By Eddie Echeverria
I have a couple of friends on Facebook who are political opposites. One is a diehard liberal, the other a diehard conservative. They have very different opinions about the way the government should operate, who should be allowed what freedoms, and whether or not we should still be bombing out the Middle East. They do have one thing in common, however: they both love to yell about opposing political perspectives on social media. Whether it’s the conservative decrying abortions and those darn “lib-tards” that are ruining our country or the liberal who is tired of the “racist, sexist, homophobic pigs” that are ruining our country, both are unapologetic in their hatred of each other’s viewpoints without directing any comment at any person in particular. Of course, this is not just happening with these two individuals. We’re seeing it all over the media. But why is everyone so angry?
Well, let’s look at the current state of news media. It is not shocking to say that the media has political bias. In a consumerist culture, media will to try to cater to the people. It’s expected. Fox News indulges its conservative crowd, and MSNBC does exactly the same with its liberal audience. When the media outlets begin to antagonize the other side of the spectrum, we run into problems. We are grouped together based on our political ideologies and divided into two sides, each one supposedly under threat from the other. We begin to associate the notions of political ideology and individual identity. If you believe one way, you belong in this group, and vice-versa. Then when the other side is vilified, we become defensive whenever we see alternative perspectives rear their heads. We take up arms against our ideological foes for fear that our way of thinking may die out if the other gets too much attention or recognition. We become so easily triggered against the opposing side that we can be provoked even when we think our opinions are not being shouted loudly, clearly, or quickly enough.
What this does, of course, is shut down conversation. We are becoming a defensive, close-minded people. It is the product of fear-mongering. And living on a Christian campus by no means makes us immune.
One recent example of this involved two student leaders criticizing this very publication for “censorship” on social media because a comment to an article had not been posted right away by the editor. They posted a screenshot of the comment so that it would not have been composed in vain, but amusingly failed to notice that at the top of the screenshot was the phrase “awaiting moderation.” This, of course, meant that the comment had not been “deleted” as our heroes had tweeted, rather it was simply waiting for an editor to check and confirm that it was not something obscene, a safeguard which any other publication would maintain.
Of course, this instance was merely a comical misunderstanding, but it does highlight an emerging attitude of indignation toward the perceived injustices in the market of ideas. We are losing the ability to engage in dialogue, and ultimately, community.
When I look on social media, or most other forms of media for that matter, I see consistent acts of, or threats of, alienation, slander, and villainization. This is most clearly seen in Facebook posts which state a political divisive opinion, with the qualifier that if you disagree, your comments will be deleted and/or you will be unfriended. We are only looking for affirmation of our beliefs, which contradicts the purpose of a democratically constructed society.
The most successful communication in months to have pervaded media across the boundaries and political agendas which normally divide us comes in the form of a meme of a dead gorilla (RIP). But it has no substance. We find commonalities in humor across the aisle, but not in anything of note. When something we actually care about comes up, so do our identity walls.
We’re suffering a drought of discourse, in which we fight tooth and nail to be heard, but never to hear. We live in a culture that drowns out thought with noise, where to do anything but shout against it appears to us ideological suicide. Thus we turn in anger to one another, each side slinging mud and curses at the other with increasing intensity as neither are heard.
This should scare us. Or at the very least cause a concern from the Christian crowd that might be reading this. It certainly is concerning to me, especially as I see relationships being cast aside for opinion and hear of students tearing down opposing political flyers. We’re losing our charity. Democracies are founded upon the notion of the freedom of ideas and the necessity of dialogue. So what happens to our community once dialogue is no longer tolerated by either side?
As far as prescriptive messages go, I only have a few thoughts. Yes, it’s preachy, but few people are saying it.
Republicans, don’t ostracize or vilify Democrats purely based on their name or how you understand their beliefs. Democrats, don’t ostracize or vilify Republicans purely based on their name or how you understand their beliefs. This is not how democratic societies are meant to function.
A less politicized way to say that would be as follows: People, don’t ostracize or vilify people purely based on their beliefs. It is so simple, but we need remind ourselves daily in such an angry time.
When someone attempts to start a dialogue with you, even if you know that you come from different parties or opposing political ideologies, engage! Don’t unfriend people who disagree with you solely because they do. React to discourse with charity and a willingness to build relationships with people you would otherwise consider your opposite. And don’t just be reactive, take initiative. We are meant to discuss the things we care about within our community for that is how we improve it.
Lastly, for the love of God, show the love of God. The Church is meant to be the highest example of healthy community, and we are failing. We are called to build and foster relationships with people we like as well as people we dislike. Again, this is not news. But when I see and hear brothers and sisters in Christ judging, scoffing at, and pushing one another apart because they have different political opinions, I see more than just stubbornness. I see a fracture in my community which is being pushed further apart by a willful lack of charity.