Perspectives and Political Beliefs

I have been fortunate to have friends who house different political beliefs and are unafraid to disagree with me. Fiery debates on our way to the CDH (Central Dining Hall) or the main building have swayed me or at least made to reconsider my beliefs. After losing an argument, I would return to the house, with a bruised ego, and delve further into the topic to strengthen my reasoning. My friends would then do the same and round we would go. What allowed our group dynamic to function was that we allowed multiple perspectives to co-exist. We carefully considered other arguments without labelling them as ‘conservative’, ‘dumb’ or ‘hyper liberal’. This dynamic developed our understanding of politics and our engagement with the rest of the world. However, similar dynamics are becoming alarmingly rare. 

Today, peer pressure is a dominating factor when one decides their political orientation. This is partly due to social media, partly to a lack of reading and partly due to increased stigmatization. Many are identifying as liberals or conservatives depending on their friends. Certainly, friends have always had a role in one’s political beliefs, but never have they been such a dominating and destructive force. 

The nurturing of the cancel culture is particularly responsible for this. Despite having limited understanding of an issue, or another person’s reasoning, one can very easily call someone out. This is intensified since the person who calls someone else out is not required to justify their actions, but rather the other way around. This lifts all responsibility from them, encouraging them to call others out at every chance they get. More pervasively however, this legitimizes not listening to the other side. Certain political beliefs have been stigmatized or entirely cancelled by social media. I have friends who would not publicly reveal that they are conservative, trump supporters or even communist for these reasons, despite having sound reasoning for their choices.  The culture of stigmatizing and cancelling entire political opinions, makes it legitimate for people to choose not to listen to others, often missing out on their reasoning. The type of dynamic mentioned early, is made exceedingly difficult in such a scenario since opposing your friend’s risks being excluded from them entirely. As a result, the gap between the left and right is widening so much that is becoming difficult to build a bridge across it. 

What intensifies this is the structure of social media. On social media platforms, you choose who to follow and consequentially who to listen to and most of these are likely to be your friends. As a result, your social media is constantly populated with mostly your own friends’ political beliefs. Every second Instagram story you open is pushing a political orientation towards you. This is especially vicious when these posts often only contain one political perspective and evaluate political issues on their surface. They often have misleading headlines or false facts. The 50-word limit in twitter, the endless scroll on Instagram etc… compound this issue. It becomes even more difficult to reconsider these views when there is no direct way to engage with them. While comments are an exception in a way, the very fact they take place online limits their engagement. The ease to then repost such posts compounds the issue further. Furthermore Covid-19 has moved all interactions online, so the opposition you might have faced from others around you has decreased significantly. As a result, you are facing increasing pressure to conform to your friend’s political orientation. This became apparent to me when posts about the farmer protests were circulating. Rarely did I see a post defending the government or even acknowledging what the BJP’s arguments were. It was simply too easy to pick one side without reading up on the heart of the problem. Even if you oppose the farm bill, it does not mean you cannot acknowledge some of its merits. 

It is during these teenage years that we begin to build our political beliefs, and therefore its crucial that when we do choose a side, we carefully pick it. It is very easy to block out other perspectives, but that is why we need to make additional effort to listen to them. Whether this means switching on fox news just to hear what they have to say or picking up the south china morning post; the effort to listen to other side is crucial. Importantly, you must listen with an open mind and not jump to labelling the other side. How many of us ever watches Donal Trump rally and thinks, maybe what he is saying could make sense? It is important to remember, that it does not have to make sense, but we still must make effort of asking ourselves, what if it does? Additionally, before publicly voicing our opinions and becoming adamant on them, we should research the issue and really delve into its nuances before making up our minds. Simply because a friend asks you to share a post on your story, does not mean you have to.

The takeaway I would like you readers to have from this article, is that it is important to have an open mind to other political beliefs and not stigmatize them. To always read different perspectives before making up your mind, and to think independently and not concede to peer pressure. You do not have to be liberal or conservative because your friends are. 

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