Who started the (dumpster) fire?

I’ve been thinking about how the divide in ideologies of conservatism and liberalism has grown in the last few years.1 It’s a concerning trend and doesn’t help to come to any compromise or shared understanding. Too many opportunities for talking past one another.

Today I happened across two interesting visualization and related articles.

The first is from Lena Groeger (via Flowingdata.com) that shows the political polarization in the American public from 1994 to 2015.


The interesting point to me is that since about 1999 till 2012 the Democratic median did not move; it stayed pretty consistently halfway between “mostly liberal” and “mixed”. The Republican median however, started to drift more toward the right (pun intended); “consistently conservative” starting in 2004.

While just one set of data – via Pew surveys – it indicates that the Republican mindset began its journey toward an extreme earlier than that of the Democratic ideologies.

Then there’s this study from the Columbia Journalism Review which indicates that the widening of the gap between median political ideologies was not done in equal measure by both sides – in short, it wasn’t access to technology (the Internet and social media) that lead to the widening gap.


Looking at the report it’s clear that both sides weren’t operating equally (with access to the same tools) in spreading biased and outright inaccurate information. It was the more conservative right-wing mindset that was OK with creating public discourse with, well, bullshit. At the center? Bretbart and company.

Our analysis challenges a simple narrative that the internet as a technology is what fragments public discourse and polarizes opinions, by allowing us to inhabit filter bubbles or just read “the daily me.” If technology were the most important driver towards a “post-truth” world, we would expect to see symmetric patterns on the left and the right. Instead, different internal political dynamics in the right and the left led to different patterns in the reception and use of the technology by each wing. While Facebook and Twitter certainly enabled right-wing media to circumvent the gatekeeping power of traditional media, the pattern was not symmetric.

Well, that’s rather unfortunate.

I’ve heard from many folks on both sides of the gulf of ideologies that we should listen to the other side, open our minds, be considerate, etc. I agree with that – as an ideal. In reality, that’s really hard to do when one side appears to have a foundation laid in sand – by which I mean false accusations, bullshit, conjecture, and lies.

But ugh, this is all at the macro to global level. We’re looking at “the whole thing”. That’s not congruent with folks who say “Not why I voted for Trump”.

That’s frustrating. At the individual level – I get it.

Pretty awesome person danah boyd, an advocate and researcher who talks often on youth culture and the internet shared a really interesting essay on ‘Failing to See, Fueling Hatred“. While not directly tied to conservative thinking or the “alt-right” media landscape I think it captures many of the frustrations more right-leaning folks are feeling and how the allure of the conservative media landscape makes for stronger rationalization in support of the current administration.

Without understanding the complex interplay of things, it’s hard not to feel resentful about certain things that we do see. But at the same time, it’s not possible to hold onto the complexity. I can appreciate why individuals are indignant when they feel as though they pay taxes for that money to be given away to foreigners through foreign aid and immigration programs. These people feel like they’re struggling, feel like they’re working hard, feel like they’re facing injustice. Still, it makes sense to me that people’s sense of prosperity is only as good as their feeling that they’re getting ahead. And when you’ve been earning $40/hour doing union work only to lose that job and feel like the only other option is a $25/hr job, the feeling is bad, no matter that this is more than most people make. There’s a reason that Silicon Valley engineers feel as though they’re struggling and it’s not because they’re comparing themselves to everyone in the world. It’s because the standard of living keeps dropping in front of them. It’s all relative.

This is all to say, there’s no clear path forward. This divide makes relationships difficult when identifying oneself with political ideologies. Especially when ideologies are dirtied with intellectual distrust.

Title inspiration (more)

  1. Follow me on Twitter if you want more of that. If you want less, uh, sorry. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