Polarization in politics

On Classified E-mails

On Classified E-mails

With the election cycle nearing its conclusion, you have undoubtedly heard a lot about Hilary Clinton (henceforth referred to as her honorary "Secretary") and her damned e-mail scandal.  In fact, you have probably heard about it far more than you would have liked; because, to put it bluntly, if Republicans aren't talking about Benghazi, then they're probably rambling on about this damned scandal.

The problem is, not many people really understand what the scandal is about, or why it's important in the first place. So, I endeavored to read through a few articles on the Internet, and - more importantly - the FBI documents released on the investigation, in an effort to build a primer on the issue and its relevance to the American Citizen.

This is not a political post; it is a technical primer, and as a result, my conclusions at the end of the post will be focused primarily on the ways in which technicians and engineers, like many of the people who read this blog, can learn from this cluster fuck.

Nationalism: The Rise of the Warrior Class Post-9/11

Nationalism:  The Rise of the Warrior Class Post-9/11

I can no longer open an essay about September 11, 2001 with "We all know where we were that faithful day," because an increasingly large number of individuals are coming of age without having any discernible memory of a life prior to the World Trade Center attack.  This generation, even moreso than mine, has always lived in the Post-9/11 world, and embodies the concept behind my popular essay "Generation at War" better than my generation ever could.  

These individuals lack the pre-9/11 context in which to frame their new world views, and as such will rely heavily on the narrative that generations before them have provided. As a result, it becomes increasingly important that, as we round the fifteenth anniversary of this tragic event, we pause for some introspection in order to better understand the narratives that we are providing.

The Downfall of the American Economic and Authority Model

The Downfall of the American Economic and Authority Model

Economic theory states that effective capitalistic markets exist only when every individual and organization acts in their own best interests and are left unhindered and empowered enough to allow for each market to balance supply and demand.  To translate that into plainer English: Capitalism only works when everyone is able to create enough and purchase enough products to ensure that there is an ideal number of products on the market to avoid a surplus or shortage.

So what happens when the economic model is tampered with in an age where transparency is a by product of the Internet? Apparently, riots across the entire civilized world.

Historical Context: Investing in Education, In Spite of Economic Woes

We have seen the importance of education time and time again: from preventing polarization in politics and combating the over reliance on authority figures whom we deem infallible through the Halo Effect, to improving political engagement and increasing the lifespan of the educated.  However, in today's world with soaring tuition costs it can be difficult for many people to accept the insurmountable burden that obtaining a college degree can place on a family; especially when it's no golden ticket to employment after graduation.

Add to this the fact that we exist, in a world where congressmen believe that wind is a finite resource, homeopathic remedies are touted on a daily basis in lieu of medicine, and junk science has become an international export - can we really afford to have a polarized political environment that's too busy fighting over the existence of evolution (in the House Committee of Science no less) to enact meaningful change? If increasing education reduces the number of believers in an absurd theory (e.g. astrology), even without specifically addressing that theory - then an increased number of educated members in our society leads to a healthier, more engaged, and less susceptible to junk science populace.

So when graduating seniors are faced with the inability to go to college without taking on an unsustainable amount of debt, it affects the country in far more ways than just the job market. In fact, as the former Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich, points out it may start a self-fulfilling prophecy where an underemployed workforce hurts the economy, which affects tax revenue, which drives down government programs.  A lack of government programs drives up tuition in schools and drives down political engagement, polarizes the political spectrum, and causes future generations to be underemployed as well. 

Linguistics, Education, and Polarization

Linguistics, Education, and Polarization
The Deffuant-Weisbuch (DW) model describes how interconnected individuals can influence one another's beliefs. The less certain someone is about their belief, the more that individual could be swayed towards the belief of a more confident individual with whom they interact. Under the DW model, "extremists" are defined as a minority of people who are very confident about and unlikely to change their beliefs. As a result, if an individual is uncertain about their belief, they are more likely to be swayed by an extremist.

The Halo Effect, Polarization, and Modern Politics

The Halo Effect, Polarization, and Modern Politics

There's a psychological concept known as the Halo Effect in which an object, person, or ideology (OPI) in which you find positive is assumed to have no negatives and an OPI in which you find negative is assumed to have no positives.  This effect can be illustrated through some very simple thought processes: 

  • I like Jill, she is nice. 
  • I think donating to charity is nice. 
  • Therefore, I assume that Jill donates to charity. 

This assumption is based on no outside information.  I have never spoken to the hypothetical character named Jill, but I have a predisposition to assume that Jill would be "the kind of person who would" donate to charity.  If we step back and think, we would realize the fallacy here, but until we actively engage in that thought processes, or until we receive information which contradicts this (e.g. "Jill is especially tight fisted with her finances"), we will operate on the assumption that Jill donates to charity as if it were a fact. 

This assumption of fact is more powerful than just the Halo Effect. When we receive information, we immediately categorize it into one of two different sets:  True and False.  As a result, it's increasingly difficult to reach informed, unbiased positions with simple things (crop yield statistics), and almost impossible with complex issues. When news agencies lost their journalistic integrity, they helped set the stage for the polarization of the American public.