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Thinking about Populism and the Polarized World

Few days ago, I had my last teaching class of this semester. Seeing society has been getting more and more polarized in the U.S. and the rest of the world, I took some time to share my final thought with the class as a conclusion.

"If you are in the U.S., two days ago, we had our projected election result. Maybe you are happy because you support Biden or hate Trump. Or you are not because of some other reasons. As your instructor, as your peer, or as a scholar, I want to warn you that we come to an age of polarization and populism. A lot of concepts you learned from this course are not, or not yet, the consensus of this society. There is a significant population in our society that may hold a very different idea of gender, race, and family.

After taking this course, you may have more questions than answers than before. For example, how could we repair the damages in our society that happens over the past few years? When we see fraud information and conspiracy theories circulating on social media, when people do not value fact, do not value truth, what could we do?

Somehow, you have choices. You can label them as idiots, the ignorant, or hypocrites. You can say that they are the people who know nothing. Or you can try your best to learn about why they uphold such value, idea, or conspiracy theories and construct a set of understandings of “truth” that is different from yours.

If we truly embrace the spirit of constructivism, or what we called “social construction” in this course, we should also understand why people construct their reality and truth based on their socialization, cultural background, experiences, and privileges that they do not even realize.

So, the challenge to all of us is how we could bridge the polarized world and bring all the people together again to solve the existing social problems? We have to realize that reinforcing our own circle only does not bring the world to justice. Reinforcing society as a collective, including your “enemy,” including people who are on the opposite side of your point of view, is crucial. But how?

Whether or not you believe in Biden and his administration, one of my takeaways from his speech two days ago is that we really have to be very careful with the concept of “enemy.” When populism rises in our society, there is a very worrying trend that our world will eventually be full of conflicts when our resources become scarcer day by day.

As a final thought, I want to take this chance to remind you that the concepts we learned from this course are all transferrable knowledge. You could apply them in your everyday life to provide you a different perspective of the world, including graph reading skills, critical thinking, constructivist perspective, etc. Having this toolkit, all of us are on the same boat in finding solutions to the problems. And this is one of the reasons why sociology, or social science, is still valuable and important in our society."

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