Alright, the time for funnin' around with fantasy football and Friends is over. Let's talk genocide!
Although people tend to exaggerate the degree to which today's political culture is polarized, it is true that individuals with stronger ideological views have a larger impact on public discourse than those who describe themselves as "moderates." Relatively stronger ideological splits also push people into different media bubbles, including inclinations to interact with mostly like-minded people on social media. It's not hard at all to get into a new consumption rut by relying on a small handful of sources that just happen to reinforce your preexisting conceptions of the world.
And hey, I'm not above sliding into ruts. It's certainly entertaining to sneer at politicians that I already dislike by skimming vacuous Politico articles in order to get into self-righteous huffs about random nutty quotes. Mike Huckabee's done it again, everyone! What a nut! It takes actual effort to seek out new voices and more challenging topics, and fortunately enough, this website provided the arbitrary push that I needed to freshen up my podcast feed.
Foreign Policy, a longstanding news publication that features long-form essays from many different contributors, recently launched a podcast feed. Of the two episodes that I listened to, a discussion about how society reacts to instances of genocide stuck with me the most. Joshua Oppenheimer, director of The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence, and David Rieff, an author and policy analyst, make the uncomfortable argument that it's worth empathizing with the those that participate in these sorts of atrocities to better understand why they happen in the first place.
It's easy to frame heinous acts as simple good vs. evil morality plays, enabling us to take some amount of (often false) solace in the assumption that there must already be substantial forces pushing back against any given wicked regime. Similarly, people in western societies tend to think that nothing similar to the Indonesian purges in the 60's could ever happen to them. What is it, then, that drives otherwise normal people to become complicit in these acts? We all have the capacity to deceive ourselves and tell ourselves stories in order to justify our own actions, even when they're wrong.
Oppenheimer stated that he wasn't interested in showing his documentaries to people in order to make them feel bad about something that takes place in a country that they know very little about and may not even be interested in. Instead, he wants people to use them as opportunities to reflect on themselves and what is happening in their own countries. This isn't as fun as sending links out to all of my friends about the latest asinine thing that rolled out of Mike Huckabee's mouth, but it's certainly more important.