Sunday, July 15, 2018

Partisan Polarity

One of the drivers of partisan strife in the modern United States is the idea of "spin." Simply defined, spin is selectively emphasizing or de-emphasizing information in order to present a particular event in a predetermined light, either positive or negative.While spin is often viewed as dishonest, it's usually different from lying, or other forms of direct deceit.

This becomes a partisan issue in that there seems to be a general assumption that there is an objective and neutral reality that everyone inhabits, and that depictions of the world that closely align with disagreeable partisan viewpoints have been spun by partisans to appear that way. Accordingly, absent any attempt to spin the data, objective truth would be evident. To the degree that people understand the political Other to be (willfully) unintelligent, credulous or immoral, all of these are generally wrapped up in spin, which has come to mean a sort of cynical dishonesty about the workings of the world.

But, in my understanding of the world, spin has little to do with partisanship. Rather, it's the fact that there's really no such animal as an objective view of the world. People interact with the world through their senses, but also through their own experiences, and this creates a necessarily biased view of the world. I read a long-form essay about New York's real-estate market and the author's perception of the impact that it was having on the spirit of the city this morning, and it soon became clear that the depictions of events were being filtered through the author's own understanding of the world around them.

To a reader who holds a different set of experiences, however, that filtering starts to look a lot like intentional spin, designed to fool the unwary. It's easy to understand a simple reason for this; the belief that experience doesn't matter. And that's an easy conclusion to come to. After all, unless color blindness is a factor, what's red for one person is red for another. And so if someone says something is blue when the observer sees red, one may be excused for asking what's going on. But politics doesn't work the same way as color.

Understanding that, I think, will result in a more productive political discourse. Of course, that leaves the thorny issue of promoting that understanding.

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