I refuse to be labeled -- and so should you

Americans are not simplistic or one-dimensional. We are not automatons. So why do we allow Big Tech, the news media, and the government to brand us as such?

Everyone is either a liberal or a conservative, a democrat or a republican, black or white, etc. It is an insulting and intellectually lazy example of Groupthink, showing the “Us vs Them” mentality on steroids.

Humans are social beings. We seek affirmation and belonging. This is normal. However, it becomes abnormal when we seek affirmation to the exclusion of all else.

In 1971 Yale psychologist Irving Janis was the first to coin the phrase Groupthink, defined as the “faulty decision making that can occur in groups as a result of forces that bring a group together (group cohesion).” An example of Groupthink would be a group of people who firmly believe in one particular limited political idea, who only watch news that supports their idea, and who eventually associate only with people who agree with them.

Today, Big Tech has taken Groupthink to new levels, designing social media algorithms that allow users to create cocooned existences where they interact only with others who agree with their views. Social media is a constant source of “confirmation bias,” which is “the tendency of people to favor information that confirms their existing beliefs or hypotheses,”

Even the wording used on social media reveals the Groupthink mentality being propagated: You “like” people to support their posts; you “follow” people because you agree with them and want to hear more; you get excited when you develop loyal followers to your page. What develops is a belief that anyone with views contrary to yours is wrong…and (sadly, today) not simply wrong, but evil and/or unethical, and therefore worthy of being canceled.

The same Groupthink mentality and the accompanying labeling has crossed over into the news media in the form of “advocacy” journalism. The more caustic, the more inflammatory, the more aligned you are with a viewpoint, the more attention you get. The more attention you get, the more of a following you deliver. More followers mean more money through ad campaigns, which is what pays the media’s bills.

As a result, the news has become as much (or more) about entertainment as it is about the news. And to keep those ad dollars pouring in, the media continues to feed the Groupthink beast.

Think I am exaggerating? How else do you think we have reached the point where “CNN is the news for liberals” and “Fox is the news for conservatives”? This was unthinkable a generation ago.

The time has come for Americans to reject this labeling. As an expert who is often asked to provide analysis on a variety of issues, I refuse to allow others to brand me according to which media press requests I satisfy or what my views are on individual issues. I cannot be fitted into neat categories of liberal and conservative, and neither can most Americans.

So, I encourage you all to reject those labels.

Being angered by the past summer’s riots and looting doesn’t make you a white supremacist anymore than being disgusted by the siege of our Capitol last week makes you an Antifa sympathizer.

Disagreeing with the draconian COVID lockdown measures doesn’t mean you believe COVID is fake any more than believing restaurants should be closed for social distancing makes you an elitist because you don’t work in the industry.

Enough.

Enough of professors being banished for professing contrary opinions.

Enough of treating people who post dumb, or even insulting, comments on social media as if they have committed “The Unforgivable Sin”.

Let’s have some humility in our political and social discourse. We only learn by opening ourselves to other viewpoints.

Remember the words of former Illinois Governor and Democratic U.S. Presidential Nominee Adlai E. Stevenson: “My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular.”

Dr. Lisa Strohman is a clinical psychologist and attorney who is widely known for her advocacy and education around mental wellness as it relates to our digital lives. She has established the Digital Citizen Academy, a program offered to schools with an in-home plan that educates, empowers, and inspires balance and prosocial use of technology. Dr. Strohman has appeared on many television, radio, and podcast programs, such as The Doctors, Fox News, Fox & Friends, ABC’s Eyewitness News, Good Day L.A, and Newsmax. 

IMAGE: Groupthinkers by Karen Arnold, edited by Andrea Widburg. CC0 Public Domain.