Time really flies by in Europe! I spent this past week in Budapest, Hungary as part of my study tour for Political Extremism and Threats to Democracy. This course has been packed with information, it’s crazy to believe it’s only been three weeks. We covered a lot in Stockholm, and then truly explored it while in Budapest. It has been awesome looking at how these patterns emerge all around us in countries that have been truly impacted by them. Here are some of the major themes this course has touched on, as well as the ways we’ve seen them come to life.
Our course, much to the surprise of the room of Political Science majors, started off with a week of Psychology. I personally enjoyed this, as it combined my double major in a way I have not yet been able to.
One of the major questions we focused on was how morality develops in people. To do this, we read The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt. It was really interesting reading Haidt’s arguments about how morality is not really something we’re fully born with, but not also completely learned throughout life. Because of this, people end up with a different sense of morality based on a lot of different factors.
Haidt’s main point of the book though, was that we need to talk to people we disagree with to help overcome our hostility. The world is becoming more and more polarized every day. We often think of those who disagree with us as the evil enemy, but this course has shown that everyone is motivated by some form of morality, whether or not they agree with us. It is just a different form of morality that has evolved, focused in different areas of morality. Knowing this, as we talk to people that disagree with us, rather than attacking them, we should try to understand where they come from and work through our differences together.
One of the biggest factors that leads to political extremism the sense of tribalism people feel toward their political parties. In The Righteous Mind, Haidt proposed that people have a “hive switch”. Essentially, people will periodically become so invested in a team that they will transcend the individual mindset and focus heavily on helping a team goal become fulfilled.
This is just one potential idea for why tribalism emerges so much in politics. Whether it be the staunch opposition to the Swedish Democrats, the intense nationalism of Hungary or the rapid polarization in the United States, people feel a sense of home and hive when discussing their political party. As mentioned above, it all arises out of people’s perceptions of their own morality. But tribalism is currently facing many countries in a dangerous and unstainable capacity.
The hive switch doesn’t just have to apply to politics though. As we learned with an excursion to the island of Vaxholm in Sweden, it can apply to kayaking too! Our professor, Steve Turner, brought us to the island of Vaxholm for a day trip of pastries and kayaking. And we had an amazing time! Everyone worked together well to make sure we could all enjoy ourselves, get to shore safely and navigate the water. It felt like a true moment of teamwork, or hive switch, if you will. And I didn’t fall in this time!
Being the Opposition
Another key thing we have discussed in this course is the difficulty of being in the opposition to the governing party. We have talked a lot about populism and how it emerges. Populism is a movement, on the left or right, that rallies against the elite political class to attack increasing economic disparities. It is often characterized by a fiery leader and (at least an attempt for a) large-scale political movement. These feelings of being opposed by the government, with no way out, can drive people to extremes in their preferences.
Another way we have seen the opposition and their struggles is through a discussion with Hungarian politician Dávid Dorosz. Dorosz is the Deputy Mayor of Budapest for Climate and Development and a former member of the Hungarian Parliament (which is such a beautiful building, by the way!). He met with our class and talked about how challenging his life has been in Hungary opposing Fidesz, the major political party of Hungary. He has been shot down at every turn, had to resort to the streets to rally support and still gotten nowhere.
Being in the opposition is never fun. People continue to fight and persevere, but it can get exhausting. Hearing the stories of people from situations like this in foreign countries really sheds a light on how grave political situations can be for those in a different situation than your own.
It’s Not All Learning Though…
At this point, you’re probably a little bummed out about how crazy and difficult the world of Political Extremism is. Knowing that this would be a heavy topic, Steve thankfully planned in some fun moments for us to enjoy Budapest as well.
Nothing tops our day trip to Lake Batalon and Szigliget Castle. We got to travel into the Hungarian countryside and relax after a very dense academic week. There, we enjoyed a nice hike up a hill to the castle, followed by an amazing hour of paddle boating and swimming on the lake. It was truly a day to remember and really helped us reset during our Budapest trip!
We also had a decent amount of free time during the week, which allowed us to explore the city a little on our own! One of my favorite moments was climbing to Fisherman’s Bastion at night. The climb culminated in one of the most beautiful sceneries I have ever seen: the city of Budapest at night. We were in awe at the top. The lights, the buildings, the night sky. It couldn’t have been more picturesque. My morning at Széchenyi Thermal Bath was also amazing. Budapest is known for its thermal baths, so a few of us spent a free morning indulging in those, and it was fantastic.
And of course, there was ice cream. Budapest is home to Gelarto Rosa, a delicious gelato place that makes your dessert in the shape of a flower. It was very pretty as I devoured it after a hot day in the sun. The region Budapest is in also has a lot of lavender, so we tried some lavender ice cream in a couple of places. I especially enjoyed the dark chocolate lavender flavor.
One More Week…
And with that, I am officially in my last seven days in Europe! It has been such a wild ride so far, and I know it will continue to be. I don’t know what this next week will bring, but I am so excited to find out.
Enjoy some bonus Budapest pictures!