Which are you, a neo-Nazi or a Stalinist? Would you prefer alt-right white nationalism or soc-jus Marxist absolutism? Do you want that with chips or rice?
As the political landscape fractures and shifts, and the not-really-progressive left continues to handle actual change very badly indeed, an extreme polarization has taken hold. Issues are being divided into a competitive binary, around which you must plant a flag and dig in.
It’s curious that this atmosphere of polar opposition comes at a time when political correctness tries to close certain avenues of discussion, and the education industry’s left-liberal bias becomes ever more pronounced.
Children are taught that there are no winners or losers (or genders), but that everyone lost in the EU referendum. Quotas promote equality of outcome over equality of opportunity, as part of a controlling, top-down style of social micro-management. And university safe space culture retards students’ natural abilities to face opposition and embrace debate.
This malignant, mollycoddling culture of low expectations dilutes competitive competence, and extinguishes the combustive sparks which come from clashing ideas together.
Such artificially engineered conflict avoidance might be expected to create an arena of blithe agreement, but instead it’s brought into play the precise opposite: political and cultural debate is turning into extreme trench warfare. We have the emergence of blind partisanship on steroids, manifested through over-simplified binaries, and a widespread inability to make concessions, or even listen to those on the other side of the debate.
While a culture of ‘safety’ existing side by side with irreconcilable, heartfelt disagreements might at first appear contradictory, it actually makes sense. A risk-free environment, in which the sanctity of each individual’s feelings (no matter how delicate) is valued over facts and logic, leads to a critical handicapping of efficient, objective thought. When abilities to reason and compete become severely diminished, then the path of least resistance is to retreat into base tribalism. And tribalism leads quickly away from any possibility of normal conversation.
Left-wing identity politics is defined by division, and has penetrated every sphere of debate, disrupting formerly powerful unifying forces such as class solidarity.
The alt-right too is little more than an inverted version of social justice clan building, taking the groups ostracized by the SJWs and meme-shaping them into a competing category of their own.
What we’re left with is a total breakdown in functional public debate, and when compromise through civil means goes out the window, then we’re really in trouble.
An indicator of the seriousness of this deterioration is the lurch toward violence the American left has taken since Donald Trump’s election victory. As unsettling as the violence itself is the liberal media’s reaction to it. Commentators have played down or even, astonishingly, approved of the use of violence. There have been infantile public discussions about ‘punching Nazis’.
This is what polarization leads to. Since Trump’s inauguration, the name calling from the left toward anyone they don’t like has escalated from bigot to racist to Nazi. And the definition of who it might be acceptable to physically assault keeps on widening.
In the UK, the announcement on Monday by the Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow that he won’t invite Trump to speak in Westminster Hall fits seamlessly in with these facile trends. It’s a grandstanding display, fully in line with the tiresome excesses of histrionic Student Unions when they no-platform visiting speakers or ban sombreros. Bercow’s exasperating performance serves no purpose to the country, and makes it look like even Parliament has now given in to irrational, feelings-first virtue signaling.
It’s time for a conscious effort on all sides to stop polarizing current affairs, and to restore some nuance to public debate. In the long term, it’s critical for schools and universities to address their lack of political diversity. Too much progressive bias in education, with an emphasis on a very warped form of social justice activism, leads to ignorance of alternative viewpoints, and to the dehumanization of anyone who holds a dissenting point of view.
Address these imbalances, tone down the hyperbole, and we might in time be able to end the siege mentality.
This post can also be read at Country Squire Magazine