Serj Tankian Addresses America’s Political Polarization

Star Spangled Serj.
Metaphorically speaking.
(Photo By Robert Sebree.)

Serj Tankian is never short on words, and when it comes to election year divisiveness — come to think of it, American division in general — he has plenty to say. I recently chatted with Tankian for MSN Music — he’s currently on a U.S. tour with System Of A Down and embarking on an international solo tour in September — and one topic that came up was how liberals could help make conservatives see their point-of-view on issues essential to our well being. On his new album Harakari, Tankian addresses the state of the world in many ways, and he discussed with me how ecological and economic issues weave together. For example, he has been studying how changes in equatorial landscapes have lead to an immigration influx into Europe that is spawning a social conservative backlash.

With that in mind, I asked the genre-blending singer-songwriter if there is a way to reach more conservative people who don’t seem to understand that climate change has a strong economic impact on us all. Is there a way to do that that’s simple and doesn’t come across as sermonizing from a stereotyped snooty, intellectual liberal?

“Honestly?” he replied. “No. Because those people are not following facts. The same people who don’t believe in global warming believe in creationism. They believe the Earth was created a couple thousand years ago. They’re not looking in science where science overwhelmingly shows that it has been around for millions of years. How the fuck are you going to argue with them? Facts don’t matter to them. It’s their belief system. So I don’t think you can explain that to them. It’s interesting because when there’s a war, liberals and conservatives are usually on the opposite spectrum, but the way that they assert things and the way that they argue, they use the same delivery. Nobody ever says we shouldn’t start a war because we have no right to go into another country. They all say this is bad for the economy and this is bad for our future diplomacy. The hawks don’t even give a shit. They say let’s go get ’em, let’s go get the oil.”

“To me, you have to control the whole basis of conversation to start with because otherwise you’re really arguing on the extremities of the same point, and that’s a dangerous point to argue,” he continued. “When it comes to the environment and the change that we’re experiencing, this is a factual thing. I don’t give a fuck what anyone’s opinion is because it’s a fact. There shouldn’t be opinions about facts. If you don’t accept them, then go believe in Santa Claus for all I care. But it is difficult because it comes back to education. A well-educated society does not have these problems. A well-educated society may disagree about certain things, but they’re not going to have laws against abortion, they’re not going to guess about global warming, they’re not going to do some of these things. It’s beyond me. So it comes back to education, in my opinion.”

For many on the left, it is a scary time in America as presumed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney actually has a chance to beat President Obama because admittedly, beyond obvious prejudices held by some, the economic picture has not improved, even though Romney represents the business interests that have lead to our current woes. “There’s definitely a shift economically,” concurred Tankian. “If you’re an educated person, you’ll say, ‘I’m not going take points away from Obama for something that was created before him. How can I do that?’ Remember Clinton left us with a surplus not a deficit. All of this [turmoil] happened during George W. Bush’s time. Again, it takes knowledge. You should look back and think, ‘I’m going to rate you based on your performance not because you happened to live in a time where things got fucked up.’ Again, the conversation is not one of righting yourself whether you’re liberal or not, because I think that reason is starting to disappear from American politics. It’s not just polarized, it’s way beyond that. I think that we need education. We should spend as much on education as on defense because in the end we’re going to ruin ourselves if we don’t have it.”

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