In a world where people are making enemies quicker than they can make friends, it is easy to freak out. Politics used to be a topic of conversation that was only whispered about during family gatherings, and possibly with friends about once every four years. Now, however, everything has changed. On social media, in middle school friend groups, at concert venues, in places of worship, everyone everywhere is disagreeing and writing each other off because of what is breaking the news today. It had drained the American people and has caused broken relationships all over our country. Paranoia and polarization have swept our country, leaving almost every American as its victim. So, we must ask ourselves, how can we identify paranoia and polarization effectively, so we are less prone to its tactics?
In Boris Vezjak’s piece on “Cultural and political paranoia”, he speaks on how much paranoia stems from individualism and subjectivity. He writes, “it offers everyone the possibility of individual choices on the free market, but in doing so instead of freedom it forces the individual into uncertainty and the impossibility of choice”. Vezjak’s argument is that paranoia originally started as a freedom so that some people could participate through conspiracies theories or through other means, however now it is forcing our entire world to false conclusions. Our culture has taken advantage of the ability to think and act freely, even to the point of destructing common truths and promoting false information. So now we are forced to ask ourselves, how free is freedom of speech when it is taken advantage of to bring us into a constant fear-inducing world? For clarification, I am not arguing against the freedom of speech by any means. I believe that is a human right. However, I still believe it is still a question to ask ourselves: How far are we willing to let the freedom of thought and speech (which Plato believes go hand and hand) go before we are constantly thinking, acting, and reacting in a state of paranoia?
We can see paranoia closely related to polarization when you look at paranoia in a political context. Political scholar, Dr. Lilliana Mason’s definition of polarization is “an expansion of the distance between the issue positions.” (Mason, 2018, pg. 17) Polarization occurs when people groups who hold the same political ideology see the people who hold the opposing ideology as “others” and enemies. They start to treat the opposing group as the problem of all of their issues and see their beliefs as morally evil, rather than just different than their own. We can see paranoia play into polarization as we recognize that opposing groups are not the problem to all of life’s problems. In fact, having differing opinions and political ideologies is what strengthens democracy and people. If there were no opposing ideologies, then our nation would be stuck in repeating itself repeatedly.
One of the places that we most commonly see paranoia and polarization is on social media. Social media is a breeding ground for paranoia as the world’s worst fears and accusations are constantly being typed out into 40 characters for the whole world to read and react to. Never has the dissemination of information been able to occur in this fast pace of an environment. With the ever-increasing desire to remain up-to-date and relevant, people are constantly reading new information and constantly voicing their opinions on it. This is the purpose of these accounts, and the users are taking advantage of it. The Conversation, a non-profit that publishes new articles and research reports, published an article to try and help people identify polarization language. The seven pieces of evidence that Robert Danisch wrote about were: division/identification, hyperbole, false equivalence/false analogy, appealing to force, name-calling, objectification, and overgeneralization. Out of these seven, three stuck out to me as the most used: hyperbole, false equivalence, and overgeneralization. All these tactics stem from paranoia, having an exaggerated reaction to an action, comment, policy, or person that doesn’t produce a logical reaction. For example, making the false equivalence that Donald Trump and his followers to the Nazi party and Adolf Hitler. People may have very strong opinions about Donald Trump, his policy choices, and even his morality, but our nation is still a democracy (even if it is a struggling one) and we still obtain the balance of power throughout our federal and state government, which Nazi Germany did not. As you can see, this statement strikes fear and paranoia in the public, automatically connecting our former president with one of the evilest dictators of all time, Adolf Hitler. This also creates polarization, so then everyone who voted for Donald Trump or anyone who supports any of his policies is now a part of the Nazi regime. Obviously, we know this to not be accurate and true, however social media and people’s word choices have power in the public and can have long-lasting effects.
In conclusion, paranoia and polarization play a large role in politics and people’s lives today. If we can identify the seven examples of polarization language and commit to not engaging with those types of news stories, social media posts, or comments by our friends, we can make small differences that can and will impact our communities. As of now, there are little to few institutional changes we can make to lower paranoia and polarization rates, but we can change the information we consume in our own lives that will affect the circles around us. Small change is still change, and it will make a difference long term.
Danisch , R. (2022, March 1). 7 ways to spot polarizing language – how to choose responsibly what to amplify online or in-person. The Conversation. Retrieved April 25, 2022, from https://theconversation.com/7-ways-to-spot-polarizing-language-how-to-choose-responsibly-what-to-amplify-online-or-in-person-177276
Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity Lilliana Mason, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018, pp. 17
Vezjak, B. (2011, July 21). Cultural and political paranoia. Eurozine. Retrieved April 25, 2022, from https://www.eurozine.com/cultural-and-political-paranoia/