“The split in America, rather than simply economic, is between those who embrace reason, who function in the real world of cause and effect, and those who, numbed by isolation and despair, now seek meaning in a mythical world of intuition, a world that is no longer reality-based, a world of magic.”
– Chris Hedges
This post is going to serve as an introduction to series IV, an examination of our identity politics and loss of rationality. This is heading into the real sticky political territory of our reality, and I can’t promise you will agree with all of my takes, but I am going to be examining our divisions into echo chambers on both sides of the political spectrum. For this first post I am pulling pretty much straight from the chapter in my book that this series is modeled on. With that being said, let’s get into it!
Christmas morning comes in the midst of chaos, per usual, as you scramble to wrap presents for the kids and prepare the house for your extended family coming over. As you glance around the room at your sister, nephews, mother, her parents, and closest friends huddled around the tree, your heart feels a pang of regret. Your father and grandparents on his side are conspicuously absent from their usual spot, the result of a massive falling out that happened when they refused to get vaccinated against COVID-19 after grandma had passed away that fall. With some of her last ragged breaths, you leaned in as your rock since childhood had struggled to whisper over the hum of ventilators and ICU equipment that she regretted choosing a political culture war over her desire to be around for family, tearfully asking you to make sure her husband and son didn’t make the same mistakes.
A couple weeks after her death when emotions seemed more manageable, you brought up her wish that your grandfather and father get inoculated in hopes that they would see the danger and want to protect themselves. That had backfired miserably to say the least, you defending yourself by saying that you wanted the people you love to be safe and them countering by yelling about a liberal agenda, claiming you’re sheep who couldn’t see the obvious harm that vaccines cause. Now you are left trying to smile in a house that doesn’t seem quite full, the men you love rebuffing any point you thought was logical in favor of an agenda you see as filled with misinformation and dangerous underpinnings. You don’t understand how your once close knit family has been fractured like this, but it doesn’t seem the gap will be bridged anytime soon, if ever.
We are seeing some of the biggest ideological rifts in our history on either side of the spectrum, and it is driving us into isolated echo chambers wherein we see our side as the binary ‘good’ with any other group as irreconcilably evil since they seemingly don’t stand for the same values we do. Democrats are thinking increasingly liberally and Republicans more so conservatively, while the demographic splits between ideologies are more pronounced than ever; nearly 50% of rural voters identify as Republican whereas only 19% of city dwellers would. (Over 50% of the urban population identifies as Democrat). On top of this we are experiencing extreme uncertainty in the environments around us with COVID-19 raging, police brutality everywhere you turn, an environmental catastrophe, protests that devolve into street fights and rioting, or the fact that life in some areas is becoming increasingly difficult. The opioid epidemic, pandemic, and inflationary costs have all taken a much harder toll outside of cities, and it is getting to the point where cattle rustling is at its highest point since the wild west. (The cattle is then exchanged for opiates usually).
People are becoming more distrustful of their fellow citizens as chaos reigns around them, not knowing who or where to turn in a deregulated America that has no ‘hand outs.’ Less than 40% of people in the country think that their neighbors are of good faith. This distrust has led to higher levels of outright hate among many demographics polled too. In other words our backs are to each other and we’re heading in opposite directions. Much of this is due to a split between how our personalities handle this stress of a rapidly changing environment; one group (both political parties and establishment followers) wants to bring life back as close as they can to ‘normalcy’ and the status quo, while the other (mainly younger generations and those aware of the disenfranchisement of the status quo) wishes to adapt with the changes coming our way and institute social progress away from our Hobbesian minded standard. This underlying societal outlook that Americans possess is reflected in many facets of our society, where we see our peers as competition in regards to every aspect of life; politics, education, relationships, and most of all monetary pursuit. America is seeing its social sphere degrade at an alarming rate as we view each other like oppositional forces rather than citizens of the same country, pushing us towards a reality that would suggest we are much closer to a failed state than previously thought.
Humans are social creatures, it is in our biology to crave contact and close connection with our peers, and in many thriving societies you see vibrant social spheres with cultures that are genuinely warm and caring. This isn’t the case in the U.S., as here it is out of place to ask for support or rely on friends, instead individually struggling along and hoping some act of charity will help us. In 1990 a third of Americans reported having 10 or more close friends while today only 13% do. This isolation is only getting worse as 1 in 10 Americans report having no close friends at all, and this is due to the nature of the relationships that the country forces upon us. Every aspect of life is a competition for status, power, money, a pursuit to improve your lot in life and win the ‘conflict’ in front of you. It has been ingrained since birth that you must constantly work towards some material benefit before someone else can take it; think about how we’ve created a healthcare system that disperses quality based on wealth, or an unforgiving corporate hierarchy in which it is commonplace for higher ups to ruthlessly criticize and turn the job into a battle for who can show the most aggression climbing the ladder.
