One of the more unfortunate aspects of today’s polarized political climate has been the destruction of personal relationships over political differences. Social media, once a place where you could reconnect with old friends from school and work, became a place where people cut themselves off from people over political differences. Articles emerged on surviving the holidays with family members who supported the other party.
Bob Talisse, Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University, has dedicate much of his career to the subject of democratic thought and how the current divided state of American society threatens it.
I spoke with Bob for this week’s episode of You Don’t Have to Yell, and made some surprising discoveries about how politics has transformed from being part of our identity to being interwoven into everything from where we get our groceries to the coffee we drink.
For Talisse, the bedrock of democracy is the idea that - despite our differences - we are all political equals. To that end, the fact members of both party consider their opposition an existential threat to American democracy is an existential threat to American democracy in and of itself.
Partisan and social media have taken much of the rap for this, but unfairly so. Talisse credits the bulk of our polarization to the fact Americans increasingly live their lives among people who think like them, and rarely interact with those who don’t. This creates a phenomenon known as “group polarization”, where being surrounded by people who think like us causes us to become more extreme versions of our political selves, driving us further apart from those we disagree with.
This separation has seeped into consumer habits and branding as well, with both sides having their own preferred brands. Target vs. Walmart. Starbucks vs. Dunkin. Even gun control and Parkland Shooting survivor, David Hogg, has announced his own pillow line to compete with Trump ally and My Pillow CEO, Mike Lindell.
Due to a weird blend of ultra-targeted political and consumer branding, even the strangers you wait in line with to get coffee and buy groceries think like you. If social media is to blame for anything, it’s being the one place where people of differing political views still congregate.
While there’s no silver bullet to this problem, Talisse advocates the idea of “putting politics in its place”. This means understanding politics is one part of who we are, but not all of who we are, and certainly not the biggest part.
Bridging the divide doesn’t mean eating at Cracker Barrel or drinking a latte to see how the other half lives, but not viewing the fact that they do as a threat.
Here are a few additional resources Talisse has put out on the subject:
- Political Polarization is About Feelings, Not Facts
- Talisse's most recent book, Overdoing Democracy: Why We Must Put Politics In Its Place, can be purchased on Amazon. (link here)
- You can also view his TED Talk on the subject here.