Brands are powerful.
They’re convenient containers in which we can easily pack up and pass around dense information.
But there’s a catch: information loss. We throw away depth in exchange for efficiency.
What does “McDonalds” mean? What does “The Swastika” symbol mean? What does “Middle Class” mean?
Most arguments are the result of mis-communication; conflicting assumptions about the fundamentals of the topic being discussed.
You call yourself pro-choice. I call myself pro-life. We both assume the other fits into a very stark characterization. But I agree that rape victims and life-threatening pregnancy complications should be exceptions to any restrictions. And you think 3rd trimester abortions are irresponsible and should be regulated. Actually, at the end of the argument we find out we both agree on more than we disagree, yet we were still initially polarized by the expectations of our respective brand-assigned roles.
The haziness of our inferences caused tension. That sucks, but it’s a small price to pay for the conversations and conveniences made possible by brands. We expect a cup of Starbucks Coffee to taste the same whether it comes from a store in Seattle or one in Manhattan. Similarly, we expect a person who’s heard of Net Neutrality, The NSA Privacy Scandal, or Gun Control to be able to participate in a conversation about said topics with a minimal amount of explanation.
And at the end of the day, any ambiguity can be resolved when needed, right? If we get to a crossroads, we can talk it out and move on, can’t we?
Too often we seemingly can’t, and instead we go around fighting in endless loops.
That’s a shame, but not particularly impactful at the individual level.
What happens when the ambiguity of a brand gets leveraged? What happens when people in positions of power use mis-communication to maliciously frame a topic in a certain light?
Ever seen a commercial featuring an exceptional healthy looking individual eating a fast-food hamburger or drinking a soda?
Ever heard anyone call a politician, past or present, a Nazi? A Communist?
Well, did said politician try to systematically kill 6-million people based on their ethnicity? Or is he simply bad at his job? Did she try to enforce an impossible wheat-production quota? Or is she simply implementing poorly thought out economic policies?
No one really knows. And that is damning to those affected by the topics being discussed.
While we keep fighting against each-other, merely because we superficially support different teams, real decisions are being made that have very substantial consequences.
The solution is to do the work required in order to understand the details. Hold yourself to high standards of integrity even when you’re just bullshitting with friends. Cite your sources, develop your talking points, admit you ignorance, don’t assume or take anything for granted, and ask questions, both to clarify your own and your audience’s perspective.
And don’t widen the gap. It feels good to be on a team, to have a gang; to call yourself a conservative or a liberal, a pro-this or a anti-that, or to participate in any other pair of divides. But supporting a team too often requires you to hate on its rival.
The goal should be truth, and truth in any one topic takes depth and thoroughness, not stereotypes and shallow banner waving.
Explain yourself and don’t take anyone else seriously until they do, too.