Richard Kim, Writer
From Antifa to Qanon, Democrat to Republican, liberal to conservative, non-religious to religious, nowadays, more people, across the world, find themselves closer to the extreme ends of political opinion.
US politics has seen extreme polarization between its two main parties: the Democrats and Republicans— making America the most divided it has ever been. Polarization encourages segregation between people by their political values. Surprisingly enough, political polarization has even trickled down into residencies of Americans. Urban residencies have seen a growth in the percentage of Democrats, from 55% in 1998 to 62% in 2017. Likewise, rural residencies have seen a growth in the percentage of Republicans, from 44% in 1998 to 54% in 2017.
This growing divide between people and the growing number of close-gate communities has caused people to lose their ability to empathize with others, making the use of violence and ridicule “easier”. The interaction between like-minded people and other like-minded people causes debate to die out. Instead, validation of one’s opinion is encouraged. Without the debate of politics, it makes it difficult for people to learn what the opposing party may believe in. These gaps of knowledge then have the potential to be replaced by irrational thoughts to complete one’s image of an opposing party. These irrational beliefs can be harmful and dehumanize the other party.
All of these effects of political polarization have led to the antagonization of politics. Instead of solely carrying out the will of the people, many have found purpose in belittling and triumphing over the opposition. This encouraged distrust between individuals creates an environment where individuals are pressured to conform to the two leading parties in American politics, the Democrats and Republicans.
As this article has identified the many issues that have sprung out of political polarization, this article will now attempt to explain why this phenomenon has begun and why it continues to worsen.
One explanation for political polarization is the departure from religion being the guiding principle in many lives. The Renaissance, which took place from the 14th century to the 17th century, encouraged Secularization, the movement away from religious principles to non-religious principles. This, in turn, also encouraged self-knowledge to become the most paramount component in one’s life. Self-knowledge leads to self-importance, leading to a discussion about what rights one is entitled to. Thus, discussion of politics increased in order for people to determine how they will be ruled over and what rights they deserve. Now in the 21st century, the place of religion has been filled in with politics, and people have realized that their stances differ from one individual to another. This growing difference in one’s stance in politics has allowed polarization to take place.
Another explanation for our growing polarization is social media. In the past, it was impossible for people to associate themselves with only people who hold the same common beliefs as the individual. However, social media has made it easier for people to find like-minded people. The existence of these small, gated communities where only like-minded individuals exist makes it so that when these same people do interact with people different from them, these like-minded individuals find it impossible to empathize with their values. Without the ability to empathize with another person, it makes it easier to show aggression and less humanity to the other person, causing these people to stay in their gated community.
With the beginning of the 21st century, loneliness has become an even larger issue than ever before. In conjunction with the invention of social media, these lonely, vulnerable people have looked for communities where they can find company and purpose within themselves. Some vulnerable people fall into political communities where these people learn about political values. These people desperately follow these political values because they want to fit in and eventually, through a process almost similar to “brainwashing,” they too embody these values. They then vehemently protect the community they are within because they want to protect the place where they have an identity.
These reasons combined lead to echo chambers where people lose their ability to reason with others, causing them to remain in their community and to oppose the existence of any other. This is the very essence of polarization. The very same polarization that makes us extremely extreme.