posted on Sep, 22 2018 @ 12:09 AM
There has been countless gesticulations about the rise in polarization in politics today, that some fear it will lead to extremism, sectarian violence
and even civil war. So whenever a pundit besmirches partisanship, political bias or our natural urge to lean one way or another, he expects and
usually receives praise.
But this is a false accusation. Polarization is the necessary essence of politics. If there wasn’t political division we’d be divided along
borders of blood and violence.
By continuing to slander polarization we risk demonizing many important aspects of our democratic inheritance in favor of temporary conveniences. The
result, as it so happens, is people fleeing further into their perspective camps or from political engagement entirely.
Instead, we should embrace, participate in, and be grateful for polarization as a sign of a healthy democracy. Wherever we’re drawn to this or that
pole, we should remember to what sort of world these poles belong.
Where we once seized power by force and violence we’ve learned to do so through debate and deliberation. We now convince each other instead of
conquering each other. We’ve traded our arms for arguments, our political monism and uniformity for political pluralism and variety. The topology of
our political landscape no longer resembles a desert, flat and arid, but offers a variety of peaks and valleys of thought that anyone can traipse
across without fear. At least, so we once hoped.
The ancient Greeks used the word idiotes (ἰδιώτης) to describe a private citizen indifferent to civic participation and far removed
from the governing elites. The word idiotes eventually shifted into the derogatory term “idiot” we know and love today. Though the meanings are
different, the semantic thread makes sense. Philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle saw civic life and political engagement as a necessary
curriculum towards self-development, educating the student in how to be a citizen, developing the capacity to rule and to be ruled. To forgo that
knowledge, it seems to me, is to willingly remain an idiot.
The idiotes of today take polarization as a species of sectarianism and factionalism, and not an opportunity for learning. These fence-sitters,
as high-minded and reasonable as they may seem at first, are at best wallowing in their own complacency, but at worse, advocating unknowingly towards
the end of politics altogether.
What does no politics look like? If we could do away with polarization and division, forcing unity, we’d find ourselves in the midst of some form or
other of totalitarianism. A glance towards the most uniform and united politics in the world reveals at the same time the most tyrannical and stupid.
There is no polarization in the politics of North Korea, for instance, and if there was, it would be suppressed immediately. The opposite of the
politics of division is the politics of conformity and homogeneity, or in other words, no politics at all.
Instead of the routine ambivalence and apathy towards politics we might try fostering a love of it. After all, our ancestors fought and died for it.
Instead of running from polarization, partisanship and the politics of division, we should promote them all as the properties of a democratic
society. We should participate and come to love these as properties of freedom, or risk abandoning the enterprise of civilization altogether.
Only in the open and unrestrained conflict of principles and ideas is there any sort of clarity. Only in an environment of dialectic and trial and
error is their any sort of synthesis. Even the great Buddha, arriving at his enlightenment, first had to live the full spectrum between the extremes
of indulgence and self-mortification in order to finally realize it.
If it’s the lack of civility that bothers the naysayers of politics, they better be sure to equip themselves with weapons of argument anyways, lest
they risk leaving it to someone else to define what civility is. As in any argument they might have to take a side. If it’s balance and
bipartisanship they crave, hence their position, what do the moderates do when the scales are tipped more one way or the other and we lose balance
altogether? Do they finally leave their coveted perch in the center, or do they wait for the push and pull of everyone else to decide where the center