Identity Politics and the Slow Death of the American Moral Landscape

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Identity Politics and the Slow Death of the American Moral Landscape

I used to watch Fox News, and then I switched to CNN, and then I stopped watching network channels for daily news and commentary because they are all so heavily biased towards the political right or the political left, and everything they report is filtered to favor those specific political leanings.  However, we’ve reached a point in our nation’s history when avoiding major news networks is no longer enough to skirt the biases of political loyalists.

Television media, internet media, newspapers, blog sites, everything has now become silos of confirmation bias.  The New York Times, for all its respect as a long standing American newspaper is very much a politically left-leaning sounding board.  I have no doubt in my mind that respectable news sources such as it are indeed honestly attempting to be truthful in their reporting, but I also know that every story and op-ed is flavored in such a way to appeal to the political left.  The New York Post on the other hand is politically right-leaning, and therefore, its articles and op-eds will find favor with those who identify with right-wing politics.

In the past year I have become increasingly aware of political biases, both those of others and of my own.  I have found it to be incredibly interesting and useful to look critically at my own perspectives and beliefs about American politics.  This is difficult to do without a median or a center to judge everything else from.  I have found that emotional responses are often times what drive people to be politically biased towards conservative or liberal politics.  People on both sides of this teeter-totter of American political leanings are very emotional in drawing conclusions about topics, discerning between them as good or bad, right or wrong.

These emotional responses are so strong that both sides will effectively ignore any contradictory data, and favor whatever coincides with their beliefs or emotional desires.  This is called confirmation bias.  This emotion-based political response is dangerous, as both sides continuously force each other further and further apart, dividing the tapestry of American honesty in a way I have never experienced before.

I say American honesty because often times people become disingenuous due to their perceived loyalty to their political party or political identity, foregoing rational interpretations of data and facts.  Favoring instead the interpretations of others whom they perceive to be on their own political team and echo their own beliefs and interpretations.  This is called the silo effect, basically meaning that people will only listen to or believe those they perceive to be on their own team (within the silo), never accepting information from those perceived as others (sources outside their silo).

I think it’s fair to say that I grew up in a conservative environment, and most of the people around me identified as conservative and would vote overwhelmingly Republican.  Despite this, I grew up politically left-leaning, and remain so even as some 75% to 85% of the people I currently know and find myself surrounded by are either self-identified Republicans, conservatives, or at the least prefer to vote conservatively.

Due to identity politics, my statement that I’m left-leaning will imply in the minds of many that they already know all of my political leanings.  In reality, however, this statement is not true.  In fact, I am against late-term abortion and find it morally unjustifiable, and I support the right to bear arms.

Being left-leaning and being surrounded by right-leaning influences has forced me to look at things differently than I used to.  These past ten or so years have really shown me that identity politics are dangerous, counter-productive, divisive, misleading, dishonest, and should generally be unacceptable.  Party affiliation and the belief that a person must always be either liberal or conservative, has taken our nation down a dark road that makes me fear for our future.  We keep slamming between two extremes that’s breaking the fundamental foundation of neutrality upon which any rational nation’s government stability depends.

We can no longer rely on the politics of identity, we must break from this addiction to left vs. right.  Reason, logic, evidence, rational thought, these things may not sate our emotional leanings, desires, impulses, beliefs, but it’s exactly what this nation needs.  How you feel about a topic, is far less important than the truth behind the topic.  It’s really hard for people to move forward in this way because they desperately want to lead with their emotions, but their emotions are ruining America.

When a crime scene investigator approaches the location of a murder she doesn’t begin drawing conclusions by what she hears other people say, what her heart or gut tells her, or even by what she initially sees.  She’s got to do research, figure out what is real and what is not, determine where bits of evidence came from, what value it holds, whether or not it has anything to do with the case, test everything, and form her conclusion based solely on what can be proven and is undeniable.  Sometimes her conclusions supports the detectives initial arrest, and who the victim’s family believes to be guilty of the crime, but sometimes it proves the detective’s and the public’s opinion to be wrong.  She is a servant of truth, evidence, facts, not of beliefs, desires, hearsay, or emotions.

Research into neurology has shown that people’s political leanings are not based solely on their environment, but also on the formation of their brain.  In other studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging¹, which detects activity in different areas of the brain, researchers have shown that the areas of the brain that light up on the screen when exposed to political triggers are the same areas of the brain associated with reactions to religion and favorite sports teams.

This means that biases regarding politics, religion, and sports are centered in the same areas of the brain affiliated with tribalism.  In the same study, participants were subjected to images belonging to or representative of the same political party, religion, or sports team, and in some cases were presented with images or videos of people representing the same political, religious, or athletic affiliation in a negative or dangerous situation.  In each instance, the participants showed an empathetic or favorable neurological response to those they believed themselves to be politically, religiously, or athletically affiliated with (in-group) and less concern or even a negative response to those they didn’t affiliate with (out-group).

Despite someone’s personal desires or opinions, despite their religious or cultural influences, I think it is critically important to evaluate the conclusions a person draws on political matters.  I think the biggest problem with people and politics in our country today is not just tribalism, but that people are incredibly selfish and ego-driven.  They focus on what they want way too much.  Everything they think about revolves around them and what they want, with little to no concern about anyone else.  And this goes for both sides of the political duality in our nation.

