How Does Political Ideology Enter Our Personal Lives?

If you are fairly active on the internet (and in real life), you would have heard about friendships and relationships breaking down over political ideology. In fact, I had such an experience recently. I matched with a girl on a dating app. We met for dinner and had a chat. Everything was going fine till she discovered that my political ideology was different from hers and decided to end things. Later I discovered the reason for her choice through her Instagram!

This is a global phenomenon. People who subscribe to pro-marxist ideology are ganging up against those who are not. In fact, the malaise has entered the corridors of top universities of the world. Steven Pinker and many other intellectuals came out with a letter against this phenomenon when USA was witnessing rampage and chaos in 2020. One of the most important parts of the letter said:

The forces of illiberalism are gaining strength throughout the world and have a powerful ally in Donald Trump, who represents a real threat to democracy. But resistance must not be allowed to harden into its own brand of dogma or coercion—which right-wing demagogues are already exploiting. The democratic inclusion we want can be achieved only if we speak out against the intolerant climate that has set in on all sides.

The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted. While we have come to expect this on the radical right, censoriousness is also spreading more widely in our culture: an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.

A Letter on Justice and Open Debate (Harper’s Magazine)

It is quite possible that people who are pro-marxist are being shunned by certain sections of the population. But, I have not seen a large scale phenomenon that can confirm this possibility.

Why is this happening? It is hard to come up with a theory without data. But, I have come up with a theory based on my experience. Of course, it is just a ‘theory’, not the ‘truth’. It is possible that other people have already expressed similar ideas before me. So don’t accuse me of plagiarism.

A society goes through four steps before political ideology can influence personal lives. What are these steps?

Step 1: Formation of Strong Political Opinions: Thanks to frequent exposure to news and political opinions, we are forming strong political opinions and expressing them regularly.

Social media and internet have made it easier for an average person to access news updates as soon as events happen. You might argue that this is a privileged-person’s problem. But this trend will spread to the entire society as more people start using a smartphone with internet. Mere access to news is not enough. Frequency of exposure matters.

An average citizen with a smartphone is exposed to political developments in the country at least a dozen times in the day. There are several channels where this can happen (Twitter feed, Instagram stories or Facebook posts). Thanks to regular exposure, the level of political awareness of a citizen in 2020 is probably higher than that of a person in the pre-smartphone era. So, access to content that shapes an individual’s political ideology has become easier and cheaper.

A person’s ideological orientation is shaped by the regularity of news updates he or she receives. Of course, we are assuming that people draw rational or reasonable conclusions from factual news items. We are also assuming that the media houses are often associated with a particular political ideology. I am not commenting on the complex interaction between the ideologically hyphenated news and a person’s ability to analyse it rationally.

Most of the individuals of pre-smartphone era would have either ignored the news or consumed it in smaller doses. They would probably read the newspaper once a day or watch one news program per day. Since the amount of information that reaches an average person is lesser, he or she would not form strong political opinions during his or her lifetime.

If the inputs that shape a person’s ideological orientation are injected regularly, then the it becomes stronger over a period of time (as it is happening in recent times).

Many individuals start expressing their views and ideas on their social media profiles. Very often they are passionate about ideas and causes they support. Thanks to technology, an individual has the means to reach a large audience , including his or her social circle without a degree in logic or journalism. This leads us to the second step.

Step 2: Easy Access To The Political Ideology Of Our Social Circle (and society in general) : It is easier for us to know political ideologies of our friends and relatives. Before the social media era, the political mood of the nation was on display only through the ballot box (or through letters to the editor). Today, hashtags and internet trends can help us to monitor the political mood almost everyday.

Before the era of social media and internet, it was difficult for people to know a person’s political ideology. Very few people discussed such things over a coffee or dinner (especially during a date). Today, you can look up someone’s Facebook or Twitter timeline and immediately find out a his or her ideological leanings.

Individuals comment on social media posts and expose their ideologies on public platforms. Gradually, individuals acquire a political ideology and identify with a particular set of people who share similar ideas. A sort of a community takes shape. This community eventually results in an echo chamber.

Step 3. Formation of Echo Chambers: Not everyone decides to be a part of an echo chamber consciously. But it is a lot easier to be in one when an individual has a strong political preference. People see those who disagree with them as threats or people with bad personalities and hence avoid interacting with them.

Slowly, an average individual would seek to reinforce his or her ideological biases over a period of time. Finally, individuals become a part of an ideological echo chamber where debate and discussion are absent or minimal. Thanks to the echo-chamber effect, people can easily reject a new person in their social circles.

Step 4: We start judging people based on their political ideology and actively eliminate those who disagree with our preferred ideology.

Once a society or group of people pass through Step 3, it creates perfect conditions for political ideology to play a key role in our personal relationships. People in an echo chamber assume that an individual’s persona is closely linked to his or her ideology and ignore all other aspects of the other person’s life. Even minor differences or a desire to remain politically neutral are unacceptable within these political echo chambers. At this stage, you have a society where political ideology is affecting day to day lives and personal relationships of average individuals.

P.S. This is a theory. It may be juvenile or even wrong. Let me know your opinions in the comment section.

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