Chin: A Lonely World

We must not yield to isolationist tendencies to preserve our democracy.

by Clara Chin | 1/20/17 12:20am

Even before the impending presidency of Donald Trump, American culture has seen a trend of growing isolationism. With just a computer, one can live in a personalized (albeit lonely) virtual world. Facebook conveniently filters out alternative viewpoints, providing fake news to your liking. You can use Tinder and Friendsy to mechanically swipe through faces instead of meeting people in real life.

Trump supporters and opponents alike may want to recede further into isolation. While Trump’s platform is largely based on mistrust of racial and political groups, many Democrats respond by saying they cannot bear to read the news or participate in politics. But the political fragmentation evident in the 2016 presidential election demonstrates that interconnection will be especially important in the coming years.

Isolationist tendencies exist on both the personal and the national scale. While other presidential candidates like Sen. Bernie Sanders opposed the Transpacific Partnership and former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton received bad press for saying she wanted “open trade with open borders,” it is Trump who is most overtly isolationist. In addition to his policies on international trade, he called for “building a wall” on the border between the United States and Mexico. He made divisive statements about Muslims and inner cities, thus promoting racial, political and international divides. His presidential win exposes widespread fear of exponential interconnectivity — expanded trade, diverse cities and multiple streams of connection. Following the results of the election, news websites and constituents called for a reframing of the Democratic Party to include the interests of the working class. For many, this includes drawing back from international trade agreements. The seeming importance of this issue as a voting topic highlights the fear of the effects of globalization on both sides of the aisle.

These isolationist tendencies are mirrored in our social lives too, exacerbated by the convenience of digital communication. Instead of using the internet to enhance the connectedness, we utilize it to draw back. While digital communication may be a tool to enhance or increase human connectivity, some types of digital communication have made it easiest to neglect in-person confrontations and other intimate forms of interaction. This underscores an inability to see the value of interaction and collaboration. The rise of online classes, for example, takes away the opportunity to form connections with other students to enhance learning. Dating apps make meeting people easier but digitize the process, resulting in a more impersonal experience. In our personal and political lives, minimizing connections with other people minimizes certain risks but also makes way for a lonely and sometimes paranoid way of being.

Isolating ourselves can also be selfish. Those who did not and do not support Trump desire avoiding confrontation instead of protesting or actively opposing whatever policies with which they disagree. In a Jan. 15 article in The Atlantic, couples discuss their decision to build small communes in the woods as a response to the Trump presidency. Gil Benmoshe said, “I don’t want to be an activist anymore … It requires me to rub against the things that I hate too much, and I get sad and frustrated.” Unfortunately, not everyone has the option to recede into the woods and avoid politics. It is a cost-consuming, time-consuming lifestyle only beneficial to a few. Underrepresented minorities and impoverished people are more directly affected and cannot simply escape. While many constituents vote and make other decisions based on their well-being, the tradition of political dissent and protest has it that we should not only act out of self-interest.

It is a utopia reminiscent of Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden” or the recent 2016 film “Captain Fantastic,” both of which highlight the infeasibility and eventual dullness of solitary life. While opposition to international trade agreements and immigration is partly a response to the fear of losing jobs in the United States, it is underscored and justified by a wariness of other people. Continuing to isolate ourselves from our national policies and even from one another will only increase mistrust and misunderstanding between people in an already fragmented political sphere. If we are receding from society to understand one another, then further distancing ourselves will increase the boundaries between people. Instead of fearing the interconnected world, we should embrace the numerous opportunities that exist to bring people with diverse political and personal backgrounds together and use them to understand one another.