Everybody is a partisan.
The degree to which we’re partisans varies from person to person, but the very fact that we all contain biases and dogmatic beliefs at some level is very much self evident.
I am a partisan.
Fairly recently I was reminded of this fact. It’s very easy to believe that everyone else is super biased, and that you are pretty based and open-minded. It’s a sort of willful blindness humans affect to insulate themselves from situations which may be uncomfortable and challenging. In a chat, last month, with anti-abortion activist Devin Sena, I had this illusion I’d created for myself deconstructed as I endeavored to argue a “pro-choice” viewpoint in the live chat.
I’ve always identified as pro-life, whether passively by political affiliation (I was raised as a Christian-Republican so it came with the territory), or more actively later in life as I became a parent, and experienced the growth of my child from egg to delivery. As a participant in the live chat for this particular episode of Right Millennial, I decided to start arguing and asking questions, even though those who shared the live chat also shared most of my personal views on the subject. I began to argue the other side or, at least, I thought I was arguing the other side.
I failed miserably.
At this point I could probably smugly chalk it up to the “superiority of my own philosophy”, I could convince myself that the reason I couldn’t argue effectively is because the pro-choice position is inherently untenable, which it very well could be. In reflecting on the exchanges I had that night, however, I realized that I couldn’t argue the other side of the issue very well because I didn’t actually know what someone who would argue for that worldview would say.
Sure, I’m well acquainted with the societal caricatures of my adversaries, as I am also well acquainted with their caricatures of those on my side. Sure, I can also pretend to dive a little deeper than those surface level caricatures just to prove to myself that I’m not a mindless partisan Fox Bot, but to what end? At the end of the day I was arguing a pro-choice position the way a pro-life person would. It was an exercise in confirmation bias, and I had inadvertently rigged the game in my own favor.
The Current State of Partisan Politics
Our society is currently suffering under the paralysis of partisan politics. Partisanship is freezing the political mechanisms by which our society can function, and we’re beginning to see violence become the preferred method of settling disputes. After all, when you can’t talk something out yet still have to share space with the people you vehemently disagree with, force becomes a necessity to achieving any sort of progress. This is what is happening in America today. These instances of political violence aren’t happening in a vacuum, but are emblematic of a deeper, root issue at the core of how we interact with each other. These symptoms of root decay will only continue to worsen if we can’t put aside partisanship for an authentic exchange of ideas.
When people become nothing more than symbols, rather than individuals who ought to be judged according to their individual merits and ideas, we can observe a profound disconnect. This happens on the left as well as the right.
What I learned from my exchange in Right Millennial’s live chat was not that I was ideologically superior than my pro-choice counterparts, but that I hadn’t really been listening to what they had to say.
Creating Better Conversations
The value that comes from psychology and counseling is not because some “expert” gives you all the answers to your problems. What makes a good psychologist able to accurately diagnose their clients, to dig and reveal their deeply embedded issues to them, isn’t a degree or certification. It isn’t because the psychologist has read a ton of different books and publications (though that knowledge certainly doesn’t hurt), or had a ton of schooling. The value of a good psychologist lies in their ability to listen to, and truly hear, their patient. This is why, often, good psychologists can pinpoint key issues that their patient was has been holding onto for years, yet has been unaware of before stepping into the psychologist’s office.
The psychoanalytic format for counseling is designed to create better interaction. It’s a conversation-based format which is distraction free, in which one party shares their viewpoint, uninhibited, without fear of judgment, and this environment allows for crucial moments of self-reflection. This sort of environment helps the formulation of thoughts and can expose biases, blindspots in individual character.
This needs to be our state of mind when it comes to political discourse as well.
Just as the psychologist’s office can help the individual sort out their personal conflicts through creating better conversations, these same substantive exchanges of ideas, facilitated through genuine listening, can also drastically impact, and shape the political arena in our current culture.
Imagine being free of the conspiratorial whisperings of the dreaded “marxist Left” or the “evil corporate Right” and being able to have a conversation with someone of a different worldview, not marred by presumptions, but marked instead by its productive nature. This would revolutionize political discourse and effectively dismantle partisan mentalities. It would introduce nuance to the picture and, at very least, would enable us to view our fellow countrymen as humans rather than symbols of everything we’ve been taught to despise.
The best part about creating a better discourse through actively listening to others, is that it doesn’t rely on some external entity to enact it as a social policy. This mentality is completely within the control of the individual. How we choose to interact with others is a choice. I have a choice to make, daily, what sorts of information I’ll allow myself to digest, and if I’ll solidify my biases or actively challenge them instead.
As members of a (somewhat) representative society, we are the recipients of the society we choose to create. The society we’ve created in the last few decades isn’t a society that’s destined to win, no matter how many catchy slogans are concocted and chanted, and who’s team wins the elections.
So will we choose to stay on the familiar course or will we choose, instead, to begin to create better conversations?
Time will tell.