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The Illusion of Difference

by Matthew Burns about a year ago in opinion
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why do we seem to think that everyone is always fighting

wreckage from WWII bombings

As I write this, it is 2020 in America, a year marked by division and unity alike. Divisiveness is driven on by the clash of political parties, while unity is being forced on because of the division of the world into seemingly competing parties. It would only make sense that in a glaringly bi-directional country that the two conflicting parties are doing their best to recruit new members, and sway those who stand in the middle ground between them. Thus, unity follows division.

However, this conflict cannot last. One must overpower the other, or one must concede. This pattern has been repeated numerous time throughout history, where a growing conflict has led to an inevitable power struggle. The obvious rebuttal to this is a revolution that led to independence. America revolted against England, but England was not overthrown. Instead, America gained it's own sovereignty. Several other countries have done similar, where the parent country is not overthrown. However, we do see a common shift of power. Not long after the revolutionary war had ended, America had significantly more economic and social world power than England. When the American Civil War ended, the South lost far more than it may have hoped to gain. This pattern has repeated in other countries and cultures.

So, here we stand on the brink of a cataclysm. Where two opposing sides are growing stronger, one must inevitably crash, and the other must assume the lost power. The question is not then if it will happen, nor is it really when it will happen. More important is what is going to happen when it does, and how can we prevent it in the future.

To speak specifically, at this time there are two loud political viewpoints that are in conflict. They are more than just traditionally conservative or liberal, but instead are extremists (and so are called right-wing and left-wing). The left wing is marked by protesting, markedly demanding change sometimes even to the point of violence. Similarly the right-wing is marked by fighting change and a constant fear presence, sometimes to the point of violence. The deciding point of this century, and likely a cultural source for centuries after, will be the collision of these two groups. Regardless of who "wins" or "comes out on top," a lot of people will be hurt, and everyone will be affected.

This is what I call the illusion of difference. People seem to have it in their heads that, in the world, people group together in ways that are conflicting with each other. This idea that groups are opposed to each other is prolific in my society, which is to say, American. There seems to be this idea that every group is against some other group or that there is an agenda to fulfill. I don't think this is true.

To speak on American politics, the two parties are not there inherently to compete, but rather to balance. A society needs elements of both conservative and liberal ideologies to survive and thrive. At times, one ideology may be preferred over the other, but, in general, the two balance each other out in the long run. Taken to extremes, you either end up with fascism or radicalism. And funnily, enough, history shows that both end up with a dictator or dictatorial figurehead and an oppressed populace. We can almost imagine that the political spectrum which ranges from left to right is really more of a band or circle that self-intersects at the two extremes. So then, what are the two ends of a circle?

Another result of this illusion is the loss of common ground and common understanding. It is reasonable to say that people, in general, want good things to happen to people. Few people would want to deliberately harm another person, let alone a larger population. Yet, by creating this illusion that groups are always opposed and in conflict, rather than working together, we can almost justify actions that do harm people, because these people are not in our group. It is easier to justify harming several people when you believe they would do the same to you. Take for instance the nazis (decapitalized intentionally) and how people treat them. I think it is true to say almost no one now would justify the nazis' actions or what they did. And yet, it happened. One of hitler's best tactics was to present those not of his "aryan" race as the enemy that would do the same to them. Modernly, we do something almost painfully similar. Rather than looking to other groups for advice and guidance, we treat them as an enemy that would destroy our beliefs if given the chance. And that's just not true.

As human beings we tend to hold our beliefs very near and dear to us, especially some of our more fundamental beliefs, which are in fact those same beliefs that tend to define us as liberal or conservative. We have this framework in our head that we've built up and had buoyed by those with similar beliefs. And when this framework is troubled or starting to splinter, it can be painful. Humans don't like pain. We don't want someone to come in and question our belief system, so we see them as enemies, rather than someone trying to help. Then, when we call them enemies, they learn to call us enemies and the cycle perpetuates until you get to this final collapsing point where we are now. Where the two sides are now grown so large that they cannot stand on their own.

So when the inevitable fall happens, it is our job to throw off this illusion and begin to see that different groups with different ideologies are not only necessary, but a good thing. We need to see that the conflict which seems to define modern group thought is not productive nor beneficial. Cooperation and disagreements promote positive change that benefits humanity at large, but fighting for the illusion that is power will hurt, divide, and eventually results in more harm than any good that could have ever come from it.

opinion

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Matthew Burns

Food for thought...

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