The King's Academy

Opinion: The irony of the American extremists

In the current American political climate, the contention between the two leading parties seems irreconcilable. The conviction on both sides could not be any more divergent. However, despite their vast ideological differences, Democrat supporters often share the same psychological biases as the Trump Voters whom they loath and vice versa. By falling into an us versus them mentality, the two opposing parties ironically follow the same psychological path. 

That path has a very common and innocent beginning. That is, as humans, we all love to hear ideas that agree with our view. We find comfort in surrounding ourselves with people and media that offer similar opinions to ours. 

In this generation of digital information technology, it is especially easy to like or to subscribe to content that suits our preference. In 2018, Mark Zuckerberg spoke about changes Facebook would be making to their algorithms.

A 2018 post on Facebook for Business read “With this update, we will also prioritize posts that spark conversations and meaningful interactions between people. To do this, we will predict which posts you might want to interact with your friends about, and show these posts higher in feed.”

In other words, what we enjoy feeds Facebook’s algorithms, which in turn serves us with more topics that we enjoy and fewer topics we dislike. 

All of this to make us feel comfortable and spend more time on social media. Once we settle into these “tight-knit communities,” we tend to unconditionally accept whatever information we are told in this trusted environment. Our worldview is thus quietly but surely swayed and shaped by these presumed authorities.

On the other hand, as we sense that we are among agreeing companies, we feel safe to express views that are consistent with the community’s perspective, which then fortifies others’ beliefs. This self-reinforcement of like-mindedness is what is commonly known as an echo-chamber. An echo-chamber is “an environment where a person only encounters information or opinions that reflect and reinforce their own,” according to GCF Global. 

People who live in these epistemic bubbles are more trusting of the information they receive in this environment. It is precisely in this confidence that we become susceptible to being manipulated. People too readily accept false information such as fake news and conspiracy theories. This gradually shifts our worldview to be more extreme because false sources tend to employ provocative content and click-bait titles to capture attention. If you were to present them factual data directly contradicting their beliefs, they would not be easily persuaded. 

In a 1969 study performed by French Psychologist Serge Moscovici and Marisa Zavalloni, the researchers asked a group of participants to discuss their attitudes toward the French President. They placed people with similar views strategically together to have a discussion. Many of the subject’s attitudes magnified as the discussion with like-minded people progressed. People also began sharing radical views more openly to each other. The two researchers came to a conclusion that a “group consensus seems to induce a change of attitudes in which subjects are likely to adopt more extreme positions.” Even if they started off uncertain in what they believed in, seeing others agree with them strengthened their opinions. 

Since many are willing to share more radical ideas, these people become more receptive to news and opinions that are far-fetched from factual data. This ultimately shapes the views of extremist people, who inhabit both sides of the political spectrum. For instance, a typical stereotype of the far-right is that their policies stem from racist or xenophobic beliefs. In contrast, a stereotype of leftist policies is that they are naive at best and socialist or anarchist at worst. Had the people holding these views thought through their beliefs, they would have realized that not all Republicans are racists, nor are all Democrats liberal snowflakes. This illustrates how psychologically, the uninformed, extreme leftist operates the same way as the white supremacist, anti-vaxxers, racists, and xenophobes whom they detest. 

As a result, both sides are unable to have civil discourse. When both parties engage, there is not much reasoning, only rationalization. This makes it difficult for either side to see contrary evidence and attempt to find common ground. Thus, constructing a grit-lock between them. 

For those who choose to stay in their echo-chamber, regardless which political party, ironically, you are quite similar to the side you hate.


This story was originally submitted to the Scholastic Writing Competition and received an Honorable Mention.