Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Why We're Polarized

Why are our politics so polarized? Why is our public discourse so often so vile? Why can't people disagree without insulting each other? Here's what I think is at least a partial explanation.

Classical liberalism placed great emphasis on reason and the value of persuasion through logical argument in defense of the correctness of a political, religious, philosophical, or scientific position. If one's arguments failed to persuade a majority of one's fellow citizens then one accepted that outcome, albeit grudgingly, and either resolved to develop stronger arguments in the future or maybe even changed one's own position.

Modern liberalism (a different entity altogether from the classical variety) has essentially rejected that approach. Modern liberals, if they cannot win a consensus, seek to impose their views either through the courts, through censorship, or via some other form of repression. Examples abound:

If the liberal position on gay marriage or abortion fails to sway the majority of citizens, for example, then liberals simply override the majority through judicial or executive fiat.

If professors are promoting intelligent design in the classroom then rather than debate them or seek to offer an alternative educational experience for students on the issue, modern liberals simply seek to shut the dissident professor up by taking away his classes or denying him tenure.

If the majority of people are unpersuaded of the validity of arguments for man-caused global warming then modern liberals campaign for having the deniers put in prison.

I suspect the reason for this approach is that most liberal arguments are simply unconvincing to many people. They're often effective emotionally, to be sure, but intellectually they're frequently shallow and unpersuasive.

However that may be, the will of the majority is frequently thwarted in our political and cultural environment as liberals seek to shun or circumvent the process of convincing people with facts. As a result the minority view is forced upon an unwilling majority, not by persuasion, but by force. This cannot but have the effect of breeding resentments and backlash, which is why, in my opinion, we are where we are today with no one really listening to anyone else and with a debased public discourse less suited for persuasion than for serving as a vehicle for voicing hostilities and hatreds.