According to one of my favorite sites, the word polarization, “suggests the tendency to be located close to, or attracted towards, one of the two opposite poles of a continuum.” In our increasingly polarized world, the more important word in that definition is actually “continuum.” Wikipedia defines it as: “anything that goes through a gradual transition from one condition, to a different condition, without any abrupt changes” (emphasis added).
To give myself something to point to in this discussion, I assembled the lovely diagram above. The point that I’m about to hit you over the head with is that in politics, religion, and now science, we are starting to lose sight of what is important in our urge to push each other through the gaping holes in the arguments at hand.
For instance, let’s tackle global warming, now often called “climate change” to soften the implications. The continuum (pronounced, just for this post, kon-tin-you-UM) of thought that contains the theory of global warming is able to slide gently to the left and right along the set of theories that underlie the concept. In other words, the end at the left blames humanity, the end at the right pins the change on the earth’s natural cycles, but neither end of the continuum debates whether or not it’s actually happening. The continuum line is that global warming is happening…and the gradual transition from one thought to the other gives the ability to discuss it rationally (mostly) and the arguments end up being around what the next steps are. The steps that are proposed, of course, depend on which end you occupy. But it’s a non-confrontational argument where the sentences begin with “um,” as in “Um, I happen to think the glaciers are melting because the earth is cycling into a warming period, probably to be followed by another ice age, and I don’t think there’s a dang thing we can do. They’re glaciers. They’re ice. Ice melts. Get over it.”
On the second polarization, we have ends that debate whether global warming, as a concept, is true.The denizens at each of the continu-rabbit line bounce around like a bunny, trying not to fall into the holes in their own argument. And by the way, trying to end an argument with “because God said so,” doesn’t end an argument, it just begins a sermon. Stop that. You didn’t like it when your mother used “because I said so,” so stop channeling her argument tactics. Oddly enough, both tend to use the exact same argument, only the relied-upon source changes from “God” to “science.” Those who land at one end or the other of the continu-rabbit are polarized in the sense that they are shouting down the other participant, and have no intention of budging one inch. Arguing with either side is much like trying to nail Jell-O® to the wall.
And then, as you knew I would, we get to the continu-roo, with giant conceptual leaps, and holes in the arguments that are big enough to drive a truck through them (mixing my metaphors again). This is where you get bald proclamations like “The Earth is only 4,000 years old,” and at the other end of the continue-roo, a series of statements that make it plain the true believer is rooting for a mass die-off of human beings in order to let the animals get on with it. Whatever “it” is. As long as no animals were harmed in the process of getting rid of the humans. To them, we are a cancer, a sickness upon the earth. To the other side, we are simply waiting on the rapture. Both sides are true believers. Both, oddly enough, are hoping that humanity takes a long walk–one believes that will be the faithful walking into the arms of whatever Maker they identify with most strongly. The rest of us will be going straight to hell, do not pass go, do not collect absolution. The other side of the continu-roo believes that we’ll be so much worm food–but both believe we will be gone.
Do I personally have a solution to any of this polarization? No. Sorry. I’m not trying to stay out of the fray, I’ve just not found a single argument that has ever convinced me to be a fanatic. About anything. I think most of all, I’m trying to get the arguments to stop. You’re not going to convince someone the earth is ancient, even when the evidence for it is… well, I was going to say “undeniable,” but everything’s deniable–you can’t dent that armor of faith, so stop trying. You’re making me tired.
We are becoming increasingly dismissive of each other’s opinions, another outcome of polarization, and that would probably be my biggest request. Stop listening only to the people you think are right. Stop shooting people you believe are wrong. Accept that a differing opinion is not an abomination–it’s just an opinion. Shut UP, for God’s sake. Or Mohammed’s, or Buddha’s, or Joseph Smith’s sake, pick a prophet, any prophet, or none at all, whatever floats your boat, trips your trigger, shines your egg. OK, I made that last one up.
I am going to go make some bread for the week to come. Bread makes sense. People often do not. And, bonus, you can punch bread dough, throttle it, even shout at it, get all your aggression resolved, and you end up with an awesome end product.
Word to the wise, unlike bread, if you do that with a person, the cops just get all kinds of tacky about it. And the end product is you paying a lot of dough to the justice system. Hee. Pun!