The Intense Emotions Of Modern Politics

Although politics has always been intense, it’s obvious the political scene in America has entered an even more emotional phase the past 5 years. Whether one lays blame for this on the rise of social media, the presidency of Donald Trump, or the heightened activism of the progressive base of the Democrats, it’s clear that civility in politics is being undercut by a heightened Us vs. Them mentality.

Where this newfound emotionalism leads is anyone’s guess. However…one thing’s for sure: America’s entering uncharted political territory. This new era is not only more politically intense; many fear it may also serve as a transition to a state of socio-political chaos. 

Some claim that the increase in political strife is due to the fact that the Post-Modern world de-emphasizes the concept of truth. This de-emphasis has led some to even reject the concept of apparent truth. Although most of us understand that absolute truth’s a subject of much debate, many of us still seek agreement on areas of apparent truth. The decline of rationality in politics can be attributed somewhat to the fact that many have given up on the ability to find common ground on areas of apparent truth. This trend leads many activists and politicians of all stripes to just attend to their particular causes in isolation. In addition, many members of the media now follow this same trend.

Since America’s form of government and Constitution was born during the rationalism of the Enlightenment, today’s Post-Modern approach to politics is fraying America’s concept of checks and balances. Historically, the beauty of America’s government lay in how its limited government provided a legal framework that allowed opposites to co-exist. This framework led to the often-quoted ideal of “agreeing to disagree.” Implicit in this was the idea that a “melting-pot” of differing cultures and values could live side by side with each other in relative peace if they followed the law. An amazing thing about this form of government is that it unwittingly provided a framework that encouraged a cross-pollination of ideas. This process not only encouraged a certain freedom of thought, it also encouraged separate cultures to maintain their identity all while still being influenced by other cultures.

In the subjective Post-Modern world the concept of “agreeing to disagree” is being eroded. In its place is an unyielding dogma that relies on caricature and ridicule to beat into submission opposing thoughts. Unfortunately, political debate on all levels is losing the ability to coalesce around the idea of looking to apparent truths to find a common good for America. Political rhetoric now encourages followers of a particular dogma to seek a purity that’s almost impossible to achieve. As a result, most political victories are no longer seen as a chance to reach across the aisle to assure the vanquished they’ll still be listened to. Instead, in today’s environment, political victors are encouraged to keep pushing the same victorious agenda to almost unreachable lengths. This process then results in the vanquished wanting retribution someday and vowing never to work with those with opposing views.

America is facing unparalleled challenges socially, politically, and economically due to both globalization and computerization. Although the Industrial Revolution and Age of Invention unleashed change quickly, the Computer Revolution, when combined with globalism, threatens to usurp traditions at a much faster pace than before. Although change is often called the one constant in life, it’s now apparent that the increasingly rapid pace of change in our Post-Modern world is increasing the level of societal cynicism.

Interestingly, many are rebelling against current trends and are trying to reinvigorate the idea that there are some truths to life that many can agree upon. This isn’t to imply that a rebirth of absolutism is at hand. This merely implies that the strong emphasis on subjectivity that characterizes the Post-Modern world is now being questioned.

In an attempt to reduce the emotionalism of today’s socio-political world, it may be wise to look for ways to reinvigorate the fact that a common good for America can still exist. In looking for common ground for a common good, recognizing apparent truths may help many of us look past the socio-political divide we now face. As opposed to absolute truth, which is hard to prove, examples of apparent truth are all around us. If we open our eyes to these common levels of truth it may become easier to find things to agree upon. One can only hope.




18 thoughts on “The Intense Emotions Of Modern Politics

  1. Perry you are right on when you said, “In the subjective Post-Modern world the concept of “agreeing to disagree” is being eroded. In its place is an unyielding dogma that relies on caricature and ridicule to beat into submission opposing thoughts”.

    Could it be as you say, in the search for absolute truth, in an attempt at being objective, everything is painted as right or wrong?, with no in between?
    There are no conversations only rhetoric and dogma crafted to make sound bites that prove ones point instead of inviting dialogue.
    Talking in bullet points, dropping bombshells, using emotional ammunition to gun down the opponent.
    Could it be we’ve become so steeped in simplistic movie storylines that we have forgotten how complicated life really is?
    Boy wins the girl, the end.
    Blowing up bad guys is foreplay so there’s no need, no time, to have a relationship.
    Simple storylines pander to our survival instincts and objectify everything and win.
    Conversations have become something to conquer, instead of opportunities for growth and understanding. We have become so insecure and paranoid that we cannot trust anyone, not even our own feelings, making it impossible to find common ground to build a relationship.
    Real life is a dynamic continuum, filled with complex interdependent matrices that are infinite in quantity and quality. True it is, Intimacy makes us vulnerable. But Isn’t that a risk worth taking?

