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Davis, California

Monday, October 25, 2021

UC Berkeley shows how ideological fringes dehumanize one another

DANIEL KIM / THE DAILY CALIFORNIAN / COURTESY

The violent clash of liberal and conservative self-righteousness

Mayhem in Berkeley last week exemplifies how physical violence and destruction become possible when extreme ends of the political spectrum dehumanize those with different opinions.

Although over 1,000 protesters peacefully assembled to shut down the Milo Yiannopoulos event, hosted by the Berkeley College Republicans this past week, the night quickly spiralled into a chaotic storm of broken glass, blazing piles of trash and physical assault as approximately “150 masked agitators” devolved the action from a calm protest to a riot.

In addition to shattering the windows of numerous banks and commercial stores, the extreme left-wing group responsible for the rioting, ANTIFA, endangered public safety by sparking fires in the street, throwing Molotov cocktails, attacking attendees and pepper-spraying a woman. The total damage is estimated at $100,000.

ANTIFA’s lawlessness is an example of the unethical and harmful actions that members of the far ends of the political spectrum engage in. And even those who aren’t at the very fringes but are nonetheless extreme in their liberalism and conservatism substantiate hate, belligerence and — in the most severe cases — crime, while hypocritically acting behind masks of love, morality and justice.

The religious far-right frequently dismisses one of the Bible’s most vital messages — to love others, even their enemies — and instead condemns those who they perceive as backwards, sinful and worthy of Hell.

The regressive left ostensibly operates under principles of acceptance and equality, but they often smugly and impatiently decry those who aren’t as progressive as them. They shut down the very conversations that lead to education, compassion and progress.

Amid the pretension, neither “team” lives up to their well-intentioned philosophies.

Both extremes hold an inflexible mentality that their worldview is so unequivocally, infallibly correct that listening to other ideas is not just pointless but toxic. The far right trusts the fantasy world of a self-interested demagogue over verifiable facts. And the far left shouts down any idea or headline that falls outside the increasingly restrictive laws of political correctness.

When liberals and conservatives are so contemptuously certain in their beliefs, they feel that any action they take in allegiance to their ideals is acceptable. This certitude can quickly manifest into the dehumanization of not only the other side, but also of those who take a more moderate position on their side. A person who doesn’t view their opponent as human can easily justify to themselves the morality of personal attacks, destruction and violence.

Not being able to see “the other” as a person creates an environment in which increasingly severe forms of assault, from pouring hot coffee on a news photographer at the UC Davis Yiannopoulos event, to calling to light a black protester on fire at a rally, to live-streaming the torture of a white disabled man out of hatred for Trump, are normalized.

Refusing to talk with each other only prolongs conflict. Liberals and conservatives — while already intensely polarized — recoil even further into their nests and grow more certain of their correctness. Even worse, the far left and far right cast the shadow of their destructive tactics onto moderate supporters.

Fox News can portray violence at Berkeley as a representation of all liberals, while MSNBC can depict the violence at Trump rallies as the behavior of all conservatives. Many people never challenge these faulty illustrations and instead sharpen their animosity toward the opposite party.

To ignore the other side is to perpetuate a longstanding ideological war that isn’t so abstract to liberals living in conservative areas, and vice versa. It leaves liberals in red environments hopeless for change, and isolates and pushes conservatives in blue areas to lash out to defend their beliefs. Progress may be achieved for people within insulated groups, but no progress is made as a whole.

Individuals on both sides are angry, upset and hurt — for good reason. But expressing these frustrations by treating the other side like scum isn’t constructive —  it tanks our chances at achieving harmony. There are ways to exemplify strength, confidence and passion without attacking those who stand opposite of you. Progress requires that both sides critically assess their methods, swallow their pride and admit their contribution to political polarization. Until then, have no doubt: Berkeley will just be the beginning.

Written by: Taryn DeOilers — tldeoilers@ucdavis.edu

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.

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