Football players kneeling during the national anthem caused a public outcry a few years back. Late in 2020, big tech companies like Facebook and Twitter became symbols of censorship thanks to their habit of silencing those with whom they disagreed. And in April 2021, the hot political topic of the day is the coronavirus vaccine. These sorts of things all come together to lead people to ask how society became so political.
In reality, we haven’t become any more political. We have only become more vocal. By its very definition, politics is the process by which human beings structure their societies. It is not limited to the halls of government. Politics exist in every workplace, community organization, school, and home. To be human is to be political.
What we have seen over the last few decades is merely the result of more people having a greater opportunity to voice their opinions. The information age has given us all a voice we didn’t have 50 years ago. And because so many more are speaking up it seems like all of life has been politicized. It was all politicized before. We were simply not cognizant of it because the world was a much larger place in terms of communication and information.
1.Roots in the Graphic T-Shirt
Perhaps the roots of today’s hyper political conversation can be traced back to the humble graphic T-shirt introduced by rock concert promoters in the 1960s. Back then, graphic T-shirts were a tool for marketing musical acts. Some of those acts want to promote their politics along with their music. A cottage industry was born.
From the 1960s through the early 1990s, people who felt their political voices were not being heard at the voting booth would speak with their clothing. Things aren’t all that different today. Companies like New York-based Plurawl sells graphic T-shirts and hoodies to give people a means of expressing their political, ideological, and cultural beliefs.
The big difference now is that the ability to voice one’s opinions goes way beyond clothing choices. We can thank social media and the 24-hour news cycle for that. From Twitter to Facebook and trolling news articles to leaving endless comments, people feel emboldened to speak in a way they never could before.
2.Turning Corporations into Governments
People striving together to form a society they can all be happy with is nothing new. It has been going on since the dawn of humanity. Still, another substantial difference in 2021 is this: government entities are no longer the only ones able to formulate and implement policy. Corporations do it now, too.
How many corporations have taken an official position on issues ranging from gun control to gay rights? Even now, how many are considering inserting themselves into the coronavirus vaccine debate by formulating plans to refuse service to people who resist getting vaccinated?
Thanks to social media, consumers have discovered what cannot be changed at the voting booth can be changed by corporations. Just put enough public pressure on a corporation and it will bend to your will. Thus, corporate America is being used to implement policies that lawmakers cannot implement through legislation.
The world is not any more political today than was 1,000 years ago. It is just more vocal. We now have more tools and opportunities to speak our minds. We have more opportunities to affect real change by the positions we take. And because of that, we are more likely to openly share our opinions and castigate those who disagree. It is a sad state to find ourselves in. And yet, here we are.