Monday, November 07, 2016

How to get beyond our tribal politics.

Haidt and Iyer offer an essay in The Wall Street Journal that tries to see a way past the tribal animosities that have been dominating our political discourse. Some edited clips:
Nearly half the country will ...wake up deeply disappointed on the morning of Nov. 9, and many members of the losing side will think that America is doomed..many will be shocked and disgusted that nearly half of their fellow citizens voted for the moral equivalent of the devil.
Is it possible for Americans to forgive, accept and carry on working and living together? We think that it is. After all, civility doesn't require consensus or the suspension of criticism.. If we understand better the psychological causes of our current animosity, we can all take some simple steps to turn it down...Three time honored quotations can serve as guides.
"Me against my brother, my brothers and me against my cousins, then my cousins and me against strangers." - Bedouin saying... Human nature is tribal. We form teams easily, most likely because we have evolved for violent intergroup conflict...The tribal mind is adept at changing alliances to face shifting threats, as the Bedouin saying indicates...we saw it happen after the 9/11 attacks, when the country came together to support the president and the military in the invasion of Afghanistan...So what will happen the next time there is a major terrorist attack? Will we come together again? Or will the attack become a partisan football within hours, as happened after the various lone-wolf attacks of the past year? Something is broken in American tribalism. It is now "my brothers and me against my cousins" all the time, even when we are threatened by strangers...We must find a way to see citizens on the other side as cousins who are sometimes opponents but who share most of our values and interest and are never our mortal enemies.
"Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?... You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye." - Jesus, in Matthew 7:3-5. Our tribal minds are equipped with a powerful tool: shameless and clueless hypocrisy...We think with a particular purpose in mind..psychologists call this "motivated reasoning."...This is why partisans find it so easy to dismiss scandalous revelations about their own candidate while focusing so intently on scandalous revelations about the other candidate...Motivated reasoning has interacted with tribalism and new media technologies since the 1990s in unfortunate ways. Social media, hackers and Google search now help us to find hundreds of specks in our opponents' eyes, but no technology can force us to acknowledge the logs in our own.
"Nature has so formed us that a certain tie unites us all, but...this tie becomes stronger from proximity." - Cicero, "On Friendship". Tribalism...exists in tension with our extraordinary ability to develop bonds with other human beings...French, British and German soldiers came out of their trences in World War I to exchange food, cigarettes and Christmas greetings...Pople who have at least one friend from the other political party are less likely to hate the supporters of that party... but tragically, americans are losing their proximity to those on the other side and are spending more time in politically purified settings. Sine the 1980s, Democrats have been packling into the cities while the rural areas and exurbs have been getting more Republican..ever more of our social life is spent online, in ..networks that are politically homogeneous...will the polarizing trends identified by Pew just keep going until the country splits in two? .... we have lasted 240 years so far, and both sides agree that American is worth fighting for. We just have to see that the fight isn't always against each other...
Here is some advice, adapted from ancient wisdom and modern research:
First, separate your feelings about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton from your feelings their supporters... don't assume that most people on the other side like or even agree with their candidate on any particular issue...if you knew their stories, you might well empathize with them.
Second, step back and think about your goals. In the long run, would you rather change people or hate them? If you actually want to persuade or otherwise influence people, you should know that it is nearly impossible to change people's minds by arguing with them. When there is mutual antipathy, there is mutual motivated reasoning, defensiveness, and hypocrisy.
...anything that opens the heart opens the mind as well, so do what you can to cultivate personal relationships with those on the other side..let the proximity recommended by Cicero strengthen ties..if you find a way to have a real conversation with someone on the other side, approach it skillfully. One powerful opener is to point to a log in your own eye - to admit right up front that you or your side were wrong about something...this signals that you aren't in combat mode.... Another powerful depolarizing move is praise, as we saw in the second Clinton-Trump debate in their response to a final question "would either of you name one positive thing that you respect in one another?"
...The true test of our democracy - and our love of country - will come on the day after the election...each of us must decide what kind of person we want to be and what kind of relationship we want to have with our politically estranged cousins.

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