More on Polarization

From the Faculty Blog at the University of Chicago Law School:

One of the most interesting findings in modern social science involves group polarization -- the process by which like-minded people go to extremes. More technically, deliberating groups tend to end up in a more extreme position in line with their predeliberation tendencies. ...

...Some people act as "polarization entrepreneurs": they attempt to create communities of like-minded people, and they are aware that these communities will not only harden positions but also move them to a more extreme point. Some of history's greatest heroes and villains operated as polarization entrepreneurs. Both liberation leaders and terrorists have created tight-knit communities of like-minded people. ...

The post points to two different types of polarization: planned and spontaneous. The citation above speaks to the former. The post also notes that polarization is not always a bad thing: "Polarization is sometimes an excellent strategy." Part of the goodness of polarization is that though it may lead to extreme views it also acknowledges realistic differences. Despite the seemingly ideal situation where "we'd all be equator Christians and we'd all have glorious tans" (see comment by Igford in response to this earlier post) such a homogenous view does not embody the pluriform body of Christ. The question is "How do we live together in the same 'room' when many of us have our backs against opposite walls, others of us are lounging on the couch watching the tube, others are hanging out by the punch bowl, etc. etc.?" The answer is not to get us all in the middle doing the same thing. The answer lies somewhere in the idea that we are held together by the faithfulness of Christ and we are learning to live together in hope and, above all else, love!


Igford said...

You've rocked my world.

So... If I'm getting this right, then polarization is a good thing as long as we are all tolerant of each other.

I somewhat agree with that, but being a person who naturally tends to take opposing viewpoints and then takes it the extreme in order to get my points across, I definitely still see that as a bad thing overall. I thought the whole idea behind polarization was not just having different views, but also forcing our views and ourselves further apart in order to create more separation so that the difference is more obvious. You see it in everyday discussion.

"I just saw a pretty good movie. Have you seen it?"

"I didn't care for that movie very much."

"Oh really? I loved it. It is in my top 10."

"Why? It the plotline was terrible. In fact, I hated it. It was one of the worst movies I've seen this year."

That's my idea of polarization in everyday life. Our discussions reinforce our differences so much that we actually further expand those differences and distance ourselves. That's gotta be a bad thing when the discussion is about our faith and ideals instead of just about movies. I see now that "Equator Christians" is a bad idea, because that requires that we all meet in the middle, which is something I'm prone to forcing people to do when they are in a discussion with me. I understand that not everyone wants a glorious tan like I have, but it is a struggle sometimes because I don't understand why they don't.

I guess that is where tolerance comes in. I'll bet Christ had some thing to say about that.

Chris Spinks said...

There is a world of difference, to me at least, between tolerance and understanding. I had planned to add a little update to this post. It came to me while getting dressed this morning. There are always those in the "room" who push so strongly against opposite walls that they risk tearing down the whole house. Those who want to keep the house intact have no duty to be tolerant of these sorts of polarized fanatics, but it might help to ry to understand them. And yes, we can analyze instances of polarization on all sorts of levels, even the common everyday. I am most interested, however, in the more complex societal level. Finally, read the whole of the Faculty blog I referred to. I think it speaks to some of the issues Igford's raised.

donna said...

what if you're not able to tan?

oh...that probably doesn't really apply here, does it?

Igford said...

I read the rest of the faculty blog. Very interesting. I got the impression that they were saying polarization occurs because of grouping of similar interests. I would argue the opposite. One point that I think I sort of already made in my earlier comment was that polarization does not occur without an equal and opposite force (two magnets).

In my earlier example of the movie discussion, the two people would not have gone to extremes without the other person taking an opposing viewpoint.

The other side of the magnet, however, shows that once these viewpoints are established, people do tend to flock to others who agree.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that if all you did was group up people of similar interests, you'd end up with just that; groups of people with similar interests. It takes an opposing force to create polarization, in which the viewpoints are taken to the extreme.

These overly dramatic opposing viewpoints are seen every day in the political world, in which polarization is so well established that people are often forced into a side before they even have a chance to be normal. "Oh, you want to go into politics? PICK A SIDE!"

This, I believe, is unfortunate. I can see what you mean about people using planned polarization to further a cause. But again, it isn't going to work unless you are opposing something.

Understanding without tolerance? Very good point, there. I wonder if it is actually possible to truly understand someone and still be unable to tolerate them.

Chris Spinks said...

Great reflections Igford. Lots to think about!

B-W said...

You might be interested in this post at Slacktivist. Not directly related to this discussion, it definitely relates to the concept of polarization. The article specifically discusses the fallacy that the "middle road" is always the best solution.