A bird needs both wings to fly

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I only realised that my political views were a bit more left than right when I took part in the ABC’s Vote Compass  in 2013.  I still couldn’t vote at that time as I wasn’t a citizen and as such found the result interesting, amusing even but certainly not life-defining.  Even though I came out as more left that right it was only just.  I polled strongly liberal on all things money and slightly more green on matters of the environment.  Trying to be all things to all people or just pretty remarkably normal? I’d go with the latter.

By the next election in 2016 I could vote and this time my vote compass showed that I’d swung far more to the left – maybe even radically so!  As a scientist I found myself feeling much more skeptical of this result than I had of the 2013 findings – surely this level of swing is minor radicalism?  I didn’t feel radical. I hadn’t even read the list of left-wing propaganda that lefties are so often accused of parroting.   The left-wing agenda was something that I was not in on.

But I left it at that and voted the way that made sense to me.

It’s only a few months since that last election and the world of politics has gotten very nasty and that’s made me think.

I haven’t fundamentally changed much since I was a teenager back in the UK, a teenager living in a conservative household, reading the Daily Mail and the Sunday Telegraph, studying chemistry and dreaming of owning my own home and becoming a company Director…..

The world is what has changed and it has changed in a sick way that is obsessed with pigeon holing the whole of humanity into left-wing or right-wing boxes as if there is no possibility of seeing the good (and bad) in both thus totally ignoring the place where I suspect most of us really sit.

And I’m worried about that.

When things become so black and white the atmosphere changes.  It becomes harder to have a conversation with people from the ‘other side’ to you as it seems so pointless when ‘they’ are less on another page than reading from another book entirely!  We have a situation where common sense has been branded as a conservative construct and where anything to do with gender issues, equality, the environment and benefits is radical left-wing.  But where have those thoughts come from?

I don’t know but I do have my suspicions.

You only have to observe the comments under a slightly controversial Facebook post to see how quickly people stop talking and start trading insults.  I used to watch football (both soccer and Rugby – soccer crowds in England in the 1990’s were more violent and aggressive than the Rugby crowds so I’ll use that analogy).   Soccer crowds were separated by entrances on opposing sides of the stadium – left and right.  Once inside the chanting would start – depending on who was playing this could either be light-hearted banter or downright nasty goading.  Whichever it was there was an undeniable air of ‘why the F would anyone even think of supporting them’ directed at the opposition.  It was just unconscionable.

And that’s what politics is beginning to feel like.

We’ve chosen or been allotted sides.

These sides then define, not only how we vote but everything about us. We become bleeding heart lefty snowflakes or racist right-wing bigots full stop.

So who benefits from this?

Well a few months ago I might have sounded like a complete fruit loop for saying this but these days the proof is in the pudding – the political landscape has shifted and we can all see it with our own eyes.

The media love a good fight, it sells papers, makes great click bait and generally gets people addicted in a ‘what’s going to happen next’ kind of way.  So while the media don’t necessarily have the power to start this once that fire has been lit they will at best hide the hose pipe and at worst fan the flames.

But they are not the only ones.

Politicians also know and take advantage of the fact that when we are passionate and angry we are less likely to think rationally, examine the evidence with a fine tooth comb and ask questions to help us understand.  What we tend to do instead is either accept or reject outright what is put in front of us, blinded by our own passions.  I think this is where we are now and sadly we are falling into its trap.

I would have said a month ago that politicians have more control over the media now than ever (professional lobbyists etc) but after reading some Australian history from the early 1900s that simply isn’t true.  Australia’s second Prime Minister, Deakin was adept at prepping the soil for his future political policies by writing either overtly or under a pseudonym in the national papers.  Just like when you are weaning babies, you have to introduce a new food (or new idea) a few times for the baby to get used to it – the same can be said for policy and if you can get into people’s hearts and minds without them realising you are 3/4’s of the way to a win!

Of course these days we have social media to counter and temper the influence of the professional media – we can all ‘create’ news be it by blogging, tweeting, Facebook status updating or sharing or snap chatting.  However, we are shouting into a crowded market that has already been primed for left or right so it is more likely that you get lost in your own echo chamber than find your way into the hearts and minds of the opposition – to do that requires the development of a platform and in this political climate you won’t stand on a neutral one for long before someone shoves you either to the left or to the right!

So what can we do?

I don’t think there are any quick fixes that we can employ to help prevent us from falling into a left or right identity pot (unless we want to) but there are some slow ones and I guess it all starts with becoming aware of how the world is being divided.

I truly believe that we still have more in common than what divides us and as such will continue to try to seek out both sides of the story even when it doesn’t suit me and my personal tastes and views to do so.  This divide and conquer mentality is not going to end well as it is simply not natural.  As I said in my title, a bird needs both wings to fly but not only that, a bird also needs its core,  its centre and I’m happy to stay centred for now.