In the weeks leading up to Brexit I didn’t see a single article on my newsfeed that suggested that the Leave campaign might win. Most of my friends are left leaning, so they were all expressing similar opinions to me. Facebook chomped all this info down and spat out countless articles that corroborated with my own views, cocooning me in an incredibly misguided sense of security.
We’re all guilty of creating little echo chambers of opinions around us, and it makes sense. Of course most of your friends have the same values as you, of course you choose to read the newspaper that supports your worldview. We all want to believe we’re right, and we can be forgiven for that.
But we aren’t in 1930’s London, discussing politics in a drawing room with our sympathetic friends. The landscape of the way information is processed, interpreted and launched into the world has altered beyond recognition. I’m slightly convinced my phone listens to me, which is spooky and also kind of nice, because at least someone takes it on board when I’m ranting about how busy I am (cheers for the weekend getaway ads Instagram, I did consider it).
We live in a reality that is starting to feel more and more like a Sims universe run by a teenager with a flair for sadism. Having a polarised political system is never ideal, but it’s especially not ideal in a world where we are gambling with incredibly high stakes. Having extreme opinions takes on a new meaning when fake news rises up to validate them. We aren’t dealing in truths and facts anymore, there seems to be only room for outrage and fascism.
Political polarisation reflects a shift in the way we perceive the world around us. Nuance is gone. The scope for moral growth is gone. Human rights are gone. And while terrifying times seem to cry out for desperate measures, what we all need is a bit of dialogue, a bit of compromise. Political polarisation prevents us from collaborating on issues that really matter. How can anyone, Republican or Democrat, watch Brett Kavanaugh’s testimony and think that he has the ideal temperament for a high court judge? How can anyone not recognise that Brexit is going to be a really expensive, really boring kind of roadside circus?
Nothing will alter if we sit at opposite sides of the room, hurling opinions at each other like monkeys hurling their own shit. It can be tempting for me to monologue about feminism with all my feminist friends. It’s validating, I feel supported. But it changes nothing.
We need to start engaging with people who don’t agree with us, and we need to start doing it now. I don’t believe that anyone should be forced to interact with people who belittle them or insult them, and we need to move politics away from the realm of aggression and character assassination. Most people didn’t come up with their opinions out of raw maliciousness. Most people are a product of their environment, and they deserve a chance to change. In a world where so many of the strings that keep us tethered to some notion of humanity have been cheerfully snipped, let’s make sure we retain the ability to talk and to listen.