Robert Meyer
The conservative/liberal divide characterized by false dichotomies
By Robert Meyer
March 6, 2018

People are constantly fretting about the discord in this nation. Frequently we are given the pleas that we must come together as a nation. Indeed, surveys and polls showing a divided country and data reporting polarization on important issues have become the bread and butter of news stories viewed on a daily basis. That America is divided is self-evident. Why America is so divided is where the analysis gets a bit murky.

Many people claim that the problem is related to bias of some sort, and in claiming biases they are probably on the right track. But the mistake is made when we fail to recognize that biases are an outworking of the universal human condition, not simply a component that exists on one side of the conflict.

You see that assumption played out in many of today's controversial issues, where the explanation for the conflicting perspectives is characterized by a host of convenient, and often false dichotomies.

Let's observe a few examples. On the issue of humanly caused climate change, the issue is presented as science v. propaganda/misinformation. When it comes to theistic belief, the conflict is depicted as reason v. superstition. In terms of taxation policy, we are frequently bombarded with slogans suggesting the issue is the rich v. the poor. When it comes to elections, the dichotomy of the corporations v. the common people often emerges. In posting forums, claims of intelligence v. stupidly is a common assertion when semi-animosity cloaks discussion.

One can't help but notice that on nearly all of these issues, the conflict is portrayed as one side being unreasonable, ignorant or villainous, while the other side is presented as more objective, noble or erudite. By no accident, that creates an easy pathway for the ethereal 'thinking person' to choose the 'proper' side of the issue to support.

Sometimes, in dealing with people, others will point out "Well, you're just as biased as everyone else." And of course they are correct, but in saying so they missed the point. I've never claimed to be on the outside looking in. My view is that the disagreements polarizing people are the result of opposing worldviews, where the assumptions people begin with determine how information and facts are interpreted, and thus applied to particular issues.

Another classic case might be the evolution of the news media. Once we had only network news. Then cable news channels began to appear, challenging the hegemony. Finally, sensing that a certain niche was missing in news reporting, we had the establishment of Fox News and others venues that presented a pronounced right-wing slant in their perspectives.

This new media phenomenon was said to be biased, or guilty of advocacy journalism, but, in truth, it is difficult these days to spot the lines of distinction between news reporting and advocacy journalism. In the past, these tendencies were more subtle, but were still present. For example, when we take note that in the era where network news was the only game in town, they reported in lockstep on major stories. Few people were asking how and who decided what was newsworthy, or what stories went unreported to the American public as a consequence of tunnel-vision news casting.

All persons have biases. All organizations are made up of people with biases and desires for particular outcomes. There is no neutrality. An organization can be reasonably even-handed only to the extent that there are adequate checks and balances in its decision making procedures to reign in human tendencies. Once we recognize that divergent worldviews are the primary source of dissonance, reasonable people should begin to dispense with the name-calling and false dichotomies.

Then again, being reasonable usually doesn't serve the desired purpose or fit within the proscribed template.

© Robert Meyer


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Robert Meyer

Robert Meyer is a hardy soul who hails from the Cheesehead country of the upper midwest... (more)


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