Guilty by Association: Why playing devil’s advocate on social issues is not helping anyone

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Illustration by Kaitlyn Tran/The Daily Campus

I’m sitting at my desk making calls to Iowa for the Biden campaign, and I feel utterly disheartened. With every hangup or shouted refusal I get after the words “Democratic Party” cross my lips, I feel a pain in my chest. In this calling session, only two out of over 30 people were even willing to let me get past the initial introduction lines of the call script.  

The pain and anger I feel is partially because of this, that after the past few months, with what has seemed like a political awakening for my generation, so many people physically cannot even fathom the idea of talking to a member of the other side. However, the majority of the reason I feel pain is from an immense guilt I hold, knowing that there have been times in the past where positions I have taken would have aligned with these people. 

As someone who used to identify as someone “on the fence” about which party to pick, I often thoroughly enjoyed so-called “political discussions” with people more firmly planted on a side. I fancied myself a chameleon, arguing the left against the right and the right against the left. A term I heard a lot that’s used to describe people that do what I did in these settings is “socially liberal, economically conservative.”  

Now, if both of those categories were strictly political, as well as being completely separate from each other, there would be no problem, but that just simply isn’t the case. In a country rife with inequality in almost every facet of society, it is incredibly naive to consider the economy not to be an area that contains social injustice. Therefore, one cannot be socially liberal while supporting current conservative economic policies, as they do not promote equality for all people living here.   

Back to the subject of playing devil’s advocate, this tactic in discussions is employed frequently by the “socially liberal, economically conservative” group, and just as the aforementioned paradox of the label used, this strategy sucks all humanity out of any conversation. While one person sees an opportunity for debate and may even have good intentions, this perspective completely ignores the fact that the person with whom they’re having the conversation with may feel more emotionally tied to the issue they’re discussing. Sure, you may not be the one actually saying the horrible things or promoting the horrible policies that oppress many groups of people today, but by playing devil’s advocate you create a fictitious valid side to the argument.  

The ability to invalidate or divert a conversation for the sake of political debate is a privilege that many do not have.

Two extreme examples of this are Trump’s “good people on both sides” remarks after Charlottesville and the “All Lives Matter” statement. While Trump didn’t literally say that he supported the neo-Nazis marching with torches in counterprotest, any comment that even somewhat defends them gives them a platform they should not have. The same goes for All Lives Matter, as even though the statement doesn’t explicitly disagree with Black Lives Matter, it is clearly an attempt to invalidate all the good that the Black Lives Matter movement has been able to do in giving publicity and support to many struggles that have long gone ignored.   

The acts of playing devil’s advocate and considering oneself to be “socially liberal but fiscally conservative” are both acts that come from having the privilege to take part in them. The ability to invalidate or divert a conversation for the sake of political debate is a privilege that many do not have. For the people that politics can simply be a hobby or something to dabble in when you want to, we have no right to engage people who do not have that privilege in conversations that will waste their time and wear out their spirit.  

This goes for the people who claim to be apolitical entirely as well. Anyone that has done or said anything in the past to invalidate an individual or group that does not have the same privileges they do or validate a group that does not deserve to have a platform in the first place needs to check their privilege. We can all do better, as there is a place in the world for redemption, but we need to actively work toward it, or else we may be contributing to the pain of others without even realizing it. 

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