Monday, March 7, 2016

Lessons in Depolarization: let’s start now!

I have a friend who thinks the candidates from the other political party are “crazy”.  She sometimes starts a conversation that way.  “They’re all crazy!” she’ll say.  My response is that it depends on where you’re standing.

If you’re an Evangelical Christian who thinks the government should enforce your moral code, Ted Cruz doesn’t sound crazy.  If you think capitalism is evil and corporate greed is at the root of our nation’s problems, Bernie Sanders doesn’t sound crazy.  If you lost your factory job because your employer outsourced it to China, Donald Trump doesn’t sound crazy. 

Another friend – a self-proclaimed libertarian -- describes the hypocrisy of Republicans who espouse limited government by saying of the party’s candidates, “they think the only problem with government is they’re not running it”.  That one resonates with me, which is why the faux campaign button displayed here caught my attention.  They all indeed suck!

So, where do we go from here?

In an article titled “The 7 Habits of Highly DepolarizingPeople”, David Blankenhorn points out “[w]e Americans didn’t necessarily think our way into political polarization, but we’ll likely have to think our way out.”  Among the habits he counsels we develop is Habit #4:

“Doubt—the concern that my views may not be entirely correct—is the true friend of wisdom and (along with empathy, to which it’s related) the greatest enemy of polarization.” 

Do you ever doubt that your political positions are correct?

Here’s another thought…

Ever notice how people put you in a category based on one of your opinions.  In an online discussion, someone I’ve never met referred to me as a “right-wing tea bagger” because I challenged the wisdom of Bernie Sanders policy proposals.  Just because I hold one opinion embraced by many Republicans doesn’t mean I agree with them all. Again, Mr. Blankenhorn:

“Of all the mental habits that encourage polarization, the most dangerous is probably binary thinking—the tendency to divide everything into two mutually antagonistic categories.”

“Categories are abstractions,” he reminds us when describing Habit #5:  Specify.  When we fall into the “sloppy habit of categorical thinking,” he reminds us, “the result is personally and socially harmful.”

Blankenhorn got me thinking about my own polarizing behavior.  Had I not used the tactic of categorization when I body slammed Bernie Sanders in last year’s most-read post? (Let’s Understand Just What Socialism Means to Us)

Sanders would model our government after Scandinavian countries.  An examination of the economic models of Scandinavia would suggest that socialism is an inaccurate label.  Their highly globalized, free trading, free market capitalist economic systems would very much appeal to American conservatives. They’re not socialist at all.

Denmark, for example, ranks number 3 on the World Bank’s list of countries in which it’s easy to do business.  The rankings are a measure of the degree to which regulations hamper businesses.  The U.S. is 7th followed in order by Sweden, Norway and Finland.  CEOWorld magazine ranks Sweden and Denmark sixth and seventh respectively in their ranking of globalized countries.  The U.S. is number 34. 

In addition to free trade, Scandinavian countries have embraced policies that would be anathema to American progressives.  There is no minimum wage in these countries.  Wages are set through collective bargaining and vary by industry. 

Sweden has introduced a school voucher system to increase competition among primary and secondary schools.

They depart from the agenda of American conservatives as well.  Their social benefit programs are expensive and are supported by high taxes. 

So, in what category do we place the Scandinavian model?

Better question: how do we depolarize?   

In describing Habit #1 -- “criticize from within” -- Blankenhorn quotes Lincoln’s first inaugural in which he calls upon us to “find the better angels of our nature”.  He suggests we start by finding some common ground. 

We might find common ground in the writing of Hunter Lewis, thusly: 

Politics, economics, morals, and manners all fit closely together. The kind of crony capitalist society in which we live encourages, indeed glorifies deceiving, cheating, taking advantage of the weak, putting yourself first. This kind of behavior always has and always will exist, but in past eras it has not often been extolled, as it is today, or covered up with a bare wink…”

Can we start there?


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