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You have to blow on the soup
Any democracy is bound to be a place where conflicting opinions occasionally lead to tensions. In general, the gift of a system of self-government is that everyone broadly agrees to disagree within the bounds of a predictable system for winning and losing, permitting us to blow off the steam of having a fair chance at expressing our wants and trying to persuade others to come around to our side before agreeing to abide by the will of the majority (within bounds that protect the rights of all).
■ Unfortunately, there is profit -- unusually quick profit -- to be made by catering to the heat rather than to the resolution. On one of the more disreputable programming streams now found on some cable and satellite television systems, someone appears to have come right out and expressed hope that people would be executed over the last general election. Right out loud.
■ In his book, "Them", Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska wrote that "A republic can't survive if it's filled with fanatics." And he's right. (It's doubtful any system can survive indefinitely if filled with fanatics, but self-government is particularly susceptible to the character of the governed.) Anyone concerned about matters like polarization ought to take note of the many ways polarization has heated up, according to surveys by the Pew Research Center.
■ The distasteful consequences of polarization undoubtedly turn off lots of people, who seek refuge by claiming not to take any part in politics. Others are staying quiet for fear that they'll suffer consequences for expressing "wrong" opinions.
■ But in withdrawal and silence, we uncover a problem: The most polarized among us aren't going to shut up. In fact, they're bound to turn up the volume. On cable TV or social media, polarization tends to pay -- and some people subscribe to an expressed policy of "flooding the zone" with misinformation intended to confuse and agitate everyone around.
■ When you're served a bowl of hot soup, you can wait for it to cool itself. As long as it isn't sitting on a burner, it will probably cool off...eventually. But most people know that it cools off faster if you blow on it. What's the equivalent to "blowing on the soup" in our larger world? For many of us, it's a matter of sharing more -- but deliberately sharing news, opinions, insights, and observations that don't have anything to do with what riles everyone up.
■ Left to battle it out with one another, the extremists and agitators will continue to "flood the zone" with content that makes everything seem worse. It's the job of people of goodwill to flood the zone with worthwhile items worth knowing. The misguided and mal-intentioned are going to continue trying to tickle our amygdalas with fear, anger, hostility, and hate. It's up to the rest of us to blow on the soup -- diluting the junk, the rot, and the agitprop with counter-programming of our own.
■ That means talking about things that look to the broader world beyond hyper-partisan conflict. The soup isn't cooling itself. It's time to take a deep breath -- and blow on it.