C. Thi Nguyen
University of Utah
According to some, the current political fracture is best described as political polariza-tion – where extremism and political separation infest an entire whole population. Po-litical polarization accounts often point to the psychological phenomenon of belief po-larization – where being in a like-minded groups tends to boost confidence. The politi-cal polarization story is an essentially symmetrical one, where both sides are subject to the same basic dividing forces and cognitive biases, and are approximately as blame-worthy. On a very different account, what's going on is best described propaganda – where a discrete set of bad actors have manipulated some part of the media environ-ment. The propaganda story is usually told as a highly asymmetrical story, where only some media consumers are under the spell of the propagandists. Which is right? I con-sider two analyses of the 2016 American election, and suggest that the propaganda ac-count has better empirical support. I also offer a diagnosis of the appeal of the polari-zation story. Those who accept a polarization account are often political centrists, who accuse those at the political extremes of motivated reasoning – of believing what they find comfortable. Such centrists also tend to treat political extremism as the product of the irrational belief polarization, arising from living in like-minded groups. But, I argue, these arguments are too quick. First, we can’t dismiss a group as irrational merely be-cause they are likeminded. The existence of like-minded group can be explained in terms of irrational belief polarization, but it can also be explained by rational conver-gence on the truth. Second, belief polarization is not always irrational, such as when its emotional effects are used to repair impaired self-confidence. Third, political centrists are also subject to similar debunking argument. When we accept a polarization ac-count, we get to feel the comfort of being “above it all”. Political centrists are just as plausibly subject to the irrational effects of living in like-minded groups. Belief polariza-tion isn’t just for extremists.
Keywords Contemporary Philosophy  polarization  propaganda  social epistemology  echo chambers  political philosophy  fake news  post-truth
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DOI 10.5840/jpr20211022183
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Echo Chambers and Epistemic Bubbles.C. Thi Nguyen - 2020 - Episteme 17 (2):141-161.
Moral Grandstanding.Justin Tosi & Brandon Warmke - 2016 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 44 (3):197-217.
Moral Outrage Porn.C. Thi Nguyen & Bekka Williams - 2020 - Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 18 (2).

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