“Red team good, Blue team bad” The allure of partisanship

There is no better feeling than watching your team do well, particularly if it comes at the expense of a rival. As a football fan, some of my best experiences have been at derby days, where the other team and their fans are the enemies and are subjected to chants, jeers, and the rest for ninety-plus minutes. This is part of the atmosphere that makes football great, but this hyperpartisanship ends for most when the final whistle blows. After that, the red and blue teams go their separate ways until the next meeting. This is the sort of tribal mentality that is a from times long past, and it is, for the most part, healthy but should not become a part of day-to-day life, but this is what the political landscape increasingly looks like. 

I am not a political partisan. I don’t hold anyone’s party membership against them, and I can certainly see the allure of joining the team; I seek to demonstrate the damage this can cause if it dominates one’s life. Like many of the worst things in life, I suspect the rise of hyperpartisanship comes from the United States. I fondly remember watching the Top Gear American special when I was younger, where locals ran the presenters out of town for slogans they had painted on their cars, one of which was “Hillary for President” and thinking how ridiculous it was. Things have worsened in the states, and we aren’t far behind here. If you are part of the other team, you are evil for some. 

In its most extreme case, this dehumanisation of opponents has led to violence. This was seen in the US with the Congressional baseball shooting, where Republican lawmakers were deliberately targetted. In the UK, politicians have also been victims. MP Jo Cox was murdered by a far-right extremist, who believed she was a “traitor”. While there has always been a risk in holding public office, abusive behaviour towards officials has almost become a normalised part of the political process. Indeed some politicians themselves have used this tactic to boost their support, and this will likely continue after it seems many want to hate the other side. 

For some, every aspect of life can be political. For these people sharing the same views is a prerequisite to any meaningful engagement. I am by no means suggesting that you must engage with everyone. But instead that your right-wing uncle isn’t an arsehole because he’s right-wing; he is an arsehole because he’s an arsehole. Having a circle with a breadth and depth of views and experiences allows you to refine your own better and ultimately make a more robust defence of them. This becomes even worse online, where there is already a lack of human connection. Some take glee in targeting those on the other side, with the result being a parallel set of echo chambers for the blue team and the red. 

To go back to my starting analogy, with sport, there is a set time to be tribal and a time not to be. On the other hand, political tribes can dominate every aspect of one’s life if allowed to and stop one from thinking rationally. In football, I boo every decision that goes against my side regardless of whether it was the right decision.

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