Lack of respect impedes major progress

Political rhetoric can be intense. It can be inflammatory, condescending and downright inappropriate. It can be filled with lies, half-truths, and even propaganda.

How do we even make sense of it all? While numbers are pulled out of a hat and infuriated fingers point in all different directions, politics in America has little respect for itself.

The principle of “respect” has been lost within American politics; debates and elections serve as historical proof of this as one traces the political history of America.

Look back, for instance, at the heated elections of our nation’s past. In 1800 Thomas Jefferson, called John Adams, among other things, a “hideous, hermaphroditical character,” and democrat Lyndon Johnson destroyed republican Barry Goldwater’s reputation with an “after-hours” smear team and Armageddon-like television ads in 1964.

A study from the University of Arizona suggests that we believe misinformation when we are given “subtle reminders of how we are different from the person in question.” When we’re asked to state their race on a questionnaire, 58 percent of students believed President Barack Obama was Muslim. When surveyors didn’t ask students of their race, only 38 percent of them reported the president was Muslim. Sadly, statistics have shown that these political tactics work.

How can they ever be appropriate, ethical and necessary?

Instead of directly focusing on the political issues themselves, politicians still childishly criticize their political opponents like third graders on a school playground. Not only does this impede public progress, but it also clouds the importance of current issues in a smoke cloud of needless political criticism.

Voters end up electing the candidate with the better smear campaign, instead of engaging with the issues themselves.

It’s frustrating that time and time again, issues take a backstage to political rumors.

In no way is the lack of respect seen only in politics. It has been lost from religious debate as well.

Ever heard of the generalization that all Muslims are part of the violent jihad? Or how about the Hollywood characterization of Christians as secretive religious zealots?

For centuries, religious persons of all faiths have ignorantly criticized other world religions on the basis of misinformation.

Essentially, this lost respect originates within misinformed individuals who choose to condemn opposing ideologies, instead of engaging with it directly in healthy debate. The culprit, here, is fear. People fear what they cannot understand and are bogged down by a philosophical laziness that prevents them from participating in rational debate.

This quintessential laziness or fear hinders debate and slows cultural progress. If individuals don’t focus on the genuine issues, how can any progress succeed? Ignoring society’s problems certainly won’t make them go away. Our country’s problems only become more and more dangerous.

When will society learn?

 

Reach the columnist at spmccaul@asu.edu or follow him at sean_mccauley