Forget the Alt-Right and Call Moderate Conservatives Back to the Table
Nov 9, 2018
Forget the Alt-Right: Why Liberals Should Bring Moderate Conservatives Back to the Table in the Era of Polarization and Emotional Reactions.
In a world where space is infinite, why isn't everyone there? This is the most fascinating question that came to me while reading a study conducted by Yochai Benkler, author and the Berkman Professor of Entrepreneurial Legal Studies at Harvard Law School. The study indicates that the center-right is not well-represented in US media, a phenomenon that may also be present in other countries.
Conservative publications are a significant part of the oldest names like The Economist and The Times, to mention two, but today, the right-wing court has drained the center-right space. This is fueled by the social media “Like Industry”, where conspiracy theories, borderline (or more) hate speech, and mistrust of institutions, thrive like epidemics.
The question is: instead of fighting the guerilla against uncompromising manipulative radicals, shouldn’t liberals be trying to bring back the legitimate conservatives to the table? Conversations are the foundation of democracy. No society has emerged from darkness without submitting ideas to evaluation, scrutiny, criticism, and change.
Philosophers have been arguing about the best way to find the truth (no, let’s not talk about fake news here) and there is a common understanding among those who were not intended to defend monarchies or aristocracies that the clash between ideas and criticism is the most efficient method to do so. This is a sort of Darwinian approach to the survival of the fittest for ideas and ideology.
There is a gap in the media. The moderate conservative, or center-right spectrum of politics, no longer has space to argue, expose its ideas, or lobby for these interests. But how can a part of the audience disappear? What phenomenon leads to this polarization?
There are studies that argue that the polarization has not been rigid in terms, meaning that different subsets of the main policies of both parties in America have been included. However, leaders and voters on both sides have increased the aggression against the opposing side, following an “affective polarization”.
To put it simply: the ideas remain the same, but the reactions that people have become emotional, irrational in a sense. People who once engaged in constructive discussions now hate their opponents instead of their ideas.
This just gets worse: it’s a trend that is constantly reinforced by the political mainstream. For millennia, philosophy has been trying to rescue humanity from oblivion. Tackling established wisdom was never a problem, but a guarantee that the quest for the unreachable perfect truth was in progress.
Today, all of it has been replaced by vulgar and egotistical self-indulgence of the approval displays of a like-minded audience. Nothing else matters. And how does journalism approach the problem? It doesn’t. Journalists and newspapers behave as if this fundamental change has happened. Instead, they take sides, following some convenient excuse, and unbalance themselves as well.
As facts become “alternative”, truth becomes fragmented, like mirror splinters, and one decides which of its reflections is the most adequate to their chosen persona. If people are becoming more aggressive because they don’t speak the same language, one should intervene to align the conversation.
This means to provide safe harbors for “what is true”. There must be a set of parameters to which none can deny. In history, periods where the discussions became ideologized and facts, manipulated, invariably the end led to conflict. Maybe not always war, but never much less tragic.
So, what is true? What must be built to endure all kinds of upheaval, being something that none dares to tackle? Truth “safe harbors”. Opponents need to sit down at the same table to re-establish which are the beacons that none can object.
To do that, they need to stop hating themselves. Attack ideas, not persons. This is one of the most primal foundations of the liberalism of thinkers like John Stuart Mill and Descartes that needs to be reinstated by everyone aware enough of the cracks in the democracy that may lead to upheavals. This alignment of principles cannot be done immediately.
The major tech environments where people interact are moved by the wrong incentives. Facebook and other manipulated digital gateways have thrown everyone into a hall of splintered mirrors, where everyone sees the shadows and their shadows, but none sees a reality they believe in - unless it’s a comfortably agreeing one. Attacking this problem with fact-checking initiatives only is the same thing as trying to clean Antarctica with a baby towel. People will keep trying to do it because it seems to be the only option around. We’re too deep into a toxic environment that has distorted our capacity to see that things can hit people in a way different than they hit us. And thanks to the egotistical illusion of wide acceptance, none has the will to challenge their own convictions. Until this primary condition changes, everything else is worthless. Photo by alisdare1