    1. Hey Tom…excellent points + thx for the dialogue!

      You note how modern pop culture, in it’s search for absolutes, ignores the intricacies of life as it really is. And yes, this search for absolute truth often leads people to conquer conversations + dialogue instead of finding common ground.

      Ironically, Post-Modern life reverses the order of truth-seeking as it often used to be. Nowadays, we don’t look to obvious apparent truths first + then branch off into seeking absolute truth. Instead, we often blow past lower-level areas of apparent truth + start arguing about areas of absolute truth that are hard to prove.

      I love your point about how some movies reinforce simple story lines. How true. And yes, the true nature nature of life really does have complex interdependent matrices that are infinite in quantity and quality. And yes, the true complexity of things can make intimacy a vulnerable under-taking that’s worth taking.

  2. Post Modern failures were discussed in the previous blog post’s comments, so I want to focus on a point in this post’s first paragraph: “…civility in politics is being undercut by a heightened Us vs. Them mentality.”

    Is it no wonder we are in this state when the new era was emphatically launched over 15 years ago with “if you’re not with us you’re against us”, unleashing a rampage of militarism never seen before? Violence has become our government’s de facto policy to deal with any level of disagreement or conflict. That the masses now adhere to this same fundamental perversion in their own personal behavior is no surprise.

    1. Hey PJ, great to hear from you again!

      Yes…you may make a valid correlation here. When the War on Terror was launched 15 years ago, there was an emphatic black + white point made that there was no questioning this policy. Although many are now comfortable questioning the particulars of the Mideast campaigns launched 15 years ago, the absolute nature of the policy when it was presented has undoubtedly impacted society as a whole.

      Could it be that Post-Modernism, by de-emphasizing truth, has unwittingly helped create a mindset where the main truth many now seek is absolute + unyielding? Hence, we’re now seeing the addiction to dogma that you noted above.

  3. Fascinating Article Perry. I heard something on a talk show the other day that’s related to this that is plain, damn scary. This person had the viewpoint that what’s been going on with Trump is that the powers that be are almost staging a slow-moving coup.

    With my background in science, it bothers me when I find out even the world of science is being politicized. It used to be scientists could get together and argue their points, looking at the experimental results and conforming theory to match that that can be tested. Now it’s just a question of buy your own expert, and the whole institution of science is going the same way as the unbiased media. Science is kind of the last bastion for absolute truths or apparent truths. When it gets co-opted, we’ll lose a lot of the things we take science for granted for.

    Science and R&D, is one of the biggest things that keeps our economy growing. The idea that the American worker is ever going to compete with China and India in the manufacturing base is nonsense, when our workers want $50 an hour on an assembly line while those in China make $10 a day. The only thing keeping America going is our high tech. It’s the only advantage we have. When we sell our scientific opinions we’re really cutting our own throat more than anything else.

    The other thing that is being overlooked is how drastic our world has changed because of the increase in social media and high-tech gadgets like the cameras in our phones. Aldous Huxley couldn’t have gotten any closer to predicting their truths. Basically, with cell phones and tablets, every member of our society has the ability to spy on anybody, take pictures of anybody. There is no way to protect your privacy anymore. On one hand, people would think its unfair if the police put a camera at every stop sign. But between the cell phones and you tube, members of our society have the ability to drag down anyone they want.

    None of us are perfect. We all make mistakes. We are only human. But at no other times has society had the tools to record any and everything we do to be used against us.

    It’s only a matter of time before those with power will learn how to use it against their own citizens.

    1. Nice to hear from you luv4all1959 + thx so much for the in-depth analysis from a scientist’s point of view!

      Regarding the situation with Trump + whether opposition to him represents a slow-moving coup, there may be some truth to it. After all, it’s clear he’s encountering an extremely high level of opposition from many levels of government in addition to the media. This isn’t to say Trump doesn’t play into the situation with his frequent tweets. However…since he’s been ridiculed from the start of his campaign, there may be some truth to the fact Trump feels obliged to fight back so strong. In some ways, the Trump situation reminds me of the high level of opposition Bill Clinton encountered in his 1st term. And we all remember where that eventually led.

      With your scientific background, you make an interesting point I find other intellectuals making about science. They’re saying that many power-brokers now use either certain scientific facts in isolation, or are bending certain facts to create a dogma that rivals the intense dogmas we’ve seen historically with either governments in the past or religions. In fact, some say that a somewhat watered down science has now become a de-facto religion.

