Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Us vs. Them

Happy post-Presidential election day! I hope you all kept your wits about you and didn’t descend into the throes of American partisanship. You’re too smart for that, yes? Yes.

My pick (courtesy of The Browser) for the most interesting (i.e. infuriating) post-election article comes from Jonathan Haidt at the New York Times.

Haidt’s article is one of many lamenting the hyperpartisan nature of American politics.  Few rifts are as animated as the one between the substantially similar Democrat and Republican parties. Even levelheaded Canadians from their lofty Northern perch go absolutely nuts over the party divide in the United States.

This enthusiasm is surely a feather in the cap of both parties. They work hard to whip up that superficial partisan spirit.

Alas, the fruit of this divisive cheerleading complicates matters post-election, when the country has to work together to get things accomplished.

Haidt asks: “How will our still divided government deal with our mounting threats and challenges?”

Haidt answers: “shared fear.”

He lists a few things we ought to be afraid of, if any of you are in a cooperative mood and wish to join him in his quaking: Rising entitlements, temperatures, inequality and births to unmarried women would all, in Haidt’s opinion, make worthy causes to recast as common enemies.

Never mind that the “us vs them” worldview bears no resemblance to reality. Never mind that the part of group psychology that searches for, and if need be, conjures up, enemies and allies on which to project the aggression of the many is nearly always destructive.

It appears that, in Haidt's view, the “us vs them” mentality is so pervasive that the only solution to the problems it inevitably causes is for a smart person (and uh, I believe this is Haidt volunteering) to sit America down and tell her who the real bad guys are.

It's assumed that experience and evidence, thought and debate, are beyond the reach of the average American. Therefore, what America needs to push beyond the partisan fray isn’t a little self-awareness, but another psychological defense against the blurred lines and uncertainty of reality.

Or, as Haidt says,

“Let’s unite with our cousins to fight the stranger!”

Really. He wrote that. It's like freaking Gustave Le Bon reincarnate.

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