Only the Polarized Are Actually Polarized?
November 05, 2014
You know an election's not coming out the way they want when the New York Times is talking about polarization. In a recent op-ed, two social psychology professors argue that people who have strong political views assume that people at the opposite end of the political spectrum have similarly strong views, and in fact view the electorate as a whole as being more polarized than it actually is.
The implication, of course, is that if those in the middle just exerted themselves more, politics would be much more genteel and representative of the people as a whole rather than the wild men at either extreme.
Well, count me as one of those who think the only things in the middle of the road are yellow stripes and dead skunks.
History is always made by decisive men or groups who seize an opportunity to move the zeitgeist in a new direction. This was common thinking in the 19th century with Thomas Carlyle, Georg Hegel and Soren Kirkegaard as prominent exponents. Vladimir Lenin saw the Bolsheviks as the "vanguard of the proletariat," who would move an otherwise bovine working class in the direction of revolution.
This sort of heroic thinking is much out of fashion now, in a time when sundry academic drones have reduced history and the future, too, to the dead hand of class, race and sex.
Not every public question, and certainly no important one, can be averaged between the two extremes. The case of gun rights is a perfect example.
We are not willing to meet the anti-gunners halfway. An outcome where we lose half our rights and they agree not to take the other half, for the moment at least, is not an outcome we intend to accept.
Sometimes, as Gen. Douglas MacArthur put it, there is no substitute for victory. The only outcome acceptable to us is one in which the antis are defeated. They close down their offices, they stop issuing press releases, they quit proposing legislation and go save the snail darter. Anything short of that is no resolution.
Similarly, our enemies will not be satisfied so long as we have so much as a slingshot. They will only have won when the last single-shot .22 is rooted out of the remotest barn in Montana and melted into a peace sculpture.
Polarization is what you get when people actually believe in something, and when the stakes really matter. It is often stated, usually by those who idealize Scandinavian social democracy, that people in Denmark are the happiest on earth. Well, why not? What are the stakes if you're in Denmark? What can actually happen? That cheese prices collapse?
This is America, and the stakes are huge. People take sides and struggle vigorously, occasionally violently, to put their programs into effect. That's what democracy looks like when there's really something on the line. Polarization is what you get when people actually care.
The New York Times may prefer the muddled middle, but I like my politics with a little jalapeno sauce, if you please.