Politics

Indoctrination through Enlightenment

There is a deep allure to knowing things that others don’t. Being informed is a virtue of modern society but being more informed than most people is even more desirable. Americans are filled with skepticism of the status quo and any fact that reveals everything is not as it seems is immensely satisfying to possess. American politics has become less about whose policies are best and more about whose conceptions of society are true. This shift has allowed left and right extremism to dominate the national discussion since they both refute society itself. The average American may have some thoughts on how poverty could be prevented in their neighborhood based on their own personal experience, but if a political opponent establishes that someone is ignorant of where poverty originates from, then their ideas for how to solve it are insignificant. This style of debate services extremism in two ways. First, it effectively invalidates anyone who isn’t initiated into a particular ideology. Second, it acts as a recruitment tool by directing the invalidated to learn the answers to questions that only extremists can answer. Well-intentioned people have a desire to know the truth, but when the bread crumbs to enlightenment are laid by politically-motivated institutions, the traveler will find themselves stumbling into indoctrination.

It’s true that knowing things is satisfying, but not knowing things is disproportionately unsatisfying. No politician has ever stood on a stage and said “I don’t know,” because it doesn’t inspire confidence in their ability. It seems citizens prefer a candidate who wrongly believes they’re correct than one who tepidly admits their ignorance. Part of the attraction of extremist ideologies is they diagnose a cause for all of society’s ailments, often the same one. What is the cause of inequality and suffering in America? Depending on which side of the spectrum you ask, it is either the result of an oppressive patriarchal structure or the machinations of a deep state globalist conspiracy. Framing society’s problems as the result of one overarching concept satisfies devout followers of ideologies but leaves many questions for any on-lookers who are not familiar with these views.

Questioning either of these framings is an effort in futility. To the extremists who dominate national political conversations, announcing that you don’t believe in the patriarchy or a globalist conspiracy is to announce your ignorance of how society works at all. Doing so inevitably puts the attacker on the defensive. Whenever a person inquires or argues against an extremist societal framing, they’re doomed to sit through a lecture detailing the specifics of the ideology or forced to dispute a variety of declarations made by it. This is a common tactic in debate teams known as “spreading” (or the “Gish Gallop”) where one side presents many weak points, forcing the opposing side to dedicate their energy to correcting each one. The corrections dominate the discussion and there’s no time left to suggest an alternative view. Failure to provide a satisfactory and concise explanation of society’s problems is used as proof that the ideology’s catchall diagnosis is more correct than any nuanced approach.

That feeling of dissatisfaction is pushed onto the observer of a debate. Even if an observer doesn’t agree with an extremist at first, their mystifying ideology demands further research. What is the patriarchy? What is the deep state? These are questions that lead to more questions that politically-motivated websites like Salon or Breitbart are happy to answer. If these questions capitalize on an ailment the individual has personally suffered, then the mainstream’s failure to answer them confirms this ideology they’ve discovered is the only true perspective in the world. They’ve convinced themselves they have found how society truly works. Even if they stumbled onto the ideology for one reason, its truth has invalidated previous conceptions of society. If an individual accepts that privilege or political corruption is the underlying cause for one problem, it is not unreasonable for them to conclude that it is the cause of many problems. Their logic is supported by scores of other followers who have all made the same conclusion.

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Perhaps most insidiously, these ideologies provide an explanation for why anyone would disagree with them. Even in the face of numerous experts disproving theories reliant on patriarchy or globalism, the ideology claims these experts are only publishing these arguments in service of the societal evil the ideology is against. If a woman disputes patriarchy, they’re suffering from “internalized misogyny.” If a conservative condemns the alt-right, they’re a “cuckservative” who hasn’t been “red-pilled” yet. Both of these explanations carry a thinly veiled condescension that says “I used to be misguided like you, but then I found the truth.”

These brain-washed extremists live a life of satisfaction believing they have found out the truth of how society really works and use it to counter opponents of their beliefs. All American political debates fail at this impasse. Supporters cheer on figureheads of their own views, regardless of whatever is said. This dualism seeps into all politically-themed events and the winners and losers are decided by the size of the biggest mob.

How did it get this way?

Americans would not feel compelled to question how society is structured if the structure was working in their favor. Yale Professor of History Timothy Snyder wrote in his book On Tyranny, that “Aristotle warned that inequality brought instability.” Our moment in history is dense with inequalities. Americans of all demographics feel a deep dissatisfaction with the status quo and desperately seek an explanation for their strife. Unsurprisingly, extremists tend to be characterized by an obvious lack in their own life. Whether that be unemployment (or underemployment), the inability to surpass their parents financially (the first generation not to do so), or a lack of personal satisfaction, these political ideologues are drawn to their views by a dissatisfaction with how society has treated them. These spheres of extremism grow by explaining how these problems in their life are the result of an antagonistic action against them.

