February 12, 2018

DUGGAL | Political Introspection

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I recently got back on Twitter, and it has been an experience. I haven’t been on Twitter since high school, and I returned to an entirely different world than the one I left behind.

The last time I was trolling around on Twitter, I was 14 and subtweeting Coldplay lyrics at my AP Physics lab partner. Ryan, if you’re reading this, please note that while in retrospect I understand that the time and effort I put into finding the perfect lyric to encapsulate our (completely made up) relationship could have been better put to use attempting to achieve anything higher than a 2 on our AP exam, subtweets were an important part of my teenage experience, and I think you should be honored to have been a part of that.

This time around, however, I joined with the intention of using Twitter as my news source, and while that has remained true, Twitter has also been something of an interesting experiment in how people today interact with one another and their respective opinions. Increasingly, I have found that given a particular issue, there tends to be two sides and you can predict, with a fair amount of certainty, where someone stands on an issue by knowing where they stand on other hot button issues. It’s as if the majority and minority whips have transcended their roles in Congress to whip the general public to split along party lines on quite literally every issue.

This in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. Consistency in the opinions you hold, especially opinions that overlap in the content they address, is to be expected when it comes to people and their perspectives. It’s not as if your background and experiences change when you approach a different issue so why would your views on a separate issue with a similar premise necessarily change?

What is a problem, however, is that people have come to blindly make up their minds on issues without entirely understanding why they hold the opinion that they do.

Let’s take the recent Justin Trudeau comments, for example. Yes, he came out and stated that his comment was a bad joke, but let’s — for the purposes of this discussion — ignore the fact that everybody’s favorite woke bae made a bad joke and consider the reaction that occurred in response as if he meant what he said.

Twitter picked two sides: political correctness is ruining the world; and Justin Trudeau is absolutely right, “mankind” does alienate women. If you are a liberal college student, chances are — without having any idea what occurred at the event — you would pick a side, given simply where you stand on other similarly framed issues around politically correct language.

Here’s my issue with picking a side based on what you think about other issues: it’s not that you picked the side you did. It’s that you cannot, with some measurable amount of certainty, tell why you stand where you do.

Aside from using the transitive property in lieu of reasoning through their opinions on every issue, most people don’t know why they are defending the perspective that they are, only that it is the “right” position because all the other opinions on this side of political thought are opinions they agree with. If you go through a conscious effort to understand and reach a conclusion about your perspective and end up on the same exact opinion, that would be entirely unproblematic because you have at the very least tried to educate yourself on an issue with an open mind, and that is all we can ever ask of anyone.

For what it’s worth, the only reason I recognized this as a trend on Twitter, and even on campus more generally, is because I found myself succumbing to it. When the Trudeau news broke, I immediately defended his actions until someone asked me why and I was forced to consider why I held the view that I did.

Surprisingly, it had very little to do with being politically correct. As someone who loves words, I appreciate any effort to bring light to the fact that words have power and what we say carries impact. In order to create change, we must care about what we say and how. Semantics in the English language can often cater to gender roles, and paying attention to what we associate with words and being more deliberate in how we use them is important if we are to create change.

I won’t bore you with the details, but for more insight on how gender roles come through in our language, “Man is to Computer Programmer as Woman is to Homemaker? Debiasing Word Embeddings” is an insightful study to note.

All that aside, I agreed with Trudeau. It had nothing to do with what people made it about when they picked sides. Trudeau’s comment ended up being a joke, and it didn’t make a difference to my stance because what he chose to highlight was not what the whole issue meant to me anyway. The only way I was able recognize this, though, was by pushing myself further than accepting my stance as a liberal given and instead attempting to understand why I felt the way I did.

It is cool to be progressive on college campuses, especially those as liberal as Cornell’s. As someone who considers herself a liberal, I won’t pretend it is easy or all that helpful to surround yourself with new and opposing perspectives. Frankly, I think it’s quite pointless to actively seek out differing perspectives if the only reason you’re doing so is for the sake of seeking out different perspectives.

What I do think is important, however, is some introspection when it comes to forming an opinion on a hot-button issue. Understand why you feel the way you do — not because it might change your opinion or because it might put you in a better position to defend yourself in the future. Rather, do so because it is impossible to incite change in others if you can’t identify why you yourself believe change should occur.

 

Hebani Duggal is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at hduggal@cornellsun.comTeach Me How to Duggal appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.