Thursday, February 5, 2009

Conformity Redux

America is becoming more polarized. Not by race and religion, but around ideology. Too often, belonging to a community that people think the same thoughts, feel the same feelings, and act accordingly. Groupthink reigns in today's America.

Shankar Vedantam draws this conclusion in the Washington Post. Link here.

Ideological conformity is enforced by ostracism. If you are a Democrat in a community of Republicans or a Republican in a community of Democrats you will be made to feel like you do not belong, like you are an outsider.

The virus of political correctness, having first infected the educational and media worlds, has now mutated into a form that undermines our identity as Americans.

The phenomenon undermines the practice of free and open debate in a democratic society.

As Vedantam put it, people do not merely disagree with those who hold different opinions. They despise them. People who think differently are not fellow citizens; they are traitors, heretics, environmental criminals, mass murderers, or worse.

If your opponents are subhuman, you do not have to negotiate a compromise. You can simply ostracize them and wait for them to move away.

And yet, as any experienced witch hunter can tell you, it is very difficult to know what people really think and feel. If words can deceive, then you will need to look more closely at their actions. How better to police thought than by insisting on behaviors that demonstrate an ideologically correct attitude.

It is not about disagreements, and it is not about policy. As Venentam says: "It is not about taxes or terrorism. The yoga people simply can't stand what the lawn-chemical people represent, and vice versa."

The personal has now become politicized, to the detriment of the marketplace of ideas.

At a time when we all need to come together to solve our problems, we have increasingly become a nation of true believers, unable and unwilling to fashion anything resembling a compromise.

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