For the Dutch philosopher Bart Brandsma, it doesn’t take a real conflict, but only an enemy image to drive polarization forward. He developed a scheme for describing polarization that identifies three commandments and five “roles”.

The three commandments:

  • Polarisation is a pure mindset, a thought construct
  • It constantly needs new fuel, new boundaries
  • It is a gut feeling that connot be explained rationally

The five roles:

There are always opinion leaders, the so-called “pushers“, who mobilize against the “others”. “Pusher” are people who emotionally stir up their followers and thus provoke social divisions and counter-movements. These “pushers” are convinced that their view is the only true one and their followers.

The “joiners” – let themselves be carried away by the “pushers”, but refuse any responsibility.

The media reinforce this dynamic with one-sided and sensationalist reporting, so that the middle of society (“the Silent”), where actual social life takes place day after day, usually goes unheard.

“Bridge builders” position themselves visibly between the two groups, act as mediators between the different “pushers” and try to keep the room for debate. With increasing social polarization, the middle becomes smaller. Negotiation processes come to a standstill and supporters become more important.

Those who do not assign themselves to any side and are not represented in the independent centre is in danger of becoming the “scapegoat” of the two polarised groups.

Illustration from the book “Polarisation – Understanding the dynamics of us versus them” by Bart Brandsma
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