When The Bough Breaks
Someone on Twitter said that Election Day wasn’t the End, but the End of the Beginning. I thought of that as I read this Vox interview by Sean Illing with social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, about the troubled times upon our nation. Excerpts:
What you’re describing sounds like an expansion of the culture war. Is it your view that culture wars have subsumed all of our politics and that policies are just props in this broader battle?
Yes, that’s right. There are existential questions at stake, and this election has felt really apocalyptic for both sides. The right thinks the country is crashing into a void and that Trump, while crazy, is our only hope. The left thinks Trump will bring about a fascist coup, a war with China, or a betrayal of our alliances.
So there is an apocalyptic feeling here. Sacred values are at stake. There really can be no compromise between these two visions.
There are some who think we’re not quite as polarized as it seems. The idea is that what often appear to be deep divisions are really just products of people living in echo chambers, and that this amplifies differences and obscures commonalities. I’m not terribly persuaded by this, but perhaps it’s worth considering.
There’s certainly a debate among political scientists about this, but I’m a social psychologist, so I’m not looking at people’s views about policy; I’m looking at their views about each other. And if you look at any measures of what people think about people on the other side, those have become vastly more hostile. That’s what concerns me.
In the 1960s, surveys asked people how they’d feel if their child married a Republican or an African American or a Jew, and back then some people really didn’t want their kids to marry someone of a different ethnicity, but a different political party wasn’t as big a deal. Now the opposite is true.
So I’m quite confident that there is affective polarization or emotional polarization in recent years.
We have to recognize that we’re in a crisis, and that the left-right divide is probably unbridgeable. And if it is, we’ll have to give up on doing big things in Washington, and do as little as we possibly can at the national level. We’re going to have to return as much as we can to states and localities, and hope that innovative solutions spring from technology or private industry.
Polarization is here to stay for many decades, and it’s probably going to get worse, and so the question is: How do we adapt our democracy for life under intense polarization?
This is one reason I keep saying that the Benedict Option is key to our future, at least the future of us conservative Christians. We have entered a period of increased fragmentation and dissolution, not only in our society, but in the church. Better not to have illusions about where we are, and where we stand to go.