Zero sum thought is transferred into every other aspect of our lives because of this, and everything from relationships to leisure time becomes a test of what you materially gain or lose when doing it. Our most basic and essential activities in life are boiled down to a cost benefit analysis, so spending time maintaining friendships becomes pointless when there is a constant competition for resources. Think of the hierarchy I’ve outlined over the first several chapters in explaining how we take on massive burdens of debt from education or housing, constantly striving to get more autonomy through wealth liberation. We have become desperate to survive within the structure of our new feudalism, realizing our futility in the labor force.
Living with the feeling of insignificance, reinforced by the ruthless corporate ladder we have to try and climb to make a living wage, people begin to lose hope. We have become lost within the confines of aggression and constant feeling of needing to be on guard, as there is no room for mercy or relenting because we’ll fall behind on the mortgage, or lose healthcare and have to pay out of pocket, or not receive an education that will get us to a job, and incur all that cost of living with what little measly savings we’ve been able to build up. If you want to retire and be able to rest one day you have to be in a constant grind, an unrelenting pursuit in whatever the chosen field may be. There is no thought of collectivism or societal improvement because people can’t get outside of their own struggles, and we reject teamwork in favor of the celebrated trope to make it on our own. This is all better for business though, as insurance sales from uncertainty, panic buying of resources, and distrusting those around you makes consumers easy targets for predatory corporations and voters pliable in the hands of bad actors.
Our emotional bandwidth is further consumed by the constant drone of news coming in, of some crisis happening in the Middle East, a new natural disaster, some report about a mass shooting. Social Media and the 12 hour news cycle have created a constant cycle of rinse and repeat in our lives to go along with the perpetual feeling of being stuck in an endless cycle that many feel. We brush past things because it’s all too overwhelming, and just want to get back to some semblance of consistency without stopping to consider how it’s really odd that we have statistics like 40,000 people dying from gun violence each year, the highest income inequality of the developed world, or how the prison justice system is running veritable concentration camps. That is, unless you are in the population affected by these types of incidents, then it often becomes a case of trying to distract yourself from the depressing reality facing you.
There has never been a movement for unity that truly encompassed all of America, because we don’t have an environment conducive to collectively working towards a solution, instead latching onto partisan agendas that we demand others see our side of in a federalist system that is ‘my way or the highway.’ It is the connection between rugged individualism and the isolation that stems from it, white supremacy, and savage capitalism within our social sphere that always halts progress. If you believe that the person sitting across from you is inherently less than you because of their skin color, or if you have become so confined to your own echo chamber that you have no exposure to outside communities, there is always going to be opposition to collective solutions before we even begin working towards them. The nature of our systems have been designed for this purpose, reinforcing white supremacy which holds POC, LGBTQ, immigrants, or any labelled ‘other’ to being lesser, additionally confining the average existence into an isolated pursuit of constant monetary gain so that we are in competition and view our neighbors as such rather than friends.
When contemplating the role of the federal government Madison recognized this inherent propensity for division, noting that the “inference to which we are brought is, that the causes of faction cannot be removed, and that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its effects.” He goes on to describe how we remedy the effect in one of two ways;
“Either the existence of the same passion or interest in a majority at the same time must be prevented, or the majority, having such coexistent passion or interest, must be rendered, by their number and local situation, unable to concert and carry into effect schemes of oppression.” Interestingly, we are seeing the opposite in which a minority faction with all the power controls the means of production, makes all profit, and generates future project planning. They are preventing the majority from seeing this and demanding change while rendering any attempts at bringing equality to the nation useless through the various tools of division such as propaganda, identity politics, and economic control that forces people to only think about their next paycheck.
American society doesn’t allow the majority to break free of the oppression that a few have enacted, which is an interesting commentary on the inherent nature of the ordinary person; not wanting to cause undue harm while pursuing fulfillment, acquiescing to the status quo under those who only want power. Madison’s ideas have been flipped on their head where now we have tyranny from a few, using the concept of factions and sowing division to prevent any remedy from happening. With this the minority can maintain power and uphold the status quo of white supremacy and savage capital that has resisted change since signing the Declaration of Independence.
Even though we have entered the realm of ‘non-normalcy’ for America, our old divisions of identity still haunt us as the opposition to changing the status quo runs through establishments on both sides of the political spectrum. Rural America is diversifying fastest, and based on the most recent census reports those changes are most obvious in the midwest along with regions such as the Dakotas and Montana. On a nationwide level, we have seen the first decline of the white population in America’s history and establishment pundits are having a heart attack, only escalating the reactionary anti immigrant and diversity rhetoric as the media machine scrambles to get its talking points to be inflammatory enough.
