Ben Shapiro was recently interviewed by Andrew Neil on BBC. It was a really fascinating interview to watch because it appeared that Shapiro was highly uncomfortable with someone asking him direct questions about his political philosophy. Eventually, Shapiro cut the interview short and stormed off.
Neil was trying to ask Shapiro why so much of his rhetoric is conflicting with his recent book, which tries to make the point that political discourse in the US is too polarized and driven by anger. I think this is a very fair question. Ben Shapiro’s writing on The Daily Wire certainly contributes to tribalism and polarization. When Ben does talk to “the other side” it’s often those who agree with him about bashing political correctness as they focus on that topic.
Neil brings up the classic “Ben Shapiro DESTROYS” videos on YouTube and asks Ben if these kind of videos are helping political discourse. Yes, Ben didn’t personally create these videos, but I think Neil asked a very fair question on whether Ben believes those types of videos are helpful. Instead, Ben deflects from answering it directly. It was very telling that Shapiro didn’t say something simple like “Yes, these types of videos are not helping.”
Instead, Ben seemed very upset and angry that he was being criticized. And Ben proceeded to question his interviewer instead of answering his questions! Ben kept asking to be questioned on his political philosophy, but when Neil did that towards the end Ben cut off the interview short. Neil was trying to ask right before Ben left how his Judeo-Christian values are consistent with the type of angry tribalism Ben participates in. Again, a fair question I think! But we never got the answer.
Shapiro later tweeted about the interview that he thought Neil was a leftist and would have responded differently if he knew Neil was actually more conservative. And that’s a really fascinating admission by Shapiro because it suggests how he was only hostile because he thought he was talking to a political opponent! And I imagine that really would have made a difference even if Ben was asked the same questions. But what does that say about Shapiro (and the broader political culture) that he is unwilling to be directly challenged about his political beliefs depending on who is challenging him? How does becoming defensive and avoiding conversation help productive dialogue? Neil was direct, but definitely civil. He wanted Shapiro to clarify his political positions and philosophies.
Instead, Shapiro ran off and any meaningful discussion was lost.
Now it’s easy to pick on Shapiro here because he looked awful in the interview. But he’s really a symptom of the larger political climate in America. We are so used to talking in our echo chambers that going outside of it can feel incredibly threatening, even if the person we are talking to is honestly giving us an opportunity to share our thoughts.
Outrage and tribalism simply generate more clicks and ad revenue than nuance. It’s going to be quite a struggle to try and change the social norms that allow such polarization to take place, but it is worth the effort to prevent as much damage as we can. I’ll continue to write about my thoughts on polarization in future posts, but one way to help out is to support groups like Better Angels and websites like Letter who aim to promote thoughtful discussion and depolarization.