At the SAG Awards this last week, David Harbour, star of Stranger Things, called for “a more empathetic and understanding society.” Then he promised to “punch some people in the face” with “soul, heart, and joy” – offering an obvious illustration of at least one of the moral problems with partisanship: i.e., the ease with which a certain brand of partisanship justifies immoral behavior in the name of a greater good.
Harbour obviously sees his “party affiliation” as one with those who favor empathy and understanding, but since those who don’t are in charge (or so he says), then bashing them in the face is justified.
Behavior of this kind brings the “ends” for which one advocates into disrepute.
But there are other problems as well:
- Partisanship of this kind feeds the cycle of violent behavior and divisive language.
- It leads to selective blindness that is quick to see the failings of an opponent and equally facile in excusing its own failings.
- And it is quick to generalize about the motivations of others, drawing everyone in its wake into the objectivizing behavior that increasingly sees those who differ as caricatures and not as human beings.
There is nothing wrong with committing to a cause or a party, but partisan commitments without a larger moral context and personal accountability easily feeds the hypocrisy of calling for empathy, understanding, and violence, all in the space of a few seconds.
If there is any hope of our ever returning to civil discourse, someone will need to have the courage and resolve to remain morally accountable to something more than party affiliation.