Instead of embracing the diversity and multiple backgrounds of experiences that make America so unique, many react with vitriol within their isolated bubbles. Most people born in small town America tend to live their whole lives within those same communities, never experiencing much diversity or seeing any different lifestyles than their neighbors. This is by no means a bad thing, as the bonds formed within these communities are strong beyond belief and families have grown up together side by side for generations knowing that they can rely on one another. However the conservative propaganda machine has preyed upon the fears and cultures of rural communities, along with the fact they have limited experiences in diverse environments, weaponizing their desire to live independently from outside influences by pitting them against liberal agendas and labelled “others” who are threatening the conservative way of life. Even liberals have this issue of performative social justice, saying on the surface they want change but afraid it might actually happen because they don’t want their norms to change either.
Figures such as Trump, Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro, or any number of right wing personalities have preyed upon the history and isolation of rural communities by either justifying their ingrained white supremacy, or presenting racist justifications for the nation’s problems that allow a group to direct their anger from American disenfranchisement at. This manifests in figures like pushing pseudo intellectual arguments that justify why they feel white men are being ignored in BLM (absurdity), liberals and their cities are poisoning the country, or why confederate heritage should be preserved. The “news” being broadcast by Fox and other voices in the conservative sphere has centered around justifying prejudiced values, inciting outrage, and causing mass panic among their consumers rather than giving impartial facts or a picture of reality for life in America. Media preys upon our isolation and sows doubt to make people question what they can trust by either appealing to fundamentalist values, ingrained hatred, or simply through preying upon people’s ignorance and lack of outside experiences. These groups give people in small communities some answers to their disenfranchisement, such as feeling isolated, dealing with addiction, debt, or poverty, and an ideology that they can still follow as gospel to lead them to prosperity.
On the other end of the spectrum we see liberal populations display a similar lack of regard for the lifestyles of their rural counterparts, albeit with less inherent aggression and racist values underlying their positions (as a general rule, not always). In states such as California or Washington there is no attempt to legislate according to community needs outside of the big cities, and many conservative populations in the surrounding areas have been hurt by bills passing gas taxes in California or restrictive gun laws up north. Due to the fact that our two bubbles of city and country believe they are in mortal opposition on everything, there is no attempt at outreach or creating policies specific for each region. Over 10 sheriffs in Washington have come out in opposition to gun laws that the Seattle electorate passed (further adding tension to the 2nd amendment debate) while in central California many communities have been hurt by pollution taxes that are meant to make city air breathable, but only end up increasing the burden rural folks pay for fuel necessary to their daily lives. These incidents add fuel to the flames that rural populations should secede because their electoral system allows cities to dictate statewide policy, even if it is only good for a small percentage of it, and there will never be outreach to ensure legislation positively affects both groups.
This discussion was aimed at showing the reader that feelings of isolation, whether you are in the country, city, part of a minority community or a wealthy businessman, is experienced by virtually all Americans. Radicalization, hatred, and division are only further solidified when we lean into that ignorance from lack of exposure, and we must bridge the gap to try helping those who may turn towards these rabbit holes that offer them a solution instead of further solidifying the disenfranchisement a community may feel by trying to take away their guns or saddling them with higher gas taxes. Exposure to other ideas and lifestyles assuages division, and there are several groups that do a good job of this, such as the Rural Organizing Project in Oregon that works for deradicalization and integration within the state with some of the most hate crimes per capita. Politicians are exploiting our disenfranchisement within new feudalism while people die, convincing us that our neighbors are inherently against us despite the fact we are all Americans with similar experiences and underlying desires out of life.
When we are busy looking at every issue through a politicized lens, we make harmful generalizations about other groups; seeing them as nothing more than an oppositional force to what we believe is right and ignoring their humanity altogether, blinded by hate instead of trying to understand their needs or work towards a resolution. The parties have been ruthlessly effective at turning problems that will only be solved through collective action into talking points that are used to attack the other side, further growing the rift between Americans while bringing them farther from actual solutions that would help them meet their needs.
We consistently refuse to come together in times of crisis, ignoring the real human cost of the actions taken by the government because we are too busy having culture war, flash in the pan type debates. For example during the COVID-19 pandemic not a single Republican voted for the stimulus package out of pure spite for a Democratic sponsored bill, yet that package became a lifeboat for millions of Americans, right wing included. We think that any action taken by the other side is automatically wrong, and so when leaders who claim to be on the morally righteous path do harmful things, we feel we have to support them because they’re on the ‘correct’ side of the partisan divide. As we fall deeper and deeper into partisan bubbles, desperately trying to climb out of our places in new feudalism and believing that hatred is the solution due to these false idols preaching division, the farther we stray from rationality. It is tragic that we have forgotten the humanity of those across from us, viewing many of our fellow Americans as aliens within our midst.
This is where we will leave our discussion for today. Thank you for reading!!
- Survey center for american life, “How bad is american life? Americans don’t even have friends anymore,” Haque, Umair, 2021.
- “Where is America diversifying fastest? Small midwestern towns,” McCormick, John & Overberg, Paul, 2021.
- “US Hate crimes highest in more than a decade,” BBC, 2020.