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The Polarization Option Pt 1

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October Sky, Good Harbor Beach MA
October Sky, Good Harbor Beach MA
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Liberalism is an ideology of parasites, hypocrites, grievance mongers, victims, and control freaks. Like a tick, liberalism latches onto a victim and sucks him dry.

Charming! Not exactly the ideal starting point for problem-solving and/or policy-making.... But as we have witnessed all too often, and has been cited by numerous studies, partisanship is now largely defined by how much hostility is directed toward those on the other side of the political divide.

There are no easy answers or options for resolving the great differences that currently divide us. If anything, the combination of extremist rhetoric, media complicity, political indifference, the hypocrisy from too many corners, and the unsettling impacts of wealth and inequality on our democracy does nothing but deepen the divide. Misinformation, if not outright fabrications and nonsensical policy proposals and promises [hello, Donald Trump!], guide too many of our fellow citizens in their political decision-making.

So where does it end? Is there any possibility at all for an ending to these conflicts that is anything other than crippling to us all? Shouldn't the likeliest outcome deserve a bit more consideration?

Because so little trust exists between the two political camps, due in no small part to our failure to actually learn more about the guiding motivations and values of our opponents, and so much animosity has developed as a result--aided admirably by the public rhetoric doled out in ample quantities so as to keep the camps suitably antagonistic toward each other--any hopes of a change in course are all but nonexistent if we continue to employ more of the same tactics. Raising the volume on our accusations and uninformed assessments about our political opponents is just raising the volume. Doing nothing--or the wrong thing based on the wrong information--is more often than not the more troublesome consequence.

[A]nger can lead to 'opposition to accommodation,' the anger that is driven by intergroup conflict may be actively harming our ability to reasonably discuss the important issues at hand. The angrier the electorate, the less capable we are of finding common ground on policies, or even of treating our opponents like human beings. Our emotional relationships with our opponents must be addressed before we can even hope to make the important policy compromises that are required for governing. And those relationships are increasingly dependent on how well our identities line up behind our parties. [citing other research]

There are many established psychological, intellectual, and emotional reasons why we all act as we do. Our instinctive assessments and reactions cannot arbitrarily be deemed "wrong" by any justifiable standard. Those tendencies and characteristics are vital contributors to both our individuality and as members of groups with whom we identify. It's how we allow those character components to influence our beliefs as well as our subsequent behaviors and decisions--which then impact others--that matter most.

We're not paying nearly enough attention to What Happens Then? as we should be.

Not only are identities capable of affecting behavioral polarization, they are some of the most powerful forces to do so. Even if political-issue positions are generally moderate, people may still be strongly biased against each other, active to defend their party, and full of anger if they have strong or strongly aligned political identities. The moderation of issue positions cannot moderate the effect of identity on behavioral polarization. As long as partisanship comes more closely into alignment with other political identities, we can expect to see increased levels of bias, activism and anger, regardless of issue position extremity.

We might all want to start thinking about where this is all going to take us if we don't start paying attention and considering the long term.

Intuitive responses are reflexive and automatic, and thus it is difficult to turn off one's own and simulate someone else's. This can create gaps in our ability to empathize with moral reactions that differ from our own; both difficulties appreciating when others feel things that we do not and difficulties appreciating when others do not feel things that we do. A possible consequence of this gut-blindness is a tendency to attribute partisan attitude differences, not to differing moral sensitivities, but to more accessible social-cognitive constructs such as intellectual deficiency or malevolent intention (issues of competence and warmth, respectively; [with citations]

So the more important question is: are those "intuitive responses" serving us well? It's a challenge to muster any honest and considered reasons to suggest they are. At the very least, perhaps some tweaking is in order?

Adapted from a blog post of mine
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Looking Left and Right: Inspiring Different Ideas, Envisioning Better Tomorrows I remain a firm believer in late U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone's observation that "We all do better when we all do better." That objective might be worth pursuing (more...)

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