An impossible exercise may help us understand polarized political views

Rawls’ concept of the Original Position requires that individuals, in order to get a full and well-rounded understanding of a political or philosophical issue, shed all of their biases and predispositions.

The reality, however, is that it is impossible for a person to completely shed their biases – especially according to Rawls’ specifications. He states that a person would need to forget their race, religion, gender, socioeconomic status, political affiliation, educational experiences, etc. in order to have true perspective. It does pose an interesting challenge for all democratic citizens, but especially for those interested in being politically active and engaged.

Personalization has become an integral part of the American digital experience. Social media sites suggest people, companies, and other accounts for you to follow based on the content of your own posts and the content of the accounts you chose to follow on your own. Additionally, social media sites, along with search engines, monitor and store information detailing what you search, what kinds of websites you visit, and what topics you search most often to allow them to plaster ads on your social media or down the side of your search engine site for products/services they have determined you are more likely (statistically) to interact with.

We are also currently battling the progressing normalization of “personalized facts.” With the introduction of social media, the integration of social media into the news business, and the increasing number of political commentary shows marketed for/to a biased audience people are able to hyper-personalize their news intake to only include content that supports their established bias. For example, watch as Bill Maher – a TV personality known for his liberal-leaning political comedy – talks about the dangers of personalized media content.  

Rawls’ solution – adopting a completely unbiased lens through which social and political issues can be examined – alludes to a potentially new and beneficial way of examining taboo topics. Simply creating a political culture in which making an effort to understand a point of view contradictory to your own is both expected and practiced could change the way a lot of issues – and by extension, people – are understood. The starting point towards an eventual implementation of this cultural adaptation is beginning to talk to people who exist outside your own worldview. 

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