Americans Are Becoming Ideologically Possessed

Dylan Palmer | @dylanpalmer22

On a fundamental level, our political allegiances are formed and determined by our personality and temperament. Human personalities are partly inherent and partly socialized, but they will nevertheless lead us to our instinctive reactions to a wide array of political affairs. In the absence of thorough personal research on an issue, it is our temperament that guides us to an opinion. It’s no sin to have strong values that inform one on how to act. However, overarching values applied in frivolous manners don’t allow for much distinction to individual circumstances.

Political Party, or Political Tribe?

We recognize the Republican and Democratic Party as “parties,” but in today’s modern America, they resemble primitive warring tribes more than they do well-regulated parties working, despite disagreements, for the betterment of one united nation. Political savants will, no doubt, recognize that Congress has been increasing in partisanship since the 1950s, with the era of all-partisan politics beginning in the 1990s; an era which is still alive and well today. A more divided Congress leads to a more divided nation. Or, perhaps, it was a more divided citizenry which elected a more divided Congress. Whether the chicken or the egg came first, one thing is certain: Americans and their representatives are more partisan than ever before.

In an age where we ignore our opposition and feed only from news organizations offering loads of confirmation for our political biases, it should be no surprise when national tensions break out over politically charged events. The disgraceful, reactionary reporting of the Nick Sandmann & Nathan Phillips confrontation in January of 2019 by organizations such as The Washington Post, CNN, and NBC serves as a stark example of this. These organizations simply bought into the narrative that Nathan Phillips, a career political activist, was selling them, with no consideration of investigating the reality of the situation that was released on video only hours later.

Left-wing media reporting was compelled to cast Nick Sandmann and his classmates in a negative light because they were white “men” (boys) in MAGA hats, and their tribe codes that visual as the face of an enemy.

By the same token, the entrenched chants such as “CNN sucks!” or “Lock her up!”, which tend to be commonplace at a Trump rally, don’t exactly inspire confidence in the thoughtfulness of the right-wing either. There are dogmatic tendencies on both sides, and what’s worse; they’re mainstream.

A Dark Tide Rising

If we, as a nation, continue down this path of ideological polarization, politics in America won’t just get uglier; they’ll get more violent. We’ve already seen early attempts at targeted political violence from both right-wing and left-wing nut-jobs. The 2017 congressional baseball shooting saw a Democratic Bernie Sanders supporter attempt to kill Republican politicians, while the similarly politically motivated “US mail bomber,” a Donald Trump supporter, sent 13 bombs to various Democratic Politicians and Trump critics.

By drumming up the political polarization in this country, the media, politicians, interest groups, and citizens are tilting us further and further toward an increased likelihood of violent attacks like these. It’s not okay to berate someone solely for their political affiliation. It’s that very treatment which radicalizes people and leads them to commit heinous acts. We have to be better.

Lessons for the Future

The Great Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky once noted, “It was not you who ate the idea, but the idea that ate you.” Various ideologies prey on individual’s differing yet easily identifiable personality types. People seem to believe that they are in possession of their beliefs, but in reality, it is much more common for people’s beliefs to possess them.

If you’ve ever ignored a friend with which you disagree with politically because you couldn’t articulate your position better than they could, you’re showing signs of ideological possession. If you’ve ever been in a political argument that eventually escalated to you shouting down your opponent, it’s likely you’re ideologically possessed by the ideas you espouse. If you’ve ever gone red with anger at the sight of a MAGA hat, or unironically screamed “Lock her up!”, you’re most likely suffering from ideological possession. To be ideologically possessed is to be unaware of all it is that you are supporting – it is to be a puppet.

Don’t be a puppet. Have some humility. Be open to the possibility that your hot-take isn’t as informed as you might wish it to be. Speak to people, sincerely, on the other side of the aisle – and listen to what they have to say, attributing to them the best of intentions. Think introspectively, and be honest. The only remedy for ideological possession is thoughtful individualism.

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