The Death of Discussion

Robert Igbokwe Anyone will tell you that the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution grants Americans freedom of speech, press, peaceful assembly, and petition. Whether our country is properly upholding this philosophy is up for debate, but one thing that is almost universally agreed upon is that our nation has a great diversity of opinions. With few exceptions, you can truly say or think whatever you want here. But one thing the Constitution does not account for is how we share our many opinions. Are we expressing our opinions in the right way and to the right people? Political polarization refers to the growing ideological gap between political creeds, usually in the context of political parties (however, to express America’s diversity of opinions, I will use them in the context of conservatism and liberalism). Whether or not you’ve heard of the term before, we see it every day. Conservative and liberal parties have continuously drifted apart from each other, not just in their views but in discussion. Some say that we’ve trapped ourselves within ideological bubbles. These bubbles protect many of us from having to face a world where our views are not seen as “absolutely correct.” The media, which is supposed to offer Americans the opportunity to become well informed individuals, has only further established these bubbles by dividing into political factions that are often contradictory of each other. These divisions are even more apparent in social media, where we can block and filter out ideas we do not agree with. Platforms that allow us to discuss and debate controversial topics have instead caused meaningless arguments, with the assurance that if we “lost” the argument, we could simply block out opposing ideas and vent to those who we can trust and agree with us. I wanted to know how my peers were reacting to the issue, so I reached out to students at Latin to find out their take on the matter. “Well, I have noticed that a lot of non partisan news sites such as CNN have become increasingly and openly liberal. Everyone likes to make fun of Fox for being super conservative but these other sites are just as bad,” says Bella Campise, a freshman. Freshman Ashley Rosenberg says, “The media is able to shape how we view politics because, even though most sources try to be as objective as possible, there is always bias… People also end up getting news from unreliable sources on social media and this leads to falsities being accepted as true by the general public.” Nick Schuler, a junior, says “I think political polarization is a large problem. I see day in and day –  people will dislike each other simply because of their political views.” While it’s clear that polarization is recognized as a relevant issue, I decided to do some research of my own. According to a Pew Research Center series, a survey conducted by more than 10,000 adults reveals that 47% of consistent conservatives relied on Fox News as either their main or only source of information and nearly 55% of consistent liberals relied on news sources such as CNN, MSNBC, NYT, and NPR (all notably liberal news outlets) for their information. It was also found that liberals were more likely to unfriend someone on social media for political reasons, and conservatives were more likely to be distrusting and avoidant towards information on social media that did not come from explicitly conservative sources. This, in the simplest terms, is a problem. When we decide to ignore opposing opinions whenever we want, we are only getting a single story. Neither Fox News nor CNN are free of bias and relying exclusively on either one can lead to being under or misinformed. Although many would like to say otherwise, this dilemma is not solely the fault of any political party. Fredericka Mitchell, a freshman, says “I think we are just at the point in this country’s [history, where] we don’t listen to the opposition and we get very frustrated.” This statement is not only true, but worrisome. Our ideological bubbles are calcifying and growing spikes. A democratic government like America’s is not designed for ideological bubbles. Here at Latin, there are a variety of opportunities to break through one’s bubbles. Affinity groups often discuss controversial issues affecting our nation. Clubs like Model UN and Debate Club take on international topics that not only help us break through our ideological bubble, but also our US-centric view of the world. Our school’s Conservatives of Latin club, which is open to people of all political views hoping to have intellectual discussions, is a great opportunity to get started on becoming a well informed individual. My insistence on joining these clubs is not to say that I am the perfect example. I’m guilty myself of sitting idly in my own ideological bubble, and although I’ve made plans to, I haven’t attended my first Conservatives of Latin meeting. But working on breaking through our bubbles is a continuous effort. We all need to push ourselves to enter situations where we won’t always be agreed with. We need to understand the difference between a logic-based debate, and petty quarrels built on little more than assumptions. We need to stop accusing each other of being ignorant when we ourselves have not taken an effort to hear each others’ side of an argument. And most importantly, we need to accept the fact that we may not always “win” every debate or have the last word in every discussion, because at the end of the day, discussion isn’t about winning — it’s about learning and collaborating. Our protest and petitions do little if we refuse to talk to those whom’s opinions we wish to change.]]>