. Pick a political comments thread, and you’ll likely find a plethora of insults towards the entirety of a political ideology, and a relative few cases where there is real constructive dialogue.

We as humans tend to have our sacred cows. It’s understandable that we want our points of view to be right. One of the worse experiences that a person can have is when they realize that everything that they thought was right, was completely wrong. Sometimes that means that a person will vigorously defend a failed view of the world to the point that they will ignore or shout down any opposing evidence to the contrary.

While that may be great for your self esteem, it is not healthy for developing an accurate view of the world. Nor is it helpful in developing solutions to real world problems. The best ways to advance those two items is:

  1. Go into a discussion knowing the fact that you are NOT always right.
  2. Freely open your ideas to scrutiny.
  3. Actually listen to the opposing viewpoints & critiques.
  4. Weigh the pros and cons of each viewpoint.
  5. Objectively, honestly & fairly decide which idea (or what blend of ideas) is strongest and most productive.
  6. Discard the weaker idea, then adopt the stronger viewpoint.
  7. Restart back at #1.
Jacob K. Javits “ served as a United States Senator from New York from 1957 to 1981. He was a liberal Republican who served in Congress for 30 years.” -Wikipedia

The whole point of political dialogue should be about developing the best solution or stance, while being willing to let go of ideas that cater to your particular bias when it is shown to be in error. It should not be about making fun of the other person, or the group that holds that point of view.

The primary benefit to constructive dialogue is that it strengthens or improves your view of the world, and fosters the development of real solutions. The side benefit is that when you are intellectually honest, and willing to discuss ideas calmly, then you can talk politics without it being toxic to your relationships. It can also make people with opposing viewpoints more receptive to new and different ideas.

I am quite certain that someone who is reading this is saying “It takes two people to have a civilized discussion”. That is true, but for the possibility to even exist, at least one person has to be willing to make the effort to do so. If you are willing to make the effort, then that will sometimes disarm the person who you may want to have a chat with.

On the other hand, we can continue to do what we’ve been doing. We can yell at each other while plugging our ears. Then we can sit in our respective corners and wonder why we can’t understand or reason with one another.