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The Polarization Option Pt 2

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'For the first time in our history,' says [Jonathan] Haidt, a professor at NYU's Stern School of Business, 'the parties are not agglomerations of financial or material interest groups, they're agglomerations of personality styles and lifestyles. And this is really dangerous. Because if it's just that you have different interests, that doesn't mean I'm going to hate you. It just means that we've got to negotiate, I want to win, but we can negotiate. If it's now that "You people on the other side, you're really different from me, you live in a different way, you pray in a different way, you eat different foods than I do," it's much easier to hate those people. And that's where we are.'

And since the two sides are so removed from any degree of respect for, or understanding of, the values and beliefs guiding the opposition's efforts, we give short shrift to any reasonings suggested as the primary motivations for those policy proposals. We simply assume that they are offered not in support of their ideological principles, but primarily to antagonize our side. Of course those elected to serve their constituencies are now focusing more on the needs of those citizens and only those citizens, given how rare compromise and a broader public good factor into the discussions within those political enclaves.

Chambers and Melnyk ... conclude: 'Partisan-group members suffer the misapprehension that their adversaries work to actively and willfully oppose their own sides' interests rather than promoting the values that are central to their adversaries' doctrine... it is this perception that may spawn the feelings of distrust and animosity that partisans feel toward their rivals and may ultimately fuel conflict between partisan groups... We found that there are real moral differences between liberals and conservatives, but people across the political spectrum exaggerate the magnitude of these differences and in so doing create opposing moral stereotypes that are shared by all. Calling attention to this unique form of stereotyping, and to the fact that liberal and conservative moral values are less polarized than most people think, could be effective ways of reducing the distrust and animosity of current ideological divisions.'

This is not exactly a winning formula for winning anything. It will, however, likely make problems even worse, so there's that.

We're of course free to ignore all of this and just proceed with Business/Politics/Economics/Culture As Usual. At least the outcomes are clear already. The question more of us ought to consider: is this is our best course of action? [It would also be even more helpful if facts and evidence played a greater role in policy debates, but that might be asking too much. Still ... worth considering, right?

[P]artisans in America are increasingly divided. The sense of partisan identity is increasingly associated with a Manichean, 'us against them' view of the political world. Democrats and Republicans harbor generally negative feelings toward their opponents. Stereotypes of party supporters have become increasingly differentiated; positive traits accrue to members of the in-party, while negative traits are ascribed to opponents. There is sufficient animosity to make partisan affiliation relevant to inter-personal relations. Today, American partisans are highly polarized in their feelings about each other.

Because we now find so many reasons to direct our intense dislike toward the opposition party, its platforms, its leadership, its media outlets, and its primary public voices, we now almost automatically reject anything and everything suggested or proposed from the political enemies whom we're convinced are acting out of pure malice toward us. If they aren't with us, they're against us. That does make the rules of the game easier to understand, so there's that, also.

And let's not forget the staggering contributions of Donald Trump's relentless assault on reason, decency, and reality.

Accordingly, whatever rationales or supporting principles are offered to support those policy proposals are likewise summarily rejected ... after a suitable level of insults, dismissive assessments, and ridicule are delivered from all corners. When the policy offerings center on cultural matters rather than the purely political or regulatory, hostility ratchets up. Can't question how effective this strategy is! Beneficial is a different consideration.

On top of all these biases, there is the in-group bias, in which we place more value on the beliefs of those whom we perceive to be fellow members of our group and less on the beliefs of those from different groups. This is a result of our evolved tribal brains leading us not only to place such value judgment on beliefs but also to demonize and dismiss them as nonsense or evil, or both.

It's not necessarily because each side is enamored with every aspect of their respective political affiliations, either. What we're seeing more often are not urgent efforts at persuasion; we're seeing the effects and consequences of increasing animosity directed at the opposition. Issues have become secondary to the simple tactic of manufacturing and then perpetuating hostility for the sake of hostility. We'll continue to get precisely what that approach offers. The short-term gratifications offered are indeed short-term, and that usually leads to longer term challenges and problems.

So is it worth hitting the "pause" button to at least get our bearings and consider what we'll gain--and lose--by staying on that same treadmill? It's not accomplishing anything, which, for some, is the objective. What kind of a nation do we choose to be? What future are we bequeathing to our children by doing more of this same pointless same?

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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