Today, society has a decidedly apocalyptic outlook on the state of partisanship, perhaps with some merit. After all the mere mention of an individual’s party or ideological affiliation is generally met with a rancorous, disdainful sneer by those who identify with the opposing position. This is decidedly an unfortunate practice, but it’s hardly a new threat.
Factional contentiousness has raged since America’s political antecedents first convened with the aim of practically applying their ideas in the form of government. Thomas Jefferson, one of the leading philosophical voices of the age, was in France at the time the Constitution was drafted. Given the weight of his name and status, many contemporary partisans were anxious to find out what position- Federalist or Anti-Federalist- he supported so they could exploit it to their advantage.
The ever-wise Jefferson’s response to this question is evocative of the approach modernity ought to take towards the same debate. He wrote: “I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent.”
Being an ideologue, in the sense that one is dedicated to a set of values cultivated through reflective and comparative thought, should not be an indictment. This is to be an adherent of raw knowledge and is the sort of practice Jefferson is advocating.
Unconditional adherence to faction purely on the basis of its surface appeal, however, is entirely different. This lazy and repugnant practice is treasonous in that it stifles the rational discourse through which the issues pertaining to civil society are resolved.
The myriad layers of deliberation and synthesis that comprise epistemology cannot be summarily dismissed by the application of a repository term without cheapening the very tenets of knowledge.
To do so is an odious practice. It is a philosophical slave state where ideas, and the people who subscribe to them, are judged not on their merits, but by emotionalism born of demagoguery, superimposed by prejudice.
This practice of collective judgment has been overwhelmingly descried by morally sentient beings everywhere following those instances in human history where it has been given credence. Racism, fascism, sexism- these practiced have been deemed abhorrent because they take the venial trivialities and twist them into something meaningful.
But there are no collective consciences or characteristics, which is why context becomes crucial in making value judgments.
Knowledge, composed of ideas, is much the same. There are overarching truths that are accessible to all, but they must be sought objectively. And there is no one right path that must be traveled in order to discover them. Again, the nature of individualism dictates that thought patterns and the way connections are formed differ based on personal experience.
Therefore, those who seek to stifle free and independent thought with derogatory and pithy labels out to be denounced vociferously. The human mind is perhaps the one entity in the world that has immeasurable, boundless power. To suffocate this, to condemn intellect to a world of starved darkness, is truly abhorrent.
Also published on Medium.