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Overcoming fighting words: Political discourse needs to become more constructive and less combative

Photo illustration by pixabay

Photo illustration by pixabay

Isaiah Dwyer, Staff Writer

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These days it seems pretty easy to look at our political climate, and current state of affairs, in an increasingly dismal way. There’s this ongoing war between the leftists and those on the right end of the spectrum; it seems like the past 18 months in particular have just been drowned in politics and propaganda.

Today more than ever, it’s difficult to go an entire day without hearing some kind of inherently political statement; talk shows are opening with Trump monologues, our mainstream media is obsessed, and college students in particular seem extremely reactive to that kind of thinking. Beyond the media, there’s been a violent surge in protests, demonstrations, and disruptions: Black Lives Matter, free speech protests on campuses across the country, the overwhelming amount of response on social media, are just a few examples of this trend.

Now more than ever, it’s important to look at what’s happening around us, from a balanced point of view, in attempt to filter out the noise.

Quite frankly, the past 18 months have been an incredibly reactive period of time. Now more than ever, we need to be having constructive conversations about our political questions, and our current state of affairs. It’s incredibly natural for human beings to subscribe to political ideologies; we are social creatures, we look for identities and groups that seem familiar to us, by doing so, we can foster our own growth, socially, emotionally, you name it. The important part of forming beliefs, and adopting ideologies, is how we arrive at those conclusions?

Any student studying psychology can tell you that we live our lives according to an infinite amount of external and internal stimulus; an infinite list of interconnected phenomenon. We form our beliefs in a similarly complicated way. Humans have always been susceptible to all kinds of biases, fallacies, and goofy ways of thinking, but we’re also wired to make connections between ideas, sensations, and any kind of stimulus. That’s a bit of a double edged sword; we have the capacity to become dangerously quick and articulate, but on the other hand, it’s incredibly easy for anyone to blindly buy into a way of thinking given our complicated nature. We need to pay attention. We need to take a metaphorical step back, look at ourselves from a detached point of view, and really analyze how we form our beliefs.

One of the greatest places to start, especially considering the U.S. political climate today, is the media. The mainstream media plays an especially important part of just about any society. The United States was founded on principles of free speech and our mainstream media acts as the voice of the people, so to speak. Things happen, the media sends in the troops, and they interpret and report those things in terms of what we can understand and takeaway.

At its core, the mainstream media is essential to our societal well-being, and fulfills a fundamentally noble purpose. However, a media organization is just a collection of fundamentally complicated human beings, therefore, a media organization is just as susceptible to those same biases, fallacies, and goofy ways of thinking.

Media organizations, especially mainstream organizations, are also businesses; businesses motivated by profits, investors, reputation, and success. It’s no secret that mainstream media reporting has been on the decline for the past twenty years. Mainstream media outlets are grasping for viewers, clicks, and attention. The mainstream news is, therefore, a product; it needs to be marketed and it needs to sell.

Unfortunately, and this is going to sound controversial, what sells is hate and contempt. For example, the news needs to catch your attention; it needs to be relevant through some kind of shock value, or proximity. It needs to connect with you on some level, or you just won’t care that much.

We live in the most progressive time our country, and the world has ever seen. There is an extremely vocal outcry for a world built on fairness, equality, and compassion. If you’re a CNN executive, how would you sell to these groups of people? What’s the best way to catch their attention? I think I have an idea; by triggering a viscerally-emotional reaction, showing them exactly what they despise. I’d make them excited and angry, while creating an emotional investment. From a psychological and biological point of view, any sort of negative stimulus is going to have a much stronger bodily reaction than anything positive.

This brings us to Trump. Wow, Donald J. Trump. We’re talking about, probably, the most well-known figure in the world right now. Just saying his name excites people. It makes their blood boil, their fingers shake, their stomachs twist. According to most mainstream media, Trump, is synonymous with hate and contempt for other groups of people.

Can you see the connection? Is it possible that the political narrative from the past 18 months, may be exaggerated, to some degree? Is it possible that these issues might actually be more complicated than they seem? There’s so much talk today about racism, and social justice, it’s impossible to escape, but is it possible that maybe our fears and reservations about these issues, may also be exaggerated?

Our liberal arts education gives us the ability to figure out how the world really is: complicated. We need to educate ourselves, and each other, through conversation and real intellectual discourse. We need to immerse ourselves in history and literature, psychology and philosophy, I mean academia at large, so we don’t fall prey to ideological possession.

If we’re not forming our own ideas, we’re not fostering our growth, we’re not getting better or making progress, we’re just passing through with an unbalanced foundation.

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The news site of Madison Area Technical College
Overcoming fighting words: Political discourse needs to become more constructive and less combative