What’s in Your Silo?
If you have listened to the political pundits lately you may have heard the term “silo” used to describe the more and more polarized worldview U.S. citizens hold in 2017. We all know what a “silo” is, of course, and probably have a clear memory of driving through a rural area, seeing a silo out near a barn in a field. If you grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s you became familiar with the notion of missile silos that were built to protect us from those godless Russians. My image was always of long, deep cylinders in Nebraska and the Dakotas, filled with missiles ready to launch megaton destruction on the Russkies. In 2017 “silo” has come to represent the growing political and cultural gaps between sectors of our society. The term originally gained popularity in the business community around 2011 and can be described as follows: “The Silo Mentality as defined by the Business Dictionary is a mindset present when certain departments or sectors do not wish to share information with others in the same company.”(Oct 2, 2013) From that original terminology, “silo” was appropriated by the political punditry to describe what has happened to the American polity. I heard the term used the other day and began thinking about not only what it means but also how I fit into its definition. The Pew Research Group did a study about the U.S. public’s political, social, and cultural views in June, 2014 (http://www.people-press.org/2014/06/12/political-polarization-in-the-american-public/). Based on that report’s categories and ideas, I reflected on my own positions, pretty aware that I’ve become more “siloed” as the years have gone on.
What’s in my “silo?” First and foremost is my immediate peer group. Overwhelmingly, my friends and family have some common characteristics: Northeastern, urban, private university/elite school education, professionals, and politically liberal. When the pundits describe people living in “echo chambers” I would plead “Guilty as charged.” As the Pew research reflects, and as one who is “consistently liberal” (their categorical term), I do not spend much (if any) time with anyone whose views are even “somewhat conservative” and tend to view those positions with little respect. I definitely have a classic Eastern, urban, “elite,” liberal stance toward the world --- forged in the late ‘60’s and remaining steadfast, or becoming more extreme, over the years. The people I talk to, the publications and literature I read, the news I watch and listen to, are all skewed to the left, to say the least. I have trouble understanding how people can hold rigid, or even moderate, right wing views (while I am rigidly "left"). I want to be clear here that I’m not talking about Democrats and Republicans but Liberals and Conservatives, using “classic” definitions of those terms (i.e., Liberal=government ownership or control of items like health care, social security, etc., as well as a “loose”/flexible interpretation of the U.S. Constitution and Conservative = private responsibility and “strict” – literal – interpretation of the U.S. Constitution).
As I look at specific issues, I take exactly those positions one would predict a “liberal” would take. While I personally feel a great deal of ambiguity regarding abortion, I do not question a woman’s right to choose. I do believe that state sponsored executions (the Death Penalty) violate the 8th Amendment’s “cruel and unusual punishment” clause. While I do not want to repeal the 2nd Amendment, I wish conservatives who believe in their “strict” and literal interpretation would look at the words in the Second Amendment: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” For all those “originalists” (like the late Justice Scalia) the opening phrase of that Amendment sets the parameters for gun ownership --- “A well regulated Militia, being necessary . . .” With our professional armed forces and National Guard we no longer have a need for our population to be part of an armed Militia. How the Second Amendment protects “conceal carry” laws baffles my Eastern “elite” consciousness.
Among the divisions the Pew Research revealed was that “liberals” tend to concentrate in diverse, urban environments and “conservatives” prefer suburban or rural settings where there is greater racial/ethnic homogeneity among the inhabitants. In the same way, there is a “religion” gap. I’ll be honest; it’s difficult for me to square how we can refer to the Romans, Greeks, and Norse civilizations adhering to “mythologies” while we defend our “religion.” If you study the Christian (particularly Roman Catholic) Church, you know that the Romans adapted their former “pagan” mythology to fit the new Christian orthodoxy (the multiple gods of Rome became the “patron Saints” of the Catholic Church). There’s no doubt that lives guided by faith proceed differently than those who lack such faith and, again, I'm guilty as charged.
As we look at other issues --- school choice, television news preferences (MSNBC/Fox), support for the arts & public radio/television, almost everything involving economics (enter Adam Smith and Karl Marx) --- the gap grows wider and wider. I attribute my increased lack of patience with the right to my own growing older and digging my heels deeper in my left wing silo while I know that’s the last thing we need in 2017. My concern is that the schism will continue to grow and I’m not seeing where the mediation might begin. I thought Barack Obama was a pretty middle of the road (certainly not raving “liberal”), rational politician --- only to discover he is the devil to conservatives (beyond just Presiding-While-Black). I have to remember that their view of Obama is like my view of Mitch McConnell, who dedicated himself to making Obama a “one-term” president (nice try) and held a Supreme Court candidate hostage unconstitutionally, while crippling the Executive branch at every turn. The "twains" are not meeting and there’s not much on the horizon that leads one to believe things will change. This Trump phenomenon seems to have exacerbated the whole problem, of course, so we’ll just have to wait and see where it goes.
In the meantime, I am honestly going to try to work on climbing out of my silo and really listen and talk to those who disagree with my views. Hopefully, I’ll find some patient folks who also want to engage in a serious dialogue that might help move our country in positive directions as the 21st century evolves. Crazier things have happened, right?