By Jasper Boers' 18
We live in an era where individuals are defined not by their status as an individual but by their status as a member of a race, a religion, a party, a sect, an extremist group, an ethnicity, a neighborhood, or a class. The protests following Trump’s inauguration—a colorful mixture of men, women, toddlers, Republican, Democrats, anti-fascists, stoners, hippies, evangelicals, former coal miners—all crammed in a security perimeter which revealed the worst elements of divisive identity politics manifested in physical form. Burning cars, acrid black smoke, camo-clad National Guardsmen, convoys of armored cars—that was downtown D.C. on Januray 20th, 2017. “What have we been lowered to?” Political animals, as Aristotle would say. Untamed animals at that.In much the same way that our medieval ancestors can be characterized by their belonging to the Catholic Church, we are characterized by our allegiances to political and social groups as opposed to allegiances to ourselves.
This focus on groups, whether they be Antifa, the Ku Klux Klan, the Black Panthers, Christian identity organizations, Anonymous, or any other loyalist movement dedicated to division, is a threat to democracy as much as it is a threat to the independent American mind.
When we surround ourselves with a group which only espouses our beliefs and nothing contrary, we believe in a distorted truth—a truth which is made true by confirmation within that group. This is confirmation bias. This is the death of reason.
When we choose not to accept opposing opinions, when we block out those journalists, newspapers, even friends with whom we disagree, we are constricting our free thought. Perhaps we choose to ally with parties and political groups not on the merit of true belief, but on the fear of retribution from friends, family, community. That was the reason excommunication was so feared by Europeans living in medieval society. Living outside of the collective group, you are alone in the wilderness, persecuted by everyone, loved by none. Without the guardianship of the church, you cannot hope to survive. Why would you want to leave it then?
When he decried political parties, Washington saw our present. He saw their divisive grip on the ethos of American society. He saw the blending of fact with opinion which foments fierce, often violent allegiances to ideology. Washington was right. Citizens engaging with politics are better suited to engage as individuals than to engage as groups.
Parties—Republican, Democratic or Libertarian—encourage groupthink, prioritize the collective body, excoriate beliefs contrary to the accepted platform. This sounds not unlike some dystopian vision where humanity is reduced to subservient automatons lacking free thought. It is our today. It is what CNN analysts refer to when they say something like “America’s divided political climate.” It is a decline in rhetoric, logic, and individual intellect.
Look inward. What are your beliefs stripped of their belonging to a platform? Is your allegiance based on fitting in or is it based on your own morality and experience? Cleanse the pundits, apologists, and pariahs from your newsfeeds. Be wary of an obvious opinion piece not labeled “OPINION.” Anyone who claims to have the truth is probably a liar themselves.