Society tells us to voice our opinions, take a stand by lobbying for our beliefs, and “Rock the Vote.” But few in society tell us that how we engage in politics plays just as important a role as what we lobby for, especially in a self-governing society. And just as the Spirit of Party impacts what we lobby for by realigning our objectives, it can subtlety dictate how we engage in politics.
It is obligatory upon a self-governing society to collectively make decisions about its future. We can only do this when we value and protect open communication. But the Spirit of Party does not by nature foster open communication. As a group grows in strength, it increasingly demands conformity to its positions and objectives through varying degrees of social and political ostracizing. This can take the form of people calling others weak or branding them with reprehensible labels, such as racist or bigot. We may believe that the importance of the cause justifies the social and political ostracizing and thus we contribute to the effort to ostracize the opposition. And yet in the process, we grind away at the very political framework necessary to preserve our open society.
We saw this on display recently with the Trump administration’s original policy for certain refugees. Was it a “Muslim ban” or was it a good faith effort to prevent the flow of terrorist elements into our country? Some people quickly issued strong and unequivocal statements condemning the administration’s policy as anti-immigrant and anti-muslim. And anyone who failed to condemn the policy ran the risk of being branded by these individuals as anti-immigrant and anti-muslim. Similarly, one online meme even stated that a person could not be called a christian if he or she supported the policy.
Strong positional statements in and of themselves do not pose an issue. But an issue does arise when people attack or indiscriminately label anyone expressing a contrary viewpoint. While these tactics appear strong for promoting a specific position, they shut down or preclude any reasonable dialogue about the subject at hand.
In these situations, people tend to follow three options. First they join the crowd and quickly condemn anything that takes on the appearance of unorthodoxy, without regard to whether it is actually unorthodoxy. And in the effort to avoid getting branded, they brand others. Second, they just remain silent. This is unfortunate because our nation is predicated on a self-governing people working through issues. Third, they take a position contrary to the prevailing wisdom and thus endure political and social repercussions. Not only does this hurt the people in this third group, it hurts everyone because people in the first two groups become unwilling to cross battle lines and openly dialogue on the matter for fear of being stigmatized through association.
While we should value strongly advocating for our beliefs, we must also support the political framework that allows everyone the ability to express a position. The Spirit of Party subjugates open communication to the advancing of its agenda. Furthermore, its continued pursuit of power eventually destroys the free society that gave birth to it. George Washington in his Farewell Address stated:
The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism.…and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.
If we truly value our open society with the same vigor with which we advance our political positions, we must choose another route for expressing our beliefs. This is what I want to talk more about in my next post. While rocking the vote will always matter, we must begin to rock the Spirit of Party or it will continue to rock us.