This duality, this division, has fueled tribalism in America and a desire to surround yourself with people you identify with; people who look like you, talk like you, and think like you.  It creates opportunities for confirmation bias, and the silo effect.  In general, people hate questioning themselves and the the perceptions they have about life and the world around them.  They do not like to doubt what they believe in, not even in the face of overwhelming counter-evidence.  Even compromise has become damned by identity politics because it means people can’t have it all, and that’s exactly what people want: everything.

Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, liberals, there is a fundamental problem with all of these, a problem that has poisoned our politics in a way that it has been met with the consequence of the election of Donald Trump.  This battle between two sides of the same coin is making Americans blind, angry, vengeful, rigid, distasteful, unapproachable, and has been slowly destroying the American moral landscape.  A bird cannot fly when each wing is trying to out-flap the other, the only outcome is to plummet to its death.

Why the American people, and the politicians they elect, insist upon living in this way is beyond me.  I’ve always been a very analytical person, contemplating things constantly from many angles, and reconsidering my conclusions when faced with the evidence that grants justification to do so.  I have foolishly lived my life with the belief that other people are also willing to do the same.  I now fully realize that this is not true, and that in fact, many Americans have fallen victim to delusion and living in the narrative of “This vs. That,” “Us vs. Them,” “Right vs. Wrong,” “Good vs. Evil.”

A part of tribalism is the blame game.  Each side wants to blame the other for perceived wrongs and each is convinced that if the other group is silenced or removed then everything will be great.  If we keep this up, there will be no United States, only divided sovereign states.  Despite what we convince ourselves to be true, we will not always get what we want.  There is no perfect.  There must be compromise, there must be give and take on both sides, this is how rational people function.

Let’s take a look at a few examples of subjects and opinions in American conversation today and pay attention to if or when my statements trigger emotional responses in you:

1. Donald Trump

a.) Donald Trump and his administration want to destroy America.

b.) Donald Trump and his administration want to make America great again.

2. Abortion

a.) Abortion should never be viewed as murder and women should have the right to choose.

b.) Abortion is murder and the baby has a right to life.

3. Immigration

a.) Immigrants fleeing war torn countries need to be rescued and always enhance the culture in the United States.

b.) Immigrants fleeing war torn countries only pose a risk for the American people.

If you believe any of the above statements to always be true or always be false, then you’re a victim of political identity.  You’ve been groomed by either liberals or conservatives to believe either one side or the other.  Yes, this means that both A and B statements in all three topics listed above are nothing but political biases, none of which are factual statements.  They are emotional responses, and in reality these topics are far more complex and far heavier than most Americans are willing to accept and engage in.

This American narrative of black and white understanding, and by that I mean this delusional ideology that everything can be so simply broken into two sides of debate, is intellectual suicide, if not at the least shamefully ignorant.  Many of the other topics in our nation today have been diluted into this same delusional thinking: topics such as gun rights, freedom of speech, economics and trade, terrorism, racism, all of them propagated by the political divisiveness of both Democrats and Republicans who ride the wave of political extremism through far-left liberalism and far-right conservatism.

We have two political parties that oppose everything the other supports, constantly trying to take political jabs at one another and force legislation or executive orders that have absolutely nothing to do with our nation’s actual progress; we have a presidential administration with fake nationalism that takes every opportunity to incite political division; media outlets that plug articles to favor their political leanings; and an American people who are misled, used, morally abused, deeply and emotionally troubled, angry, resentful, paranoid, and sometimes justifiably convinced that other people are out to get them.

We have people on both ends of the political spectrum who see the other as less than human.  They do this because it’s easy to hate or talk down about someone that they view as less than human, as below them or not worthy of their respect or dignity.  This dehumanization of fellow countrymen, this ostracization of neighbors is grotesque and destructive.

In these troubled times we must start thinking independently of the agendas of corporations who choose themselves over people, independently of the agendas of political parties and special-interest groups, and we must turn against financial influence, tribalism and our knee-jerk emotional reaction to politics.

Compromise is the only answer to disagreement.  Shouting louder, hitting harder, threats, destruction, violence, these are the things children do, not grown adults.  The moral landscape of America has been tarnished, our dignity and integrity run ragged, our values tossed into the wind, and we have thrown ourselves down the steps of human progress in retaliation of alleged wrongs committed against us.

With shame for our child-like temper tantrum, and with a bloody lip, we need to get up, dust ourselves off, set aside our unfounded opinions, face the truth of the matter, let go of our ego, accept differences, find common goals, and work towards a better tomorrow, one step at a time.


¹Neural Correlates of Maintaining One’s Political Beliefs in the Face of Counter-evidence

¹The Neural Correlates of Religious and Nonreligious Belief 

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About Kephen

I am a writer who happens to be a pantheist living in the heartland of America. I write about everything that interests me, from Zen Buddhism to depression and mental illness, society and civil rights to the LGBT community and the personal meanderings of my life. To learn more about me just check out my blog.
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