I am growing weary of a wasting affliction that has nestled itself in the cells of American political discourse. This disease over-simplifies arguments and positions by massing ideologies into monolithic clumps. The result has been a solidification and a reinforcement of a new layer of political gridlock; a gridlock that occurs beyond Washington and is driven by a partisanship that lurks beneath the political parties themselves. I refer to rising trend of percentage obsession.
Percentage obsession describes behavior displayed by people and organizations who, through a nauseating abuse of statistics, ascribe an entire percentage of the population to their ideology. Such movements draw a connection between a common physical or ideological trait, such as wealth, gender, or Second Amendment interpretation, and their specific ideals. Culprits then assume that every person who technically shares that trait must, by definition, be an ardent supporter of their cause. This is a toddler’s logic. The fact that you share a statistical grouping with someone does not make them your friend nor does it grant you the privilege to presume upon their opinions.
This is the root of the gridlock that strangles our government. It is the basis for partisanship and enduring stalemate. How can debate ever be fruitful when there are only two, mutually exclusive sides? By such a definition, any condition that satisfies one side must dissatisfy the other. The most unfortunate part about this trend is that it results in the abandonment of most opinions. For those who feel that their voice is not being heard in Washington, or in the media or anywhere, this is a big reason why. There are over three hundred million people in this country and an equal number of opinions. It is no wonder that many citizens feel left out when we only ever allow for two sides in a given debate. We have gotten in the dangerous habit of seizing issues wrought with diverse complexity, and boiling every relevant position down into a yes or no.
This phenomenon grips every issue of import. Think of the debates surrounding abortion, healthcare, and gun rights. Think about the overblown inferno of emotion that is our school’s Meatless Monday program. In each case, most debate has collapsed into a grudge match between the designated pros and cons. The problem is not a shortage of alternate opinions or even that such opinions lack sufficient voice. The problem is this maddening tendency to use debate as a means of weeding out those who agree and those who disagree, rather than as a process for refining decisions.
Thus emerges the question: why do people do this? Personally, I believe that this behavior stems from two vices. The first is the desire to inflate the importance of their stance on an issue; claiming to speak for a vast majority, or an embattled minority, is an easy way to instill a sense that your words are more relevant, more universally accepted, than they really are. This brings us to the second affliction. As anyone who as ever studied propaganda can tell you, it is far easier to fixate on the fictional conflict between right and wrong rather than acknowledge the swirling hurricane of varied and competing interests that constitute reality.
You are not the 99 percent; you are not the 53 or the 22 percent. You do not speak for the poor or the rich, neither the humble nor the proud, nor anyone else. You speak on your own behalf and, even if there are those out there who agree with you, you speak alone. Your opinion is yours, for better or for worse. It should be insulated by your person, free to be defined by you, and free from being annexed by someone else. If you have a point to make, I warmly encourage you to make it, but do not pretend that it comes from anyone but yourself. Claiming to speak for an immense swath of people without their express consent is childish and presumptuous.
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