ForumTouchy Subjects ► Polarization in the US
I've been concerned about political polarization everywhere, but in the US it seems more evident now than ever in my life. I've been wondering, why is it happening? will it get better or worse? what can be done about it?

Polarization isn't necessarily bad but given the vast amount of misinformation, the tendency for violence, gridlock, and extremism, it seems as though we're going to continue to see increasing instability until this trend starts to reverse course. I've been thinking and reading on polarization for a while and I've taken bits and pieces from Bishop's Big Sort, Sunstein's Law of Group Polarization to try and understand what's happening.

I think in part it has to do with self-segregation as Bishop seems to focus on. We separate ourselves from political opposites but ironically, keeping in separate communities might also be what helps keep things peaceful, so I'm not entirely convinced. Bishop was writing on polarization before online communities have grown so large and provided more echo chambers, but self-segregated neighborhoods and suburbs hardly seem like political epicenters. I'm not convinced by Bishop's Big Sort. I think self-segregation might be more a symptom than a cause of polarization.

Sunstein makes more sense to me, and the research I've previewed about polarization seems to support this philosophy. Groups tend to gravitate towards extremes when they lean in a certain direction and deliberate amongst themselves. There's also a false consciousness effect that politicians take advantage of by being more extreme; people vote for the least crappy of two politicians, then in group discussion, they often come to defend their choice and become more attached to it. Those who have moderate views begin to conform to the extremes of the group they get pushed into and get sucked into the voting machine. As is more common knowledge, Sunstein mentions how group discussion is impeded by bias since emotion turns out to be more effective rhetoric than logic. If you remember English classes, they go over the three rhetorics, ethos, pathos, and logos, and turns out logos is the least effective of the three.

As I was reading and thinking on this, I was reminded of a video by CGP Grey, This Video Will Make You Angry. It explains how stuff that upsets people spreads online like a virus and the most virulent political memes spread the quickest and to the most people. Those in opposite political camps create more unrealistic and visceral upsetting versions of their political opponents and prejudice in the group increases against any political opponents. Many who voted for Trump or Hillary in 2016 were more motivated by getting their opponent to lose the election.

Additionally, there's one more factor that seems important in all this, and that is bias, but more importantly the difference between implicit and explicit bias. To an extent, some embrace a prejudice against certain political views and people, but the more pervasive issue seems to be how often those who have become more polarized and extreme seem unaware that they are extremists or prejudice. This is the implicit bias that seems more common in the modern world since explicit bias is less socially acceptable. When interviewed, many people seem to think they hold more moderate views than they actually do.

I'm nowhere near understanding what the solution to these problems might be. Still, I've identified a couple of things that seem to counter polarization and the extreme distaste people have for their political opponents. One major thing is empathy; people tend to soften their views of others when they have a better understanding of what it's like on the other side and humanize thier opponent. Another thing is moderated discussion with political opposites. In moderated group discussions when rules exist, fallacies are caught, the environment is kept things civil, etc. the discussions become much more productive.

Pew Research on Polarization in the American Public
The Law of Group Polarization by Cass R. Sunstein
Article by Lauren Howe on Bishop's 'Big Sort'
This Video Will Make You Angry by CGP Grey
Mediation or Moderation? Examining How Politically Like-Minded and Dissimilar Conversations Influence the Relationship Between Social Media Political Information Consumption and Political Participation
I'm interested in social polarisation in general, of which political polarisation is the end-result that gets the attention. But even things like polarisation of interests, reference points, television. You can be into something for years and think it's a normal thing to talk about, then you meet someone who's never heard of it and it's jarring.

In terms of political polarisation in the US, I think it's to do with America's ultra-privatised system. The media outlets are all running for profit, they don't care what happens. They're competing for eyes and ears. If it leads to violence, hey, more stories for them to show. So they increasingly pander to their demographic, feeding them more outrage. MSNBC and CNN have a Liberal/Left audience, so they push those buttons. FOX has a Conservative/Right audience, so they push those buttons. As each side pushes its audiences buttons harder, the other side follows suit, like an outrage arms-race.

In most other Anglosphere countries, there's a big state-broadcaster that's reasonably neutral. Certainly bias is still there, but it's more subtle. US broadcasters make no pretense of being neutral. You can find news anchors openly making value judgements, freely switching between opinion and fact, telling you who's good and bad and who to vote for. And because someone decided the US needed 24/7 news channels to catch more eyeballs, the "news" channels fill up with opinion and debate because there aren't enough facts to go around.

It probably goes back to 1987 when the FCC Fairness Doctrine was abolished.
I had forgotten about the abolishment of the FCC Fairness Doctrine. It's difficult to identify a first cause, (group polarization is always there) but the abolition of the FCC Fairness Doctrine looks like a good place to start when looking at how polarization turned into a positive feedback loop between the media, consumers, and political partisanship. The real jump in the PewResearch graphs seems to be between 2004 and 2014. I think the rise of internet political discussion just threw gasoline on the fire if you look at Sunstein's logic and he was thinking about this before the internet.
off-topic, but nice avatar dude
thanks, dude i made it myself
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