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Can a Divided America Heal? A Ted Talk Interview with Jonathan Haidt

Recommended by the Team –

These Days, Many Americans Hold Each Other in Contempt

Political antagonisms, as of late, have produced a climate in which people are increasingly unlikely to have productive disagreements with each other. While it is good that social media has given us unprecedented access to political communication, the price we sometimes pay for this new conversation is a discourse that is far more shrill, far less civil, and much more polarised. It seems like in the politics of 2016, compassion is signalled by showing a lack of empathy towards one’s political opponents. In the world of Trump vs Clinton, you are rewarded for displaying an unwillingness to negotiate (or even talk to) your political enemies. In fact, you are rewarded for acting like you hate them.

Thus, we live in an age where, for the most part, it’s cool to act like a whiny little bitch. Or at least, it makes people think you’re cool. And if not cool, at least a nice, educated, and broad minded person who knows their way around a hashtag.

Gone is the notion that all of us, whether left or right, are fundamentally on the same team. Instead, we’ve replaced the idea of “politics as dialogical negotiation” with a conception of politics as angry and self-righteous activism. This activism functions through the expression of constant and vitriolic outrage, an outrage directed at those who see the world differently to us. The differences can be very small, while the anger and paranoia increases exponentially, over the most trivial of clashes.

Within such activism, democracy loses it’s function as a space for persuasion, and instead becomes a forum for crushing one’s dangerous opponents, typically by shouting them down, exposing them as hateful, taking them to court, or creating a society where there are simply too many incentives to dissent from the orthodoxies of the angry activist. This is a politics of impatience, of petulance, where “standing up for justice” is praised when it mostly looks like that moment where Veruca Salt stood up to her father, before tumbling down a garbage shoot.

We at COTO think it is possible to do politics in a better way.

In the spirit of that hope, here is an interview with social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who offers an interesting explanation of how our contemporary situation actually works, as well as some recommendations as to where to take democracy in the future.

Cover Image: Copyright Christi L. studio544 / 123RF Stock Photo

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