Despite these troubling trends there’s still hope for promoting sanity and reasonable discourse. The majority of Americans are silent in the political debate. Most are not convinced by these ideologies and are not satisfied with the answers extremists provide. They see the bread crumbs for the poisonous falsehoods that they are, knowing where those paths lead. Although these unimpressed citizens do not dominate the conversation, they do dominate the representation. Across all demographics, most Americans have stayed on the sidelines during this wave of extremism. Despite the difficulties all Americans have faced, it would seem that the most alluring truth is not that society is flawed for one specific reason but that these groups who pretend to know the truth are most certainly wrong.

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Politics

Losing a War by Winning It

Politics in America is now dominated by extremism. Every issue is made out to be the difference between protecting the disadvantaged and normalizing fascism. Your actions get conflated to ten times what they actually were so that people can easily categorize you into one side or the other. I don’t believe many people have such extreme views, but some will accept their prescribed side while others will choose to avoid the conversation entirely. This dynamic results in America’s important values being pushed aside for political expediency or personal well-being. There’s no question we live in extraordinary times that demand action. We have a President who seems to dismiss the core values of America in favor of his own interests, but his most vocal opponents have been willing to do the same for their own ends. In light of this, the true political battle in the United States is revealed and it is not good versus evil but universal rights against tyrannical extremism.

During the campaign trail, I was more disturbed by Trump’s flagrant approach to protesters at his rallies than anything else. Specifically the incident where he asked his crowd to “knock the crap” out of protesters and that he’d “pay for the legal fees.” That moment disturbed me because it was the bridge from ordinary disagreement to violence against your opponents. It wasn’t enough insult your detractors, now they had to physically pay for it. That moment was a glimpse into Trump’s values (or lack thereof) and how far his supporters would go with him.

It was a clarifying moment for me, because regardless of whatever your specific views are on issues, silencing opponents is not only un-American, but normalizing that action pulls at the fragile toothpicks that support our free society. America’s commitment to free speech has allowed the war of ideas to be fought with appropriate tools: arguments, logic and shared experiences. If you can’t talk to your enemy and explain your differences, you’ll surely fight them instead. Our system can survive a few incompetent politicians, or a few years of incompetent leadership, but it cannot survive removing the mechanism meant to reveal that incompetence.

Yet here we are on the other side of a Trump presidency and his critics seemed to have shed their “when they go low, we go high” mantra in favor of violence. Whether that’s literally punching people in the face, lighting their hair on fire or rioting to prevent a pro-Trump speaker. These actions would be bad enough on their own but the reaction for many liberals is not to condemn violence or make excuses – they endorse it. They don’t see this as hypocritical because violence against “nazis” is always justified.

Most of the people willing to endorse violence come from the younger generation. You can find endless tweets from people supporting the recent riots. They are self-appointed experts on how to beat toxic ideologies despite never reading a history book in their life. It’s natural that younger people have more energy while the older generation shares their experience and wisdom for how best to channel that energy through productive means. But the current younger generation has delegitimized everyone but themselves. Boogiemen come in the form of the patriarchy or identity politics, cutting off all influencers who are not fellow travelers. The few remaining figures who could dispel these toxic views are fearful that upsetting their base will diminish their chance to stay in office. This is predicated on the concept that America’s political battle is between the left and right, but as any political science expert will tell you – the two directions eventually curl back toward each other if you go far enough. This weariness for replacing one extremist with another is why the country remains so staunchly divided.

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Trump’s first weeks in office have been a disaster. He’s created a domestic crisis with his sloppy immigration actions, he failed his promise to “make Mexico pay for the wall,” he’s forced most of the state department’s higher-ups to resign and his administration has been the cause of more riots in the past dozen days than most of the past dozen administrations. In the face of spectacular failure, there’s no reason democrats shouldn’t be careening toward high approval ratings, but that’s not what has happened. Instead they’ve placated this dangerous anti-American extremism in hopes it will serve their own ends.

During the North African campaign of World War II, Supreme Commander of the Allies Dwight Eisenhower oversaw a deal with Vichy France’s Francois Darlan. The armistice was in effect, an alliance between the free world and the fascist regime of Vichy France. Tactically, the deal served the allies. They had better standing in North Africa, key strategic resources and spent less vital manpower fighting the French. After all, Germany was the true enemy. But the deal was harshly criticized by Free France’s Charles de Gaulle, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and several critics in America, including one Edward R. Murrow, who said:

“Are we fighting Nazis or sleeping with them? Why this play with traitors? Don’t we see that we could lose this war by winning it?”

What good is fighting a war against an ideology that has sunk the world into conflict if you’re willing to use those same ideologues for your own victory? Unlike that historic example, there is no literal war being fought on a battlefield. America is constantly in a war of ideas. Our country has stood the test of time because of its commitment to personal freedoms and choosing to fight the war of ideas before war between factions. America needs to revitalize a movement that adheres to the rights that made this country great if it hopes to survive the current wave of extremism.

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