It seems as though you hardly ever hear sensible political discussion nowadays without it devolving into what could be accurately compared to monkeys throwing their own crap at each other.


The Daily Mail comments section, for example, is an eternal tirade against the ‘loony lefty Remoaners who are talking our country down!’ Being pro-Brexit is always correct, and thinking otherwise means you’re a traitor to your country.

The Guardian’s comments section is a similar story: one pro-Remain user on a recent opinion piece on Brexit accuses another of ‘being utterly ignorant’ and ‘asserting nonsense and then using it as the basis for a tragically stupid position’. Clearly a civil and healthy debate which engages with the opposing side’s argument rather than relying on ad hominem attacks.

See the problem here? There’s no room for nuance and sensible discussion in modern politics. Many issues are completely polarised into two opposing factions. Another example would be Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn — two more-extreme-than-usual leaders who enjoy the support of a cult-like grassroots fanbase which worships them as gods, and fires abuse at any who disagree.

So, how did modern political discourse end up in such a monumental mess?

In my opinion, by far the biggest single cause of polarisation is identity politics. This is not a new concept: in 1935, at the Nuremberg Rallies, the Nazis were already passing laws excluding German Jews from marriage or sexual relations with ‘persons of German or related blood’ on the basis of their Jewish identity.

Yet it’s made a return to prevalence in recent years, and it’s arguably the fault of the liberal left rather than the conservative right. After all, the left is meant to oppose this exact kind of thing, right? The left is meant to promote unity and equality amongst all people, regardless of their identity, right?

Indeed, for a long time, the left has used identity politics to do just that. Think of the Civil Rights movements of the ’60s — identity politics was used to break down the barriers between people with different identities and emphasise unity in spite of these superficial physical differences.

But in recent years — possibly in response to a resurgence of the conservative right in the ’80s, with characters like Reagan and Thatcher (and, if you really want a history lesson, you could say that this was a response to the pressures of the Cold War) — the left has really gone off the charts with it.

Paradoxically enough, identity politics is used nowadays as a tool to promote division rather than unity; a prime example of this would be D-list comedian Lena Dunham’s widely parodied assertion that ‘white men can’t feel what it’s like to be attacked’ — which seems oxymoronic, or just plain moronic, given that such a statement seems to be a perfect example of an attack on white men.

As you can see, this kind of attitude has hardly proven helpful to the Left’s cause. In fact, it’s probably the single main factor in the rise of the alt-right, which is part 2 in our ‘how did it all get so polarised?’ story.

The alt-right, essentially being rebranded neo-nazism and white supremacy, has utterly embraced identity politics, and fully taken advantage of the aforementioned hysteria of the modern left. It’s a vicious cycle – when groups feel threatened, they retreat into tribalism:

  • Step 1: the extreme left uses its exclusionary brand of identity politics to attack those whom they perceive as ‘privileged’ — white, heterosexual males.

 

  • Step 2: the extreme right claims that this is an example of ‘white genocide’ and that, actually, it’s straight white males who are the most oppressed. This creates the (obviously nonsensical) narrative that white people are the real underdogs, and that it’s time for them to fight back against the anti-white liberal establishment!

 

  • Step 3: the extreme left feel threatened by the alt-right, and becomes even more radicalised in order to combat them.

Rinse and repeat until you have 1930s Europe all over again with its fascists and communists. As this process occurs, members of the public who are not committed to a strong political position, perhaps being moderate, or not usually being engaged with politics, are inevitably ‘swept up’ into one of the two bitterly opposed factions — either by propaganda tactics, or, as seems largely the case with the extreme left, through having been alienated and driven inadvertently towards the opposite side.

It’s not just identity politics which causes such toxicity. The prevalence of social media echo chambers, for example, causes politically engaged people to not be exposed to differing viewpoints at all — something that can trigger radicalisation.

Facebook even deliberately prefers to show you content that espouses or shares your political leaning. If you want to hear the opposing view, you’ll have to go out of your way to find it; and for many, that’s simply too much effort.

The news industry and media in general are also nothing but damaging in regards to political discourse. As a consequence of the rise of identity politics and echo chambers, opinion pieces which simply rant about an issue seem to take precedence over actual investigative journalism. And sure, whilst opinion pieces in themselves are a necessary part of a healthy media, they are increasingly not labelled as such and are conflated with more objective ‘actual news’ which is the main problem behind the media contributing to increased polarisation.

If tribalism and identity politics continue to go widely unrecognised as a problem by the media and the electorate, then politics will become more polarised, more extreme, and more toxic. A solution to this could be to denounce both the identity politics of the left and the right; combating white identity politics and white supremacy whilst dismissing liberal-leftists’ racial segregation and ‘oppression olympics’ — which together frequently seem to radicalise those who might otherwise give moderate politics a hearing.