Take No Comfort

May 11, 2011

A just-released study by the Pew Research Center for the People and Press tells us that we should take no comfort from the expanding political “middle” – or the increase in those who don’t identify as Republicans or Democrats. That’s because it’s a big tent that includes some very uncompromising ideologies which overlap strongly with the right and left ends of the political spectrum. In other words, much of the so-called middle is not moderate. In their Washington Post article, Dan Balz and Jon Cohen conclude from the study that our nation is “deeply divided and more doctrinaire.”

Thank heavens that some really smart academics are putting their minds to this dynamic and adding intellectual rigor to the efforts of the many groups—including the Public Conversations Project—who fear the impact of what’s going on and are working on ways to address it. CiviIPolitics.org is a new web site and knowledge platform with the mission of “finding and promoting evidence-based methods for increasing political civility.” Among its scholarly creators is Jonathan Haidt of the University of Virginia, who is deeply interested in the moral foundations of American political ideology (he has a great TED talk on the subject). The case they make on the opening page is the same one that spurs us and many others to marshal the good sense within our country in order to turn this around:

"By civility we do NOT mean politeness, decorum, agreement, bipartisanship, or unity. We think disagreement and debate are good things. We think America is well served when political parties represent different viewpoints and then compete vigorously to recruit voters to their side. But we are disturbed by the increase in recent decades in demonization that characterizes American political debate, particularly among politicians and in the media. We are motivated by recent research in moral and political psychology showing what happens when disagreements activate the psychology of good-versus-evil. Compromise becomes far more difficult; reasoning becomes far less responsive to facts; and combatants begin to believe that the ends justify the means. When that happens, partisans are more willing to break laws, play dirty tricks, lie, and ruin the personal lives of their opponents -- all in the service of what they think is a good cause. Good people are discouraged from entering politics. Good public servants are driven out of public service."

If this worries you too, bookmark the site. Even though it’s still in development, there is already good information and analysis, an excellent blog and useful links.

 

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