The incredibly polarizing state of opinions in America right now is palpable, as I’m sure you’ve all noticed. I don’t mean controversial and emotionally provocative, although those descriptors are also valid, I mean bipolar – you choose one thing or the other, and often no one outside two points gets a chance with the other or the general public. Only two political parties seem like a viable option to vote for, and everybody has a hill they’re willing to die on.
I don’t pretend to be exempt, as I am very politically active and opinionated, and I also don’t pretend to be an authority in this field. However, from what I’ve observed, it seems like categorizing ideas into “-isms” is part of the reason no one can agree on anything, and I think it’s about time we learn to change.
This phenomenon is noticeable in everything from conversations at home and in school to the rhetoric of U.S. politicians. Take, for example, a discussion I overheard between two classmates about the morality of anti-vaxxers. One person was advocating for a vaccination requirement for U.S. high-schoolers, and the other argued that this was a “utilitarian” solution to a complex problem, and therefore invalid.
I, like many others, find myself conversing with my parents about U.S. policy when I visit home, and we often disagree on the most effective solutions to a plethora of social issues. My father, a staunch conservative, does not agree that corporations should be subject to government restrictions on their greenhouse gas emissions, because that is a “socialist” policy.
Why are we often so quick to write off ideas when they fall under the umbrella of an “opposing” philosophy we can name? Is it connotation that causes this dismissal, or is it fallacy? More than likely, both of these factors play a leading role.
The negative connotation many people associate with the word “socialism”, for example, connects it with Soviet communism, under which millions of people died. But communism is not the same as socialism, and not all communism is Soviet communism. These false equivalences can lead to the ruling out of plenty of reasonable suggestions, which, in high stake situations such as debate on the Senate floor, just wastes valuable time that could be used to improve the lives of the American people.
No group of ideas which become a philosophy can be perfect, at least not for long, because humans are susceptible to error and the world is always changing. And sure, labels for certain groups of belief systems can be useful in identifying like-minded people, but they often just serve to limit us to the opinions within those groups, which can prevent meaningful progress.
Sometimes we don’t even have an opinion on a subject before we read or hear about what our affiliated political party’s stance on the matter is. COVID-19 didn’t exist before December of 2019, meaning it was a non-issue until that point, and after experiencing only around a year of feeling its effects, the two major American political parties have drawn a stark line in the sand and made their stances on masks and lockdowns clear.
You are not betraying your ideals if you agree with the opinion of someone who values different things or disagrees with you on every other subject. I do not propose that people stop speaking their minds when they disagree and certainly not that unity should come before justice – however, I do think we can take one step closer to both by freeing our opinions from their current bundled dichotomy.