Age of polarization

Age of polarization

It has been almost three decades since the world saved itself from the bipolar political order. Today, a generation or two who have not witnessed those Cold War days are in the center of economic and political life. They have no idea about the psychology of those days in which contact with the other side was called treason and communication was very limited.

Despite numerous books and movies about the era, it seems not possible to understand the facts on the ground during Cold War days.

The most striking feature of the Cold War was its labeling everything in black or white. Things were either good or evil, and there was nothing in the middle. For the United States and its allies, Soviets and Eastern Europeans were evil and horrible. American President Ronald Reagan once publicly referred to the Soviet Union as an evil empire in 1983. From Moscow’s point of view, it was the
Western World which was corrupt and degenerated. Both sides were in competition in demonizing each other.

The Cold War ended by the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1991, along with many taboos. As the wall collapsed, people met each other and understood that the other people living on the other side were not evil and were normal people.

The youth of 1990s lived in a freer environment and accepted differences more easily. The polarization among states faded.

Almost 30 years later, unfortunately, it seems that the shadow of dark Cold War days appeared in a different way. We are in a new age of polarization. But this time polarization is not among the states, but it is among the individuals. People are being classified, categorized and listed by others as good or bad. Intolerance, hostility and malignancy rules. People are distancing themselves from each other.

It is not peculiar to Turkey or a specific country. The problem is global and is felt especially in Turkey, in the U.S. and in many other countries. This polarization is getting destructive, ending friendships and causing disagreements and resentments even within families.

It is possible to say that tough competition in politics and misuse of new media tools are behind this dangerous polarization.

Social media platforms which brought old friends together via the internet, which at the beginning appeared as a bridge of friendship, turned to political competition fields. People started to enforce their thoughts rather than sharing it. Those who liked a message and those who didn’t dissociated and sharpened their views against the other. Cheap and irresponsible websites started to produce content without basic journalistic principles, sometimes on purpose. Fake news became worldwide. It became too easy to label someone and discredit him or her. Social media lynching became a daily event by using bot accounts. Those who hide their names and faces with manipulative accounts insult others without taking any cost.

Many journalists turned into activists and started to produce slogans rather than information. The psychological violence of this polarization is terrifying. Most recently people are even being criticized not because of what they shared but because of what they did not. It is getting crazier every day.

Polarization directs people to follow the news from specific media outlets that make them feel more comfortable and ignore the other side. This cycle of polarization take people’s minds hostage to their camp. That is why in many countries mainstream media has come under fire. The credibility of newspapers, television news programs and journalists are being targeted by the initiators of this polarization. Those who instigate it hope to fill the vacuum which they create by discrediting mainstream media. By deepening the gap between two poles, they are aiming to increase their influence.

The radical right in Europe and the U.S. are trying to recruit people by feeding this polarization. Political groups hope to gain votes and discredit their rivals by using this method.

The only way out from here is to develop media literacy, strengthen the mainstream media, regulate social media use and protect individuals from irresponsible attacks by preventing fake news.