Political hobbyists vs…everyone else (a Podcast review)

I realized I wanted to publish this before Election Day and feelings feel hard. I don’t know how this week will go and just want to say that, even if you aren’t deeply involved, it doesn’t mean issues and feelings can’t be deeply felt.

The Hidden Brain podcast often provides me helpful ways to think about the world (using research!). I wanted to share one of their recent episodes, Not at the Dinner table, in case it helps you. The host interviews Yanna Krupnikov, a political scientist at Stony Brook University who talks about how the polarization that feels prevent might because, yes, political fanatics are the ones that get the most airtime, and because there might be increasing tension between political hobbyists and everyone else.

Krupnikov has been studying different aspects of this, comparing those deeply involved in politics to those that are a fan of something. She used Dr. Who, which I haven’t seen, but maybe I’ll use Harry Potter as a weaker example. You can be really into the Harry Potter series and analyze and talk about different aspects and read into things that happen later, compare the movie vs the book and on and on and on. One of the defining characteristics of the deeply involved is “expression” — the desire to communicate about something. Preferably with someone, and even if they’re on your side, you want also want them to them to be on your side in the “the right way.

Some people feel that way about politics and want to talk about it all the time and want to you to talk about it in the same way they do. This felt like a lightbulb moment for me because so many people have been moralizing on instagram about how you need to be present yourself. You need to be involved at this amount, exactly like this, or you’re a very very bad person. I definitely got caught in it myself and this is mostly because I felt wrecked by the issues that were happening. Politics is not the center of my life.

Before social media, folks who were deeply involve in politics might try to have conversations but if the people they were talking to weren’t that interested they would have to give up. Now they can get a positive feedback loop from Twitter where there’s bound to be someone ready to react.

Krupnikov talks about how some people can be so aggressive about their expression that they end up alienating the folks that they’re trying to reach (my words, not hers) and that made sense to me.

She has run an interesting study about whether people would let their children marry someone from the other politic side. What if they were from the other side but never talked about politics?

I won’t butcher the story any more and just encourage you to listen!

If this was interesting to you, another great tie in was their episode on when you turn things into moral issues and how that can make it so much harder to accept compromise. Hidden brain episode: Moral combat.

Another reason I bring this up as something that might be helpful to you is because I work in an organization that follows the news extremely closely so it’s on my mind a lot. I’ve also had a nearly continuous pain in my chest from anxiety in for the last 4 months. Maybe a sign to disengage a little.

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