Common threats make common ground.
Find The Asteroids Club, a joint project of Dr. Jonathan Haidt and the Village Square, online here.
Okay, I don’t mean literal asteroids made of rock and metal. I mean problems from hell that polarize us and therefore paralyze us. If you’re on the left, you probably have extremely acute vision for the threats of global warming and rising inequality. In fact, I’ll bet you spotted those asteroids back in the 1990s, when it would have been so much easier to deflect them, and you’re mad as hell that conservatives are still deep in denial. I mean, just look at the graph! It shows the rising levels of carbon dioxide, the rising average global surface temperature, and the rising of the seas. It also shows the rising percentage of national income taken home by the richest 1%. What’s wrong with those conservatives? Why do they deny the facts? Do they want to destroy our planet and shred our social fabric?
On the other hand, if you’re on the right, you’ve probably been tracking our nation’s entitlement spending and the rise of non-marital births for a long time now – both also shown in the graph. You’ve been ringing alarms about those two asteroids since the 1970s, but liberals have treated you like Chicken Little, completely unconcerned. Caring is spending, they seem to believe. All forms of family are equally good for kids, they assert in spite of the evidence. What’s wrong with those liberals? Are they trying to drive us into bankruptcy and shred our social fabric?
Well, I’m here to tell you that the other side is indeed blind but it’s not as hateful as you think. This is just what partisanship does to us. Morality binds and blinds. It binds us into teams, and in the process it improves our vision for what our team wants to see, while making it harder for us to accept or even see evidence that would disrupt our moral consensus.
On the whole that’s a pretty good deal for our species. I never cease to be amazed at how cooperative we humans are. No other species in the solar system can work together in gigantic teams to solve problems and fend off threats, unless they are close kin. The ants, bees, and termites are pretty impressive, but they’re all siblings – children of a single queen. Their self-interest is the group’s interest. But for us? It’s a miracle that we can lay aside naked self-interest, at times, and become good team players. It’s astonishing that we can form groups at the drop of a hat, and make the group’s project our own project. One of the most powerful tools in our psychological arsenal is our ability to treat certain objects, people, or ideas as sacred. It can be a rock, a tree, an ancestor, the Bible, the Flag, or the ideals of liberty, equality, or free markets. We circle around our sacred objects, and whoever circles with us, we trust. Sharing sacred objects is one of the keys to the magic trick of E Pluribus Unum: from many, one. That’s what binds a nation together, particularly one as ethnically diverse as ours. But within each nation, partisan sacred values bind political parties together, in ways that can divide a nation.
What can we do about this sorry state of affairs? How can we free ourselves and our leaders from hyper-partisanship, and return to plain old partisanship? By joining the Asteroids Club! It’s a club for all Americans who are willing to grant that the other side sees some real threats more acutely than their own side does. It’s a concept developed with the Tallahassee’s Village Square, which is hosting a series of Dinner at the Square programs this year with the Asteroids Club theme.
Asteroids Clubs would never hold debates. People use reasoning to find evidence to bolster their existing beliefs, so debates can often increase polarization. Rather, a local Asteroids Club would hold telescope parties in which members help each other to see approaching asteroids – one from each side — that they hadn’t really noticed before. Telescope parties would harness the awesome power of reciprocity. If we acknowledge your asteroid, will you acknowledge ours?
So come on, people! Dozens of asteroids are closer to impact than they were yesterday. Don’t wait for Washington to fix itself. Let’s just start working together, and if we can do it, it will be easier for Washington to follow our example. The alternative is for us to follow theirs.
Jon bio info/ Find the Asteroids Club online at www.asteroidsclub.org
The Village Square hosts “Join the gang at FEARS: Where not everybody shares your pain” on Tuesday, January 14th from 5:30 to 7:30 pm. Scholarship tickets are available through Friday, January 10. For more information go online to www.tothevillagesquare.org, call 590-6646 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.