Is the Idea of Finding Common Ground Even Possible in the Age of Self-Segregation?
by Dave Brown
In this age of new media, social media, and hundreds of specialized cable channels, is it even possible for people of differing opinions, from different communities to find common ground? It certainly doesn’t look like it. In this age of technological wonders people tend to “stick to their own” creating s society that is almost entirely self-segregated.
It is so much easier and safer for people to stick to their own communities, watch the news networks dedicated to their preferred political party, and piss and moan about the world with people that they agree with them philosophically and religiously then to venture out into the unknown. This is why our country is more segregated now than it was in decades past. To some extent, this country has always been segregated. There has been segregation by law and segregation by choice. One might ask, how by choice? Think of all of the different types of social communities that we have had in this country; for example the Jews, Italians, Greeks, Chinese, and Japanese have all created communities and often throughout history have stayed close together. Sure people interact with each other at the store and whatnot but they tend to “stick to their own.” Now let’s add technology, counter cultures, sub cultures, countless religious denominations, and niche markets on top of this already natural tendency to surround oneself with the familiar, and we get the hot mess that we find ourselves in today.
This is not a criticism of community. We all need community because as human beings we are social creatures. We need a place to feel at home and accepted for who we are; a place to feel safe and loved. I begrudge no one for wanting or seeking out this. The problem is when tunnel vision and the us-vs.-them mentality takes over. This is most often seen the realms of politics and religion.
Using Facebook as a social petri dish, one can see how people react to those with differing opinions/views. There seem to be three main types of reactions:
- Shouting down and belittling those who disagree,
- Running from the confrontation to a place that validates one’s preconceptions, and
- Banning those with differing opinions from participating.
None of these reactions do anything to foster dialogue but who needs dialogue, right? Why bother discussing issues with people when you can just go someplace where everything that you already think and believe is reinforced? Why bother listening to and actually thinking about someone else’s point of view when you can just shout them down, twist their words, and belittle them? Ain’t nobody got time for that?
This is the situation that we face today and why it is seemingly impossible to get anything in this country accomplished. Those who do listen to the “other side,” whatever that may be, are chastised for selling out the cause and/or demonized for not being pure of heart. There are set, knee-jerk reactions to everything that come right along with the preferred talking points that are to be repeated ad nauseam and honestly it is not only disheartening it’s disgusting. There is no free thought anymore (if there ever was) and there certainly aren’t any meaningful attempts at finding common ground. Sure there are a few people here and there that try but far too often they get frustrated and turn away to lick their wounds while pointing fingers and laying blame. But you want to know who is really to blame? Everyone. Those who claim to want discussion and then shout down any who disagree—you are part of the problem. Anyone who claims to want to find common ground while posting or promoting ideas that are inflammatory or a slap in the face to those that disagree—you are part of the problem. The people who hide behind religion, make blanket condemnations of entire groups of individuals, hate institutions that they obviously have little understanding of, or mask intolerance by pointing to tragedies—all of you; left or right, white or black, gay or straight, theist or atheist—you are all part of the problem.
So how does anyone break through this sea of molasses? How could anyone possibly get passed all of the preconceptions and biases that people harbor, especially when people so often don’t realize that they are there? Honestly, I don’t know. Maybe we’ve been kidding ourselves all of this time and this melting pot that we thought we lived in has always been closer to a shopping cart that holds a bunch of different stuff, but doesn’t really mix anything up. Maybe we’re just too far gone into our own little worlds to be brought together. I certainly hope that is not the case.