      And yes, scientific method, which uses facts + apparent truths arrived at by testing to setup scientific axioms, has indeed been de-emphasized according to some. What they say is happening is that politically motivated premises are sometimes arrived at first + then only the facts that support the premise are allowed to see the light of day.

      Your point about America’s science integrity being questioned by this process is well taken. Since we can’t compete globally in manufacturing, we have to maintain our scientific integrity.

      Regarding Huxley, I agree. It appears that western liberal societies are more in the dystopic Huxley vein more at this point than the Orwellian mold. And yes…when one looks to history one is constantly reminded that absolute power is indeed corrupting.

  4. Just to pose some questions on the fundamental issue of the topic……….

    How to preserve particularity without injustice within modern liberalism? Is it protection or exclusion? Real preference or insubstantial bias? If there is no longer a majority group everyone will have to adapt to everyone else. Diversity will become the new norm. But what then is the definition of today’s diversity anyway?

    1. Fascinating point PJ! Although the beauty of America’s checks +balances resides in the protection of the minority from the tyranny of the majority, we have to be careful that the majority still has a voice that’s respected.

      As for preferences, they will always exist. Just as economists point out that the beauty of the marketplace resides in the ability of each of us to show our preferences through our purchases, it’d be hard to imagine a time when all preferences can be somewhat viewed as a sign of discrimination or bias. If we ever get to this point, human progress + happiness as we know it, may grind to a halt.

      Balancing respect for diversity with the need for traditions + cultural preferences, seems to be the eternal balance that all successful societies have.

  5. Great topic. The Enlightenment produced the best model for multiculturalism – namely, there are many different cultures, each with their own biases, but our shared humanness and universal capacity for reason give us the tools to combat prejudice and establish universal rights. Ironically, our post-modern “multiculturalists” attack that model in favor of the tribal notion that “you can’t know my truth” you’re not one of “my” people (whether defined as race, gender, political affiliation, etc.). The latter model means the “us vs. them” wall cannot be breached by reason; we can only hurl insults and try to destroy “them” by any means necessary. Cp. Enlightenment voices on race and gender: Mary Wollstonecraft, who bases her feminism on appeals to reason that explicitly apply regardless of gender, and Olaudah Equiano, whose slave narrative emphasizes a simple truth that is lost in post-modern theory – we can and should celebrate our cultural differences but we must do so without denying our shared humanness, because “shared humanness” is the antidote to racial prejudice and the precondition of multicultural harmony.

    1. Excellent points Daedulus! Wow…

      I’ve rarely heard not only a clearer definition + defense of Enlightenment theories, I’ve rarely heard a stronger explanation of how the Post-Modern mindset turns Enlightenment theories on their ear. This includes the way Post-Modernists co-opt in a limited way certain features of the Enlightenment.

      As you point out, our shared humanness, a concept developed in the Enlightenment, helped result in a move away from tribalism + a move towards multiculturalism. Ironically, you correctly point out how the modern use of the term “multiculturalism” can often result in a rebirth of a tribalism since “multiculturalism” often isn’t used nowadays as a means to respect the many divergent cultures that evolve with their own preferences. Instead, as you clearly point out, the term is often used to bludgeon opposing cultures.

      A rebirth of respect for the Enlightenment theories that used to exist, no matter how quaint they may seem, may surely help us out of many current logjams all while helping to increase the contentment quotients of many cultures.

      Thx for the in-depth comment Daedulus!

      1. Hi Perry. I’ve read enough of your blog to know that a compliment from you is worth its salt, so thanks 🙂 Yes, we need to recover those Enlightenment principles before it’s too late. David Brooks wrote an op-ed today in the NYT you might like called “The Retreat to Tribalism.”

  6. Hey Daedalus…I just checked out the David Brooks article + agree with both him + you about the rise of modern tribalism. Interestingly, this knee-jerk embrace of a simplistic Us vs Them mindset probably did arise out of individualism.

    And yes, your comment above was very powerful for me. I’m also enjoying receiving + reading your blog too.

    Take Care + keep thinking my friend!

  7. Excellent. This is not unique to America. It’s a human trend. Nations which manage to hold fast to one belief are able to develop their economy in strength. Actions speak louder than mere talk.

    1. Fascinating ideas!

      What I sense you’re saying is that a nation needs a certain core belief to be able to not only thrive, but endure. And yes, as you say…actions do speak louder than words.

    1. So good to hear from you Americaoncoffee!

      As for where we’re heading politically, it’s anyone’s guess. However…if we don’t re-establish the need for honest political dialogue and debate, politics will merely turn into a zero sum game. When that happens, it’ll truly devolve into a winner take all situation.

      Hopefully…we can avoid that.

      Take Care + best of luck with your in-depth blog! 🙂

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