Political parties are intended to unite people. They present a set of beliefs and ideologies, and people come together in common support of them. They cover economic issues, social issues, issues of religious freedoms and more, but there are only two primary lenses in the United States through which they are viewed: Democrat and Republican. The belief in these ideologies is strongly rooted, and the supporters of each side believe that for our country to be prosperous, their stances must prevail.
Our political system is viewed as the standard of democracy for the modern world. Candidates run for office in representation of one of the two major political parties, and citizens get to choose based on their individual beliefs. This political system is designed to be the voice of the people, so it is confusing that, as of 2015, public trust levels of government were at 19%, according to the Pew Research Center.
This lack of trust indicates that there is a disconnect between our elected officials and the general public. However, many of the congressional representatives at the source of people’s disgruntlement continue to get re-elected. Most registered voters will be voting for one of the two major presidential candidates this election, and many of these votes will be cast for one candidate strictly because they are not the other.
With an election featuring two historically unfavorable candidates, the general public seems to be clamoring for a change in our political system. It is puzzling, then, that the majority of United States citizens seem to be resigning themselves to supporting one of the two major parties that represent the very system they are fed up with. This is the political paradigm that we are stuck in, and solving it seems impossible, but if we can understand the mindset behind it then it can go a long way.
Many people raised as a Republican or Democrat will go their entire lives voting this way, even if they view their respective candidate unfavorably. And when there is a viable third party option, the candidate is dismissed because it is assumed that one must belong to a major party to get elected. Third party candidates are seen as a “wasted vote”, so they are delegitimized and disadvantaged from the start.
The irony, however, is that many people who do not view third party candidates as serious options still want to see change in our political system. Change is possible, but only when we open up our minds and break away from the two-party political paradigm that we are trapped in.
We are not born with any preconceived notions about our society. Everything we know and believe in is either taught to us or gathered from our own observations. We are each raised in a certain environment, so our view of the world and our society is revealed to us in the context of our unique circumstances. This context is coupled with a set of beliefs and ideologies, usually leaning towards the left or the right.
A healthy amount of people develop their own set of beliefs independent of those they were brought up with, but the majority of Republicans or Democrats were raised into one of the two belief systems. So today, as adults with an unprecedented amount of access to information, what we view and the opinions we form are rooted in our preconceived notions and our perception of reality, whether we are aware of it or not.
Many sports fans have a favorite team that they support unconditionally, and their view of the sports world is shaped around the desire to see their team win and the opponent lose. This is the same concept in politics, as members of political parties focus only on proving their side right and the other wrong.
This concept is referred to as ‘motivated reasoning’, and it is what Julia Galef, the co-founder of the Center for Applied Rationality, calls the ‘soldier mindset’. Information that we gather is shaped by our unconscious motivations that we may not even understand, and it causes us to formulate viewpoints that may lack objective clarity.
“Some information, some ideas, feel like our allies. We want them to win. We want to defend them. And other information or ideas are the enemy, and we want to shoot them down. So this is why I call motivated reasoning, the soldier mindset”, Galef said during her June, 2016 TED Talk on the subject.
This reasoning directly relates to the political decisions we make. We may not support a candidate strongly, or we may not support a viewpoint of our party, but we will choose to support the candidate or policy simply because of our political affiliation. The soldier mindset operates within our unconscious minds, so even if there is overwhelming evidence proving we are wrong, we still genuinely believe we are right.
If a representative from an individual’s party proposes an economic plan, he or she is likely to view it favorably and compose an argument in support of it. If a representative of the opposing party presents a plan that has been proven to be more effective, the individual is still likely to argue against it and discredit viewpoints that he or she may agree with. Many of us are guilty of looking at politics with this type of partiality, and it causes us to get lost in debates and arguments with one another that usually ignore the real issues.
The rise of prominent third parties could be the refreshing political change that we all hope for, but before that can happen, we must open up our minds. Soldier mindset is an important component of our history, and it remains important today, with many positive sides to it. However, if we hope for a better political system and government in the future, we have to open ourselves up to a scout mindset as well.
The scout mindset, as proposed by Galef, is a thought process motivated by objective reasoning and understanding of facts and reality as accurately as possible, even if it means our preexisting beliefs are wrong. This mindset is based off of curiosity for what is truly out there, and not based off of one belief winning and one losing. We are all capable of it, and we can begin by taking the time to question and understand all of the opinions and beliefs that we have. Instead of focusing on proving a viewpoint right, open up your mind and challenge yourself to prove it wrong, and see how much you can learn in the process.