Polar Opposites

Arguably, at the heart of a ‘balance of power’ political dynamic and a political or social conflict which involves different individuals, factions, and groups is the overall distribution of power between these different individuals, factions, and groups. And what many folks may or may not know is that the ‘balance of power’ or the overall distribution of power between different individuals, factions, and groups is largely a mystery. There is no clear-cut, rational, or scientific explanation for why power is ultimately distributed the way it is distributed in our society and in the world as a whole between various individuals, factions, and groups. 

Because power and the distribution of power cannot be explained ‘rationally’ or ‘scientifically,’ it follows that conflict – as well as conflict resolution and the attainment of an enduring peace – cannot be explained or resolved ‘rationally’ or ‘scientifically’ either. As Hans Morgenthau wrote: 

“The eventual victory of the better cause is not due to an innate tendency of human nature which needs only to be reminded of its existence in order to make itself prevail. Nor does it depend upon the amount of knowledge imparted through education. It is rather the result of a struggle between moral and social forces which operate both within and between the members of society.” 

As mentioned before, an extraordinary and peculiar scenario which can arise out of a particular distribution of power is ‘polarization.’ In a nutshell, polarization is when one faction or individual amidst a range of individuals and factions is able to hold sway over all others in an outsized and disproportionate manner. In Afghanistan, for instance, the most extreme faction amongst the Taliban – namely, the infamous ‘Haqqani Network’ – is the most dominant faction, even though the Taliban has representation from virtually all the major ‘Pashtun’ clans or tribes of Afghanistan. In turn the ‘Haqqani Network’ is the main explanation for top-down policies such as the ones pertaining to girls’ education in Afghanistan and so forth. 

Polarization can also explain how just twenty individuals from one political party in a two-party system can bring the entire central government to a halt and to a standstill in a wealthy and powerful country like the United States. It has been argued that the mass media and social media in the United States are major contributing factors to what is otherwise the largely mysterious political and social phenomenon of ‘polarization.’ And it has been argued that the two major reasons for why mass media and social media have polarized our society is “the increased number of choices people have in sources of political news” on one hand and the “the expansion of choices of nonpolitical entertainment media content” such as “memes” and so forth on the other hand. 

What is also quite interesting is the fact that more information and more knowledge stemming from the digital and information age has not led to a convergence of opinions and viewpoints between partisan groups and individuals. One could assume that if people knew more and had more information and knowledge about the world and about the universe, people would begin to converge in terms of their opinions and views and in turn overcome the partisan differences which spur the polarization we are experiencing today. Yet, the exact opposite of convergence has taken place as a result of more knowledge and information in our digital age, namely, polarization. More information and knowledge is also accompanied by “selective exposure” and ‘selectivity’ to certain kinds of outlets and sources of information, which in turn exacerbates the polarization problem, the consequences and realities of which we are experiencing in Washington today.  

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