If polarization was a disease, it would be classified as a hereditary condition, with risk of death and severe psychological symptoms. There are very few, if any, cases of polarization ever being mitigated, let alone cured. Polarization is a disease for which humanity has never found an effective treatment.
Active polarization includes:
- Civil wars
- Exclusionism, separating one group from a society
- Psychopathic behaviour
- Insane allegations
- Legislative actions against minority or disadvantaged groups
- Corruption, ignoring rights of people
- Active hate groups
- Constant reiteration of hate dogma and prejudices
Polarization is spread by social groups, often using coercive means to ensure that a group sticks to the script in terms of expressions of polarization. The classic case of true polarization may include violent prejudice against people that polarized groups have never met, or ever had any interaction with.
Ignorance plays a big, inexcusable, part in polarization. Appeals to prejudice are easy enough. “They” are the bad guys. That’s all the ignorant are told, it’s all they need to know, and they rarely if ever question that assumption.
A lot of polarization is based on simple mechanics. Of course some group of people they may never have even noticed are enemies. Of course “we” are the good guys, the patriots, the racially superior, etc. Imagine someone NOT thinking of themselves as right, superior, or whatever chickenshit has been imprinted in to their psyches. It never happens.
Cases of polarization
Historical cases include:
Religious wars of all kinds – From the Wars of the Reformation to the Islamic schism between Sunni and Shia, Polarization has been in force for centuries. The Crusades, the Ottoman invasion of Europe, and various forms of fanaticism have killed millions of people. The Taiping Rebellion, perhaps the world’s worst war before World War 2, was based on a quasi-Christian rebellion against the Qing Dynasty, and killed an estimated 14 million people.
Communism and Fascism – Communism was famous for its ideological polarizations, attacking anyone suspected of being anti-communist. The Great Leap Forward, China’s hideous experience, was the most glaring event of this type, attacking anyone or anything purely on the basis of communist dogma. Fascism was very similar, specifically attacking communists, and dissenters, but not as widespread or long-lasting.
Anti-Semitism – The Nazis are best known for their anti-Semitism, but it started centuries before, used as a weapon by Christians and Muslims against the Jews in the form of pogroms, massacres, and any number of social exclusion policies. (In Austria, Jews weren’t even allowed to have proper names. The name Rothschild means “red shield” after the building in which the family lived in the ghetto.) Ironically, the most consistent anti-Semitic groups are the Arabs and the Jews, both Semitic peoples, who have been effectively at war for millennia.
Racism – The old standby for any type of polarization, racism is the surefire recipe for an “us and them” society, usually enforcing oppressive practices against minorities of all kinds. Racism is endemic in many primitive societies and among uneducated people. It literally breeds itself, and the prejudices are truly generational.
The bases of polarization
Polarization is usually around somewhere in any society. It would be absurd to say that groups of people don’t have abrasive interactions; all groups do. The problem with polarization is that it spreads very quickly, reigniting old hatreds, and exploiting conflicts between groups for political or other reasons.
The worst cases of polarization are based on escalating conflicts between groups. Some of these conflicts are actively created, specifically to generate polarization and reinforce the side creating them. The result is a progressive degeneration, from hate speech and rhetoric to actual attacks. This pattern is basically driven by individuals, each more fanatically polarizing than the other.
Polarization is an entirely negative force in any society. People who would otherwise be totally indifferent to each other become mortal enemies. A simple case of a dispute can become the basis for atrocities. This pattern is unchanging; it exists throughout history in all societies in some form, either active or latent.
A grim history of polarization
Extreme polarization has devastated entire societies, and even continents. Europe, blessed with religious wars and the Plague as a sort of aperitif, was turned in to a wasteland by the Christian wars. Germany in particular was a war zone, and few areas of Europe were unaffected. Religion fought on all sides, dragging whole societies back to subsistence levels. Every war had some sort of religious motif, a particularly cynical expression of Christianity.
The Inquisition played a role in polarization, arguably the world’s first real Holocaust. Politically inspired, insane in practice, and bizarre in context with any form of religious practice, it stained centuries with its hatreds. Everybody was subject to the Inquisition, including Catholics who were out of favour with the local religious authorities.
In other societies, polarization translated in to prejudice, social exclusion, and cases of attacks on minorities. It wasn’t necessarily “formal” polarization, based on law or some sort of organized method, but it was regular, and condoned by authorities.
The profitable side of polarization
Polarization is also a good way of separating people from their assets. It’s no coincidence that every historical case of polarization, particularly active attacks, included taking the property of those being persecuted. Apparently all the self-righteousness doesn’t include any issues with helping oneself to the property of those you’ve just murdered, exiled, etc.
This nasty little hobby is one of the reasons that polarization is so endemic and so hard to stop. It comes with its own reward system. The more people you kill, the more money you make. Sound familiar? You can see where the “idealism” and the hard cash meet. At the moment, even merchandising is a big money spinner. Neo-Nazi merchandise sells millions of dollars of all types of goods in Europe alone every year. Polarization is profitable, and it’s the excuse for profits. The perfect mix of hypocrisy and exploitation. It doesn’t even matter whether those selling the merchandise believe in what they’re selling; for that sort of money, they don’t have to.
A grim fact about polarization
The final, and worst, aspect of polarization is that it NEVER really goes away. It may go to sleep, but the group vs group element in human society ensures that it will continue to exist. In the US, the North/South dichotomy is still around. The war ended, but the polarization didn’t.
The strange insistence of the US on ethnic dividing lines ensures that racism and ethnic demographics will always be used as divisive elements. Any political fool can use them, and most do. All that needs to be done is to target a group, and wait for the polarization to begin.
Other societies have their own divisions, often religious, ethnic, or even class-based. These very primitive types of division existed thousands of years ago, in Roman times, in Greek history, in Chinese imperial societies where non-Chinese groups were theoretically assimilated, but never really included in as Han Chinese. (The Hakkas are a case in point.) Small groups were the targets, and the hatreds began.
They’re still around to this day. In Burma, (I refuse to use the expression Myanmar while this hideous ethnic cleansing continues) there are multiple groups which have been under actual military attack for decades on a purely racial/ethnic basis. In the Middle East, you can be an apostate for simply being part of one group rather than another.
Now the grim fact – There are NO cases of polarizations ever being really eradicated. The reason is equally nasty. When active polarization occurs, the hatreds of the future are created. Deaths, concentration camps, persecution, torture, and all the mean little things that happen during polarization set the stage for future polarization. Humans aren’t naturally forgiving. A good reason for hatred, not surprisingly, breeds hatred. The hatred, and equally importantly, the total distrust between groups, become hereditary. That the original cause was totally unjustifiable, or even some sort of political party trick, doesn’t matter. Can you trust someone who does things like that? Of course not. So polarization festers on.
The only credible cure is to shut down the sources of polarizations. Whether or not that can actually be done is another matter.