Hyperpartisanship is Ruining America | Opinion

Historically speaking, dogma and cultural progress are quintessential antitheses. When our moral and aesthetic concerns are "expressed in absolute terms, and, at the same time, are conceived for special purposes on particular occasions," as the late historian Theodore Draper wrote in his book The Roots of American Communism, morality, public discourse and the arts run amok.

Currently, we are arguably at the most hyperpartisan period in the history of the United States. The part of our culture that has most deteriorated because of this is public discourse, which is now plagued with the irrationality and banalities of dogmatic ideology—attributes that can be found in abundance among progressives and conservatives alike. If one were to list all of the possible examples of thwarting public discourse from both sides, it would take endless columns to cover.

Christendom in Europe, from late antiquity to the Renaissance, consisted largely of dogmatism. Western culture did not collapse entirely and other significant aspects of it, like the arts and literature, flourished—but salient parts of it were subject to profound stunting and regression.

Philosophy and science made very little progress during this period—it is no wonder that Aristotle was the go-to on both of these matters up until Galileo's discoveries during the Renaissance. So too with public discourse—the Roman inquisitors deemed Galileo a heretic for his discoveries and forced him to denounce his findings, ultimately forcing him into house arrest for the rest of his life. Any expressed behaviors or ideas that did not fit canonical Christianity during this period were mostly met with cruelty, credulity and absolutism. And because of this, public discourse, philosophy and science mostly stood at a standstill for 2,000 years.

To give an example from today's political left, consider the case of Meghan Murphy, who was permanently banned from Twitter for tweeting "men aren't women." We can, in good faith, question whether or not such a statement was appropriate or moral. There is a reasonable discussion to be had on the ethics of misgendering transgender people. I, for one, am opposed to intentional misgendering, as it is clearly an unnecessary act of disrespect. And insofar as Murphy intended to misgender trans people—which, actually is the case—she is in the wrong.

What cannot be discussed in good faith is whether or not such a statement warrants being permanently banned from a platform that routinely houses ISIS, Taliban and Al-Qaeda members, who literally mistreat and murder women and LGBTQ+ people. As Caitlin Flanagan implicitly alluded to in her recent column in The Atlantic, it seems that progressives are more interested in pronouns, political opportunism and undertaking blitzes on somewhat "problematic figures" than they are in genuine human rights. And part of the problem too is that such attacks are often mixed in with other attacks on figures who are genuinely morally reprehensible: Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump and groups like the Proud Boys, who are genuine racists, sexists and predators.

Detained demonstrators are taken to the police
Detained demonstrators are taken to the police station by buses at the end of protest marches against racism and issues with the presidential election, in Minneapolis, Minn. on Nov. 4, 2020. KEREM YUCEL/AFP via Getty Images

Murphy is not even in the same dimension as them, but American public discourse has collapsed so much that she and countless others are routinely conflated as equivalently immoral. Endless thoroughly unsubstantiated ideas—such as the notion that racism and white supremacy are at their worst in American history today—go unchecked because those who subscribe to them arrive in agreement with them before considering whether or not they are true.

On the political right, anti-vaccination propaganda is impenetrable to public health officials—and anyone else for that matter. The hysteria we hear from the right is so pernicious that now we have ICUs filling up with people who are dying from COVID-19, who still refuse to get vaccinated even as they take their last dying breath. The profoundly vague notion of "personal liberty" seems to be the dogmatic hill these folks are all too willing to die on. But any honest discussion on concepts of freedom or personal liberty must be bolstered by the fact that such notions are a lot more complicated than saying, "I can do whatever I want, and anything that prevents me from doing so is tyranny."

Meanwhile, many on the right falsely believe that Donald Trump is still the "real" president, that the LGBTQ+ community (specifically trans people) are somehow attempting to undermine "Western values" when in reality they're simply acquiring long-deserved liberties and that racism has been eradicated for decades—despite such views often coming from the mouths of palpable racists. For individuals who believe in these ideas, their salience is paramount and there is no convincing them otherwise. In other words, the certainty in which dogmatists hold on their ideas is as strong as your current credulity in the idea that you are, indeed, reading Newsweek—that is, their conviction is unequivocal. Moreover, hyperpartisanship is a self-fueling phenomenon—left-wing rhetoric amplifies right-wing rhetoric and vice-versa.

We should notice from history that when public discourse deteriorates, quite often, the society in which this occurs falls into the abyss with it. According to Friedrich Nietzsche, German culture in the 19th century faced many of the same challenges that American culture faces today. Specifically, Nietzsche alluded that German culture had lost its genuine interest in ideas and free inquiry and replaced it with blinding power and absolutist cultural designations, such as antisemitism. In contrast, all serious matters, such as unfettered education, were "dominated by an indecent haste."

A major cultural collapse in Germany inevitably followed this state of affairs in the 20th century. I doubt America will turn to anything approximating Nazi Germany if our public discourse continues to collapse; however, what might occur—the details of which are uncertain—will surely be the end of what we know as "American culture." When much of the country cannot speak to each other for political reasons—as things currently stand in America—cultural collapse becomes an inevitably.

Daniel Lehewych is a graduate student of philosophy at the CUNY Graduate Center, specializing in moral psychology, ethics and the philosophy of mind. He is a freelance writer, powerlifter and health science enthusiast.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.