I have spent a significant amount of time combing through Twitter, Facebook, and various news sites, trying to digest what happened last night, and the reactions to it. For those who are unaware, the United Kingdom voted, by a margin of 52% to 48%, to leave the European Union, a conglomeration of European countries founded on the concepts of easy trade and movement across national borders.
I’m not going to try to break down the economics or the politics; those are not my forte, and they are all horrendously complicated. To me, what is most fascinating are the geosocial ramifications. What does the average person think about the Brexit result? How does this impact the trend toward globalization? What are the consequences for the average Joe on the street? After reading quite a bit of text from myriad sources, the reaction tends to filter into one of several categories:
- The war between generations.
- Nationalism versus globalization (and in the same vein, race relations and immigration).
- Economic policy and impact.
Without fail, those who are in favor of the UK remaining a part of the Union have lambasted and accused their counterparts as being old, racist nationalists who have no idea what they are doing. And those in favor of the secession have derided their opponents as young, whiny, entitled kids with no real experience. Are either of these judgments fair or true?
Where is the subtlety of judgment, the nuance of thought? Do we really think that everyone who voted one way has one unified ideology, and everyone who voted the other way has the opposite, singular worldview? For all our supposed advancement, we sure do fall into the same old traps of human thought, don’t we?
But, I suppose this isn’t anything new. This was also on prominent display last weekend, after the horrendous events in Orlando, and can be seen on a more national scale in our current presidential election.
People on both sides of any particular argument tend to devolve into the “us vs. them” mentality. No one on the other side has any redeeming qualities, and no one on my side has any flaws. Isn’t that the way we tend to be? We have all seen it over and over again, even in social issues here in America. Every person who is pro-abortion is a baby-murdering sociopath, and everyone against homosexuality is an stupid, unenlightened caveman. There is no possible way someone could be opposed to sinful behavior while still loving the person who sinned, and its impossible for someone be a friend with a sinner without being tainted by their wrongdoing.
(If there was a sarcasm font, I would have used it for that last paragraph.)
Here is what I have found to be true; most people you meet on a day to day basis don’t fit the cookie-cutter mold. Individually, we are nuanced, complicated creatures. No one fits the golden standards of CONSERVATIVE or LIBERAL. Everyone believes a little of column A, a little of column B, and a lot of column C. And even if we do lean heavily toward one end of the spectrum or the other, the reasons we have for believing what we do are never as simple as our opponents make them out to be.
Today I see a lot of anger, a lot of emotion. That visceral gut reaction leads us nowhere but the abyss that is the mob mentality, to find others like you and wage war against the Enemy, whoever that may be. The mob mentality brings out the worst in us. It makes us suppress the urge to try to understand the Other Side, and feeds the basest instincts of our psyche. The internet tends to be ruled by that mob mentality. There is no room for honest discussion; you have to pick a side or your voice will be swept away by the war of the extremes. The opinions that are shared and reposted and favorited are those that are the most extreme, because they feed into our anger and outrage, either because the author agrees with us and pumps us up, or disagrees and makes us even more angry. Articles that try to strike a balance, that try to understand both sides equally, don’t feed those base emotions. They’re boring, they tend to be unemotional, and so they are ignored. And the feedback loop continues.
What can we do about it? On a large scale, nothing. We can’t change “the masses”, all that we can change is ourselves. There is only one “us vs. them” mentality that scripture endorses: us vs. the Devil. When dealing with our fellow humans, even if they make mistakes, or act in a way that is the antithesis of our personal ideology, we have a responsibility to reign in our gut reactions and find out the truth. To search out the reasons why people are the way they are, and to find common ground. To endorse open, honest, helpful dialogue.
We must be “quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. For the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” To do anything less is to give our real enemy the victory.