Nothing seems to bring out the worst in people like Politics does and Politics can. Especially in the age of social networks with insta-punditry, insta-condemnation and insta-outrage, comments sections on social networks often resemble verbal battlegrounds with poorly constructed sentences, rushed judgments and ready vilification. Divisions are very clear and social media seems to be bringing to light a polarized world. US always seemed to be polarized, but India with its several coalition governments could not afford to be so for several years, but today it is showing similarities with US politics.
The AAPtards, Presstitutes, Bhakts… if your Facebook posts aren’t filled with some variation of these infantile insults, you probably don’t have many ‘friends’.
If you live in the US like I do or follow US politics to some degree, the rise and rise of one Donald Trump must have caught your eye. I have never seen anything like it – a candidate so polarizing and popular at the same time. Similarly, the rise of Bernie Sanders on the other side of the aisle has been pretty spectacular too. These are two people who have mobilized support from their bases with wildly different political USPs. Or have they?
The voters who love the Trump for what he stands for – anti-establishment attitude, absence of big money campaign contributions, honesty can also make a good argument for a Bernie Sanders. Bernie cannot stop talking about campaign finance laws, does not fawn over Obama like most Democrats and has probably never lied in his entire life. Any yet we see that there is a sharp divide both on the ground and on the internet. I’m not saying that they’re the same person or espouse similar world views but some of the arguments being made for Trump by his supporters can easily be applied to Sanders too.
Similarly, it’s hard to get any of my liberal and progressive friends and colleagues to even consider some of the Republican talking points. Be it minimum wage, immigration, religious intolerance, role of government etc. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that US politics has two firm camps – us and them. It’s hard for people to look at ideas and solutions objectively without first looking at them through red and blue tinted ideological glasses. And when that happens, often the first casualty is logic and reason.
Indian politics, for all its divisiveness and faults hasn’t polarized people in a way that American politics does. Not until recently at least. Some of the recent episodes have revealed ugly fault-lines on social media where one side pitches for nationalism, bias in the liberal media and the other rails about minority rights and saffronization of the country. Take the Kanhaiya Kumar case for example. Like in many developing stories in the media, there are an assortment of sub-plots underneath the main story that need to be examined.
It should be OK to listen at some of KK’s speeches and brand them as regressive, outdated, inflammatory and borderline slanderous and at the same time point out that the government was overzealous in trying to criminalize his actions. It should be OK to call out the far Left for advocating rebellion against the state and in the same breath be wary of some of the jingoistic sentiments that seek to clamp down on anything that doesn’t conform. But it’s hard to find balanced analysis and perspectives on social media because when a story starts developing and trending, people seem to already have made up their mind.
The objective of our discussions should not be to ensure that participants in the democratic process (or the Facebook politico) have the exact same views and opinions, but to encourage people to opine about issues objectively. Otherwise, every issue on every news cycle becomes a de-facto match between two groups who have already decided which side they stand on.
Unlike in sports, the political process needs to encourage supporters who decide which team shirt to put on after they step onto the ground and examine the pitch. Maybe it’s too much to ask and hope for a civil, un-biased and informed debate on Facebook considering we hardly seem to be able to do that on our nightly news programs, or even the Parliament for that matter.
Social media can be quite intimidating for a user like me who wants to be able to choose from different parties or different voices, because nobody is 100% perfect, nor is any party or political ideology. But all of us seem to be encouraging polarized views by not looking at the whole picture. It has become increasingly difficult to have discussions without unnecessary emotional entanglements. We are heading into a world where even education doesn’t seem to help us choose well for ourselves. It’s only social media that is scary now, I hope the real world doesn’t get there. I hope we don’t let it.