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Politalking: On Nuance   Leave a comment

Above all the other issues, disagreements, and topics I could write about, there is one that bothers me most.

That is the disappearance of nuance in our discourse, this almost intentionally shrinking middle ground in our politics. We are lacking a real option for those of us who don’t ascribe to the primary color palette of the US’s political system and I’m tired of picking the choice that is the least crappy or the most popular with my friends. This ever-present, us-or-them, Sith-versus-Jedi, I’m-right-so-you-must-be-Satan type of conversation has gotten beyond annoying.

I don’t know exactly when or how this toxic trend began but I believe the culprits are gerrymandering, social media, and outrage culture.

Gerrymandering is the practice of manipulating the boundaries of a voting district to favor a specific political party. It is illegal, but it can be hidden under the guise of electoral redistricting, which is a necessary process as a city or state grows and moves around. However, many states give that power to their legislature, which means that the control over how the lines are drawn are in the hands of the party currently in power. This allows them to get up right to the line between legal redistricting and illegal gerrymandering, and piss all over it.

The lines for political districts are supposed to have a sensible outlay to them. They were broken out simply by neighborhood, or by specific landmarks and roads. There wasn’t a regard for what party wins votes in what district by how much. With the power in the hands of the victors, the lines changed so that the people who don’t vote for them are now stuck outside of their zone, and the people who do are brought further in. The next election they only have to appeal to a friendly audience, as the “others” are excluded. If the winning party loses control, the opposing party can get revenge by redrawing the lines in their favor, leading to a crazy mess of districts that does not correctly represent the constituency. When your district resembles an octopus or a pair of headphones, I think you might be gaming the system a little too much.

It leads to the situation we have now, where Republican districts are extremely Republican, Democratic districts extremely Democratic, and moderate and independent voters mostly ignored. A potential candidate has to fit every part of their party’s base, or they can’t win. This means in many places you can’t run as a republican unless you shit AR15’s and tax breaks, and you can’t run as a democrat unless you want to repeal the second amendment, and raise taxes on the rich unquestioningly.

This extremism flows up from the local level all the way to our national presidential elections. You no longer have to try to appeal to the moderate. In fact, trying to appeal to the moderates and independents in local elections will usually hurt you.  Since you don’t have to try to convince people to vote for you, you get lazy rhetoric. Just shout “9/11”, “Immigrants”, and “Muslims”; or “Gun Control”, “Global Warming”, and “Amnesty; and you too can get your own position in our government, and a 15 minute segment on Fox or MSNBC. No need for thought.

This is something that seems to be getting addressed, mostly in the Supreme Court since people aren’t willing to play fair. However, social media and outrage culture play a much greater role and are intertwined with each other.

Outrage culture doesn’t have an official definition, but is our current obsession as a culture with flying off the handle at the slightest provocation. It is this culture of micro-aggressions, political correctness, and thin skin. Now, that doesn’t mean I think people should run around being jerks, or that using someone’s preferred pronouns is dumb, but when someone comes up to me and starts speaking Spanish (I’m half Latino), I tell them I don’t speak Spanish and move along. If they are rude about it, I tell them off more rudely and move along more rudely. What I don’t do, is scream at them, go home, find their Facebook, throw it up on 8chan and try to ruin their life.

Now, that is a bit of an extreme example, but society’s current reaction is to get mad, to point out ignorance and bias in anger, instead of turning the other cheek or giving others the benefit of the doubt. This discourages nuance because many people are still learning about these issues. They don’t know everything so they may misspeak or say something offensive. For example, someone saying, “Oh, are you transgendered”, as that –ed at the end could offend people by implying that it was something done to them, as opposed to saying they are a transgender individual, which is more respectful. However, a person will not want to interact or learn these specifics if your reactions to fly off the handle.

On top of that, if someone says something that you feel is offensive, and you scream at them and quit the conversation, you may miss out on some real understanding and common ground. I notice this from footage at Trump rallies. The anti-trumps will get offended at the first mention at border control, because they are outraged at Trump’s rhetoric. They don’t listen to the supporter’s reasons, which tend to be more nuanced and less extreme. It doesn’t make it them correct, but we lose potential solutions and opportunities for growth when we refuse to give people the benefit of the doubt. We need to chill out and analyze things with the effort they deserve.

Social media destroys this.

Our society has become one of memes, jokes, 6 second videos, and 140 character conversations. Nuance takes time, which is something people either don’t have or aren’t willing to give. They would rather look at a picture with a witty pun that reinforces what they already know. They want to drive by shoot off their opinion and leave the victim to bleed out on their own.

Hell, I am pretty sure I’ve already lost most of the people who started reading this post. Partially, it could be because I’m not a good writer. I also wouldn’t be surprised I pissed off someone by forgetting about Grey Jedi in my Star Wars comparison at the beginning. If you have made it this far, thanks! I’d still probably write this, but it is good to know I am not a man shouting into a vacuum.

I could’ve probably gotten 5 or so likes by posting a TL;DR version akin to:

Think critically newbs! #FeeltheBern #ImWithHer #CantStumpTheTrump

However, I’m more verbose than that, and this topic is more complex than that. I am a fan of brevity, but something like abortion or immigration cannot be handled that quickly. Things like racism, sexism, poverty, gun rights, prison reform, etc.; are muddy, complex, nasty issues that involve some effort to understand and solve correctly. We aren’t going to be able to do that with a hashtag and some lolcats.

As a country, we cannot allow this to become the norm. We can’t let our discourse devolve into poorly stated shouting matches and ego-masturbation via Facebook.

I know this post sounds cynical, but I don’t mean to be. I believe part of the reason independents have grown as a voting bloc recently is because of this frustration. I can’t be the only one who wishes people would give this pressing issues, the time and attention they actually deserve.

So before you post that great “icanhazbernie” pic, before you tweet #nevertrump or #feelmyJohnson, before you dive into the asininity that is the YouTube comment section, I ask that you take a moment to think about what you are going to post. Think about why you are saying what you are saying. Is it because it is something that you truly believe in, a cause that you’ve given deep thought to? Or is it because you want a friend you’ve had a crush on to think you’re #deep and give you a handy on Tumblr”?

Life isn’t black and white, so try not to act like it is.

 

Thank you for reading,

Shaman

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Posted 06/12/2016 by Shaman in Politalking

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