Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Stressful politics

Boy oh boy oh boy oh boy, do I ever agree with this headline from Pew Research: “More Now Say It’s ‘Stressful’ to Discuss Politics With People They Disagree With”. There’s simply nothing else I do in my entire life that has the same capacity to drive up my blood pressure (probably literally) than doing that. Which is why I’ve chosen to disengage more often than not—it’s simply not worth it.

The chart from the Pew article linked to above shows that Liberals who identify with/lean the Democrats are by far the most likely to find it stressful to discuss politics with someone with whom they disagree, while only a minority of moderates and liberals among those who identify with/lean Republican feel the same way, though conservatives find it only somewhat more stressful. This is interesting in itself.

Stress, however, is a personal thing, really, that one has some control over. Pew found a much bigger concern:

A majority of Americans (63%) say that when they talk about politics with people they disagree with, they usually find they have “less in common” politically than they thought previously. Fewer than a third of Americans (31%) say they find they have more in common with people they disagree with politically.

Looking again at the chart above, it’s clear that only Moderate/Liberal Republicans find talking about politics with people they disagree with is “Interesting and Informative”, and everyone else doesn’t.

The complete report, available at the link, has more information on all of that.

Two things jumped out at me when I read the report. First, if people find they don’t have as much common ground with people they disagree with politically as they thought they would, and if they find talking about politics with such people is stressful, then what hope is there for finding a way out of the USA’s toxic politics?

The second question is one the report doesn’t even try to answer: Why? Partisanship in the USA has become visceral and tribal, and that may be part of the answer: People are so much inside their own bubbles that maybe they’re unwilling to to listen to anyone else, which would be stressful. That’s suggested by the fact that most people don’t find talking to those with different positions “Interesting and Informative”.

The portrait painted by the report suggests that USA’s political problems are far from being resolved. If we better understood how the USA got into this mess in the first place, maybe we’d be better able to find a way out. Fortunately, there are some critical examinations of that very topic that are being published. Maybe they’ll help.

But one thing I know for certain is that no one wants to be called “stupid” by someone who disagrees with them, or told to “do your research” or “educate yourself”. Those have all happened to me, and folks from both the Left and the Right have lobbed those—and worse—at me. Clearly it was impossible for us to find any middle ground. I bet plenty of others have experienced similar things.

My response to all that, my plan for avoiding this stress on social media is that I simply don’t engage. If I see some Facebook post or Tweet that I can see won’t go well—and by now I’m pretty good at spotting them a mile away—I just move on. If I make a mistake and engage, I leave the moment it starts turning toxic. So far, that works pretty well.

But my strategy only works on social media. If I encounter in real life someone who’s basically a political opponent, there’s no much I can do to avoid the stress. There, the only think I can think of is to care less, because I can’t change them and they can’t change me, so the only other alternative for me is to simply shrug and walk away, metaphorically, at least.

Someday maybe we can go back to the days when people could disagree without being disagreeable. I just can’t see it happening any time soon.

Finally, when I went to the second page on the online version, I got what’s known as a “404 error”, when a webpage can’t be found. I thought this simple, understated error message was too perfect, and funny in a geeky sort of way. After a serious topic like this one, a bit of humour is especially good.

Pew strikes the right tone with their "404" message.

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