“Well, that’s the problem with liberals: they attempt to make a point without knowing the FACTS. They are uneducated and brainwashed and just vote the way the liberal media tells them to.”
This has been the basis of most exchanges this election year in what is quickly dissolving into the Divided States of America. You can make some substitutions here, changing “liberals” to “conservatives,” and “liberal media” with “Fox (or Faux) News.” When faced with an unbudgeable member of the opposition (they used to be neighbors, now they are opposition), words and accusations get thrown around, along with the inevitable “We both want the same things for our children,” before we start fuming hatred and statistics and spit words like guns, abortion, George W, debt, jobs, Reagan, Clinton, and finally separate, shaking our heads at the stupidity of the other party person.
I know that this isn’t just me. What used to be warned against as impolite topics for dinner are being hurled at each other as fast as our fingers can type, thanks to social media giving every ordinary Joe (even Plumbers Joe) a platform from which to spew. YouTube clips set to Coldplay are edited and cut together to provide damning evidence against both parties and are shared with lightening speed. They are lapped up by those of like mind, and dismissed by those who think, ahem, different. And in the face of what seems to be inarguable arguments, dissent still happens. Of course it does. And then comes the statement: these other people, they don’t believe facts.
Whether or not you support Obama or Romney, live in a red, blue, or battleground state, or consider yourself in the center, your voting habits and thought process surrounding whom you cast your ballot for probably has little to do with your intelligence level or a willful dismissal of factual evidence in lieu of ignorance, despite what others might try to make you believe. The truth is, how we vote is a deep part of our identity. It’s how we consider ourselves to ourselves, often as indelible as the sports teams we support and the brands that we show loyalty towards.
Now, a lot of what’s out there on the blogosphere and the twitterverse and on status updates are the echoes of the senseless blather of the talking points of the powers that be, who are often media and not the candidates themselves. Yet, the suspension of one’s own critical thinking when it comes to these talking points is what I’d like to discuss here. Why does it happen? I recently posted on my personal Facebook page the video of Jill Biden’s hilarious accidental reference to Joe’s penis size. In light of Rush Limbaugh’s recent comment about how “feminazis” were responsible for the shrinkage of the collective penises (peni?) of the world, it was enormously prescient. Despite your political views, it was a funny couple of minutes devoid of political arguments. Yet, those friends of mine on the right failed to see the humor. In fact, they seemed to believe that the video showed idiocy not only of the second couple, but of all liberals in general. My question is this: how can two sides interpret the same thing in such disparate ways? The truth to that, and to the filtering of information from all sides, has to do with how we view ourselves and how we process information to coincide with what makes us feel comfortable. If we are predisposed to be angry at Joe Biden, then that video will reflect that. The same with CNN, Rachel Maddow, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. Does this make us stupid?
Well, undoubtedly, some us are actually stupid. But most of us have enough intelligence to get us through the day. No, what shapes our political preferences and how we interpret what we hear on the campaign trail is how we identify ourselves. Our identity encompasses so much of who we are sexually, racially, socio-economically, geographically, religiously. Most of us have our politics so engrained in us for generations: we are who we are because our fathers were who they were and so on. They come coupled with history and tradition in a very personal way. I have no doubt that my liberal views stemmed from a rebellion against my father, who was a conservative republican with whom I loved to argue. And so when we hear things that directly challenge our deep-seated personal beliefs, that suggest that our way of thinking is wrong, stupid, or ignorant, we change the channel to something that relieves that discomfort. It is a literal relief to hear like-minded people say the things we do and have always believed. It’s hard to change, grow, and learn new things, especially when they go against the grain of who we are.
This is why it is so dangerous to dismiss the people with whom we disagree with a swipe of the hand and the accusation that they are stupid, ignorant, and don’t know facts when they hit them in the face. That’s the core of the divisiveness that we find ourselves in as a country. What we need is to find the common ground that unites us and allows us to celebrate the individuality that this country was founded on. We can start by understanding that the views so entrenched in the opposition are not simply a dismissal of facts, but an affirmation of who they are, just like yours are. Now, let’s find something we can agree on.
Democrats: Whole Foods
Common Ground: Chipotle. Who doesn’t like a burrito bowl?
Republicans: Bain take-over Dunkin’ Donuts
Democrats: gay rights advocate Starbucks
Common Ground: Pumpkin spice k-cups
Republicans: Nancy Reagan
Democrats: Michelle Obama
Common Ground: The near universal first lady worship of Jackie O
Republicans: Pro-Iraq war Christopher Hitchens
Democrats: Marxist Hitchens
Common Ground: How can you hate Mother Teresa?
Republicans: Clint Eastwood
Democrats: Scarlett Johansen
Common Ground: Christopher Walken is still the coolest guy ever.
It's a start. What do you think?