The term “diabolic” refers in common usage to evil that rises to the level of the demonic, but the term’s roots mean “to tear apart.” This post from Jonathan Haidt identifies a dynamic that is tearing America apart. It’s Haidt’s answer to a question asking what scientific news from 2015 is likely to stay news. Excerpts:
If you were on a selection committee tasked with choosing someone to hire (or to admit to your university, or to receive a prize in your field), and it came down to two candidates who were equally qualified on objective measures, which candidate would you be most likely to choose?
__A) The one who shared your race
__B) The one who shared your gender
__C) The one who shared your religion
__D) The one who shared your political party or ideology
The correct answer, for most Americans, is now D. It is surely good news that prejudice based on race, gender, and religion are way down in recent decades. But it is very bad news—for America, for the world, and for science—that cross-partisan hostility is way up.
My nomination for “news that will stay news” is a paper by political scientists Shanto Iyengar and Sean Westwood, titled “Fear and Loathing Across Party Lines: New Evidence on Group Polarization.” Iyengar and Westwood report four studies (all using nationally representative samples) in which they gave Americans various ways to reveal both cross-partisan and cross-racial prejudice, and in all cases cross-partisan prejudice was larger.
This is extremely bad news for America because it is very hard to have an effective democracy without compromise. But rising cross-partisan hostility means that Americans increasingly see the other side not just as wrong but as evil, as a threat to the very existence of the nation, according to Pew Research. Americans can expect rising polarization, nastiness, paralysis, and governmental dysfunction for a long time to come.
This is a warning for the rest of the world because some of the trends that have driven America to this point are occurring in many other countries, including: rising education and individualism (which make people more ideological), rising immigration and ethnic diversity (which reduces social capital and trust), and stagnant economic growth (which puts people into a zero-sum mindset).
This is extremely bad news for science and universities because universities are usually associated with the left. In the United States, universities have moved rapidly left since 1990, when the left-right ratio of professors across all departments was less than two to one. By 2004, the left-right ratio was roughly five to one, and it is still climbing. In the social sciences and humanities it is far higher. Because this political purification is happening at a time of rising cross-partisan hostility, we can expect increasing hostility from Republican legislators toward universities and the things they desire, including research funding and freedom from federal and state control.
If “dia + bollein” = “to tear apart,” and “sym + bollein” = “to bring together,” can you think of what acts of symbollein could begin to reweave the national tapestry? Or are we destined to continue to unwind, because the forces that led to our disunity are impossible to contain?