Journal, September 20, 2021

Let me make something abundantly clear: your political ideology does not make you lesser or greater than anyone else.  "Us versus them" is a rhetorical tactic implemented to divide and distance people from one another.  Labeling the other as an outsider diminishes your perspective of their humanity; makes you forget that they're a person, just like you.

Political ideologies are an abstract morality based on beliefs, values, and your own personal expectation of the social contract.  We come up with ideas about what we think is good, right, and just.  We align ourselves with others who share the same ideas of what we think is good, right and just.  We vote for like-minded candidates, hoping to swing the political spectrum towards our own personal moral construct.  We consume media that promotes messaging to support that morality.  We place ourselves in isolated spheres of influence, where we surround ourselves with things that confirm our belief structures and promote our values.  We distance ourselves from opposing viewpoints.  Therein lies the problem.

We humans are fickle creatures - for all the heuristic capabilities we have to make sense of disparate information, our minds are easily fooled.  We're prone to seek out information that confirms our beliefs and reject information that doesn't.  This is called confirmation bias.  The problem lies in beliefs, and how emotionally invested we get in holding them.  A belief, for the sake of simplicity, is a template we place on our perception so that we can filter out complexity and map out how we think the world ought to function.  Notice that I used the words "template", "filter", and "ought".  A belief needn't be factual. 

I believe the sun rises every day, and for every day I've been alive, that belief has been proven right.  I look to the east at daybreak, and as the morning brings rise to the day, the sun rises higher in the sky.  Something as simple as looking east at sunrise will confirm my belief.  Hell, the word "sunrise" brackets the concept for the very belief I'm discussing.  Yet, for all this confirmation, this belief only holds true for my perception in my tiny little corner of space.  From the perspective of the sun, the sun is stationary and the earth orbits around it.  From the perspective of the center of the milky way, the sun is but a tiny speck of twinkling dust circling around in the void.  My belief only holds true if I limit my perspective and ignore any evidence to the contrary.  In truth, the sun doesn't rise at all.  The sun orbits and we orbit around it.  Yet I still believe it's going to rise tomorrow.  Look to the east at sunrise - that's all the confirmation I need.

Beliefs are learned, not innate.  We are given beliefs by our families, friends, and cultures.  We create beliefs as we live and experience.  We use beliefs to shortcut all the complexity for how the world works by placing upon our perception that template for how it ought.  Beliefs are often deeply entwined with emotions.  We're passionate about our beliefs.  That level of emotional investment is hard to reject when presented with evidence that our beliefs might be wrong.  It's easier to keep believing in a lie than it is to acknowlege that what we believe is wrong.  Thanks to social media and the internet's globalization, it's a short hop to find something that confirms our beliefs - whether or not that messaging is true.  Truth is surprisingly easy to identify, given that you have appropriate means to observe and measure whatever you're trying to ascertain.  For all the beliefs imbued upon me by my culture and lived experience, a "sunrise" is easily disproven by putting a camera on a satellite and sending it into the void.

This, I think, is where differences of opinion come into play. 

We acknowledge that beliefs and truth are not necessarily aligned, and we begrudgingly accept that beliefs are hard to change.  We know that beliefs can be firmly held, deeply intertwined with strong feelings which makes them all the more difficult to confront.  Coincidentally, these are all things that the media knows as well, and there's good money to be made by riling people up and telling them what they want to hear.  Observe any news - television, internet, newspaper, blogs, social media.  See if you can separate the information from the attitude.  News media takes information and frames that information to present it in a certain light.  The same information can be presented in numerous frames, each with a different tone, takeaway, and attitude.  These frames, this mechanism for persuasion, is rhetoric.  Nearly 2500 years ago, Gorgias recognized that words have the power to trick people; rhetoric was a magical incantation that could beguile the soul just as doctors use drugs to control the body.  The media is doing this to people constantly, intentionally, and for profit.

Take an opinion you've formed recently on a current event.  Where did that opinion come from?  How do you talk about it?  How do other people talk about it?  How is it presented in the news?  How is it presented in news that promotes a political agenda you disagree with?  What are the facts?  What are the feelings?  What parts of it are true?  What parts of it have to do with your beliefs?  Can you separate the facts from the beliefs?  Can you find examples where that opinion is divisive?  What is the good in that belief?  What is the good in the beliefs of people who hold a different opinion?  Deconstruct that opinion and match it up with the different sources that helped you shape it.  It can be challenging, but it's an important exercise in understanding how humans work.

Anyway, for all that pontificating, my takeaway is this: we're all prone to believe different things.  That difference is the diversity that helps us learn, grow, and enrich our understanding of the world around us.  When those differences become a tool to separate us from one another, something awful happens - we lose sight of humanity, box people in with negative labels, and lock ourselves away from new ways of thinking.  A belief doesn't define a person.  It shouldn't define you, and it certainly doesn't define people you may not agree with.  We are comprised of and capable of so many more wonderful things - our thoughts, our feelings, our experiences, our hopes, our dreams, our friends and family, our intents, and our actions.  Let those be the things that align you with others.  It's far more fulfilling to come together than it is to divide.