Tackling polarisation and estrangement in a critically divided world.”

An often iterated rhetoric of our days is that of the tragedy of increased polarisation we face, both nationally and internationally. Much of the news would have it be believed this is a recent phenomenon that’s erupted out of the 21st century. Surveying the landscape of history, it becomes difficult to make this claim. Polarization is a term first used in the field of physics to describe the behaviour of light travelling through a medium, and is now appropriated in a vague sense to talk about the division between groups of people. It’s used about as generally as “in this economy???”.

At its heart, polarisation is defined as the divergence of political attitudes to ideological extremes: it boils down to people becoming increasingly estranged from each other, rendered either unable or unwilling to communicate with each other. This is an issue that has persisted throughout human history, all the way from our hunter-gatherer ancestors who were fiercely protective of members of their own group, but relatively ruthless to those of another.

This is a mentality one can see echoed thousands of years later: in the unequal distribution of vaccines, as the richest countries wrestle to procure enough for their own populations, leaving countries ravaged by colonial history with a single vaccination to divide among millions; as the world has left Yemen to be decimated by one of the greatest humanitarian crises in the world; as China systematically eradicates its own ethnic minorities in “re-education facilities”; as America struggles to come to terms with its implicit continuation of slavery in the form of prison labour; as we watch the news. In this conference we will be discussing ultimately how we can work together to face these issues not only as independent representatives of countries, but as human beings.