Daniel Kligerman

Me, on the web

Complexity & Disagreement

The divide between right and left has been growing to the point where the extremes of each side are dominating the discourse, and where even the more moderate are losing the ability to engage in dialogue. I’ve been observing the growth of the divide, and the breakdown of exchange of ideas, with an ever-increasing sense of dread. I believe that overcoming this divide to the point where constructive dialogue is once again possible is critical to the very functioning of the world as we know it.

To explore what is really going on, and get beyond the surface-level headlines and sound bites is not simple; it is not by accident that the left and right have been so effective at polarizing their supporters–their messages and emotional draws are powerful. As someone who identifies with the left, I found it difficult to extricate myself from the left’s ideologies sufficiently to understand the entire situation. Listening to more centre or right-wing content initially caused me to feel only frustration and defensiveness. It took many months of persistence, and exposure to a wide variety of views on both the left and right to start to develop a more fulsome understanding of what is actually going on.

The deeper my understanding, the more I realize just how complex this situation is. What is dividing the right from the left involves dozens, if not hundreds of issues, and each of these operate at many different levels. To fully grasp each issue requires a non-trivial understanding of some combination of history, psychology, linguistics, biology, sociology, logic, education, technology, law, and journalism. And yet, the vast majority of the “debate” between right and left occurs in offensive sound bites. The polarity of the overall situation is ironically paralleled by the divide between the depth of dialogue required and what is taking place.

Because of how combative things are between people with different views, negative emotions quickly take over and get in the way of any real progress towards learning the details that would foster real dialogue. In fact, people are not even getting to the point where they understand that the situation is complex or nuanced. Each side is so entrenched, so angry, and so satisfied by the simplicity of their own sound bites that delving into any further depth never occurs to them.

Somehow, we must break that cycle. Ending the increasing divide and polarization cannot occur unless there is true dialogue, and that dialogue cannot happen until people realize there is more to learn about what they believe, what others believe, and what is actually going on here. That realization must not be seen as a sign of weakness in one’s position, but as an opportunity to eventually find some degree of common ground.

Most insidious is that even questioning or exploring deeply entrenched views results in immediate attack, no matter which side you’re on. This is an example of the multiple layers at play: not only do people not realize there is complexity, they are discouraged from this realization and from learning more by the cultures within their own camps.

Given all of this, the most feasible place for people to start is by privately questioning the basis of their own views. Doing so privately avoids any risk of being attacked by your own side, or of showing the other side that there are cracks in your beliefs. I highly encourage you, no matter your affiliation, to take some time to ask yourself some fundamental, tough questions about your beliefs. Not for the sake of disproving what you believe or to move you to another point on the political spectrum, but as a means for you to start to see the complexity of our world, and plant some initial seeds that may eventually grow into the basis for true dialogue.

For example, if you are left-leaning, and you believe that in our society, women are treated unfairly, there are many questions you can ask to delve into this. Not for the sake of disproving that women are treated unfairly, but to deepen your understanding. Pick one way you believe this unfairness manifests, and learn about the history of this treatment. Learn about the biology, the sociology, and the legal aspects at play.

Again, I understand that by even admitting you’re learning about these things, you may be labeled a traitor and called all kinds of names. This is an example of the insidiousness of our current situation. But believing women are treated unfairly and understanding the situation at great depth is a much more powerful position than simply believing it arbitrarily and without question. After all, it is only once you do grasp the details that you can engage with those who disagree with you in true dialogue, rather than the current surface-level debates that quickly devolve into name-calling or worse.

Ultimately, the vast majority of people who hold views in opposition to each other don’t understand the nature of those views to a level of depth that stands up to any rigorous debate. Therefore, before we can have the kind of dialogue that is the first step towards common ground, I challenge all of us to take the time to do some serious learning, informed by unhindered self-questioning.

There is a lot more I have to say on this topic, and I plan to use this space as a means to explore both the nature of the situation, and ideas to help move things in a more positive direction.

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