Leo Sereni English Department Essay Winner

Leo Sereni English Department Essay Winner
Posted on 05/30/2019
Leo Sereni English Department Essay Winner

Congratulations to Leo Sereni - English Department Essay Competition winner. His essay focuses on the causes and solutions to political polarization. The award was made possible with a grant from PCEF.  Essay below.


Ideological division has existed since ideas have existed. However, today's ideological division between groups has risen to unhealthy, toxic levels. While it is easy to blame Trump or the intolerance of one's political opponents for the state of our country, the truth is more nuanced than either of those points alone. In order to cure the ailment affecting the social fabric of America, we must first examine the reasons for today's polarization, the effect polarization (extreme division) is having on society, and then how individuals can help solve the issue.

Understanding the main causes of this division is difficult, although the reason for its longevity is simple: polarization is profitable. Whether you have primetime on FOX or are writing for a blog, there will invariably be a group of people who will flock to you to hear you denigrate their political enemies. Instead of engaging in thoughtful conversation, the modus operandi of these pundits is to keep the value of an interaction low and the entertainment value high. This creates a race to the bottom by sacrificing a conversation’s potential substance and morphing it into a screaming match between political operatives, which boosts ratings. Anyone who tries to go against this system will fall behind in ratings and clicks, potentially harming their career. Now that we have an understanding of why social polarization is so pervasive, we can move into seeing how it affects society.

Deep-seated polarization has the effect of making our society dumbed-down and tribalistic. Instead of seeing nuance in politics, the populace is conditioned to see their views and political parties as infallible, and the opposition as bigoted fools. This ensures that should two people with political disagreements come across one another, their mutual feelings of intellectual and moral superiority will drive them away from thoughtful conversation towards talking points and mudslinging. This perpetual division benefits pundits, who are given ammunition by these confrontations that allow them to keep painting their opponents as wrong and misguided. Any attempts at reaching out to the other side in hopes of reasonable debate are viewed as disloyalty, and people are kept strictly under the doctrine of their respective parties. Every issue is black or white, with nuance in issues like abortion or gun control virtually unheard of in mainstream political narratives. There is no question this division has negatively impacted the political climate in the US. It is now a question of how this issue can be solved.

It is unlikely society will ever be able to truly solve the polarization issue. Despite this, we can take steps towards solving the issue by collectively disavowing toxicity in division. As Winston Smith put it in the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, “if there is hope, it lies in the proles." Ending toxic politics requires no legislative victory or complex legal battle, but for individuals to start stepping up and prioritizing conversation over confrontation. Society can't evolve if its people do not allow it to, and unless we want our society to be worse off, people must be willing to put their preconceived notions of the other side away, sit down, and engage with them not with the goal of winning, but of enlightening.

Neither you nor I can solve the issue of division in politics alone. Not even if we had the collective will of the entire political left or right could we solve it. It requires the will of all people to solve this issue. We cannot afford to have one society where vitriolic slander is the norm and another where differences are accepted. Society must advance as one unit towards a less hostile political climate because we are one unit. Conservatives are not conservative and liberals are not liberal because they hate America, but because they love America, and the fundamental concepts of freedom, equality, and entrepreneurship that form the groundwork for our society. Progress requires a shift from bad actors making good actors fight good actors to good actors collectively fighting bad actors. As stated earlier, neither of us will alone fix the entire problem. What the individual can do is look at their actions, analyze them, and become more open to the other side. You may feel this is useless, as you may be a blip on the radar in terms of people willing to take positive action. However, never forget every world-changing idea or movement starts with the action and courage of only one. For the sake of all of us, don't be afraid to be that one.

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