Inform, Not Conform; Resisting The Temptation Of Polarity

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In 2016, following one of the most divisive presidential elections in American history, voters elected one of the most divisive presidents in American history. This shocking (to many) outcome, accompanied by the relentless campaigns of both candidates, produced a surge in an issue increasingly permeating the American psyche — political polarization.

Wikipedia defines political polarization as the “divergence of political attitudes to ideological extremes.” In other words, it is the tendency of the public to militantly support the furthest fringes of their beliefs; the byproduct, intentional or not, is the ebbing away of centrist and otherwise moderate ideologies. 

In fact, it has become a major point of the far left and the far right to denounce and attack centrism, motivated by the premise that it simply isn’t enough in our society to stay in the middle of the road. It’s almost as if there exists a fear of centrism, as if it’s threatening. 

However, a fear of centrism is a fear of openness, a fear of reason, and a fear of moderation — moderation that could bring solace in a world of radicalism. 

The fear of centrism — the unwavering clinging to either end of the political spectrum — is particularly prevalent in American youth. Young adults, who should be freshly independent, freshly inquisitive, seem to feel the need to select a set of ideas, minimally educate themselves on these ideas, and then defend them until their dying breath. 

So, why is extreme polarization so prevailing in students and young adults? Is this a permutation of confirmation bias? Are we unable to stay open to ideas? Are ideologies just another form of safe spaces, just part of the human tendency to cling to what is safe and known?

American politics is boiling down to the rabid defense of social concepts that one believes represents them self, fueled by a desire for validation or “my beliefs are right and yours are wrong.” And then, centrism is eradicated, because it’s simply too much to consider more than one side of something. How then does our society avoid becoming two separate cocoons, completely blocked from anything outside of what is known? Information.

It is the responsibility of Americans, particularly the students and young adults entrenched in polarization, to be roundly informed on the issues that form the core of our political standings. It is the neglect of this responsibility — neglect due to the pursuit of self-validation and self-righteousness — that has formed the ever-growing barriers of polarity. 

The solution to this increasingly unrestrained social insulation is remarkably simple — become as informed as possible on both sides of the issues you fervidly defend. Maybe a frank discussion of race relations isn’t an argument against racism. Maybe what you thought was true about any issue is only half of the story. And so comes centrism — the idea (and truth) that there is more than one side to everything, and only careful, deliberate study of anything one wishes to support will yield legitimately informed opinions. So think about that the next time you want to scream at a speaker who one time said something provoking toward your personal status quo.