Maybe we’re self-deprecating by always asserting that there are two clear sides and everyone must pick one? We saw this trend in our reading of the Federalist and Anti-Federalist papers—two sides fighting over what foundation to lay for the development of America. We see this today, particularly in contemporary politics as Democrats and Republicans continue to battle it out. If someone doesn’t pick a side it seems their opinions are somewhat invalidated, Libertarians thoughts are worth less than those of the ruling parties.
True, we have psychological tendencies to categorize people, to place them in camps and subsequently make assumptions about them based on said labels. Yet, I fear we are doing more harm than good by allowing so much of our political and government organizations to exist as a system of classifications. Ronit Baras explains how toxic and overpowering these labels can be. In a Psychology Today article, Baras (2012) notes how easily we can be “trapped by labels”. Baras argued that when labels such as ‘gifted’ or ‘learning disabled’ are placed on school children they not only affect how others perceive them (and their subsequent strengths or weaknesses), but also how they perceive themselves, as the labels often follow them for years to come. These effects remain even after the labels are removed. In another study, Francesco Foroni and Myron Rothbart (2012) discovered that individuals’ thinking continues to face the restrictions the labels presented, even after the labels are removed.
Unfortunately, we saw this in our nation’s infancy as the Federalist and Anti-Federalists existed in dichotomous camps and today as many Democrats vehemently despise Republicans and vice versa. Kaufman (2012) argues that “when we split people up into such dichotomous categories, the large variation within each category is minimized whereas differences between these categories are exaggerated.” Last week in class we attempted to place Trump in one of the two camps: is he an Anti-Federalist or a Federalist? Lo and behold, we were unable to do it. It seemed that depending on the speech we examined, or the initiatives he has organized, he could be placed in either label. This could easily prove true for our US Democrats and Republicans. There is far more common ground than we often realize. Sure, some of us want more guns in our country and less regulation, some want the opposite, but we are aiming for the same goal, a safe country.
The centuries of political dichotomous labels results in a citizenry which exaggerates the difference between each other and minimizes our similarities. People are unique, complex and always changing—they simply cannot be appropriately and effectively placed into one of two sides. It is not only inappropriate to place ourselves into two opposing camps, but dangerous for our nation’s future. We are already fighting an uphill battle as we strive to become one united community and these labels are placing boulders in our path. One way to begin to combat this is to be aware. Recognize the mental entrapment these labels impose and maybe, just maybe, we can begin to break free and realize we all aren’t that different.