Indianapolis (August 20, 2012) — If you find yourself in a Whole Foods store, there’s an 89 percent chance that the county surrounding you voted for Barack Obama. If you want to find Republicans, go to a county that contains a Cracker Barrel. Our counties and towns are becoming increasingly segregated into “lifestyle enclaves,” in which ways of voting, eating, working and worshipping are increasingly aligned.
Are we polarized to the point of no return? In The Saturday Evening Post September cover feature “America’s Painful Divide,” Jonathan Haidt award-winning psychologist and author of The Righteous Mind investigates the reason behind the divide.
“The most important lesson I learned from writing The Righteous Mind is that each side, each team, sees some threats that face our nation, and is blind to the threats that the other side sees,” says Haidt. “It’s as though there are two meteorites headed for the earth—global warming and the exploding costs of entitlement spending—and each side is hopping mad about the other side’s inaction on the meteorite that it sees, and unwilling to take any action to stop the meteorite feared by the other side. This is the reason I’m a centrist: Both sides are right, and both sides are blind.”
In the Post feature, Haidt notes that America’s political class has become far more polarized since the early 1990s, but the problem is not just limited to politicians. Technology and changing residential patterns have allowed each of us to isolate ourselves within cocoons of like-minded individuals. In 1976, only 27 percent of Americans lived in “landslide counties”—counties that voted either Democratic or Republican by a margin of 20 percent or more. But the number has risen steadily; in 2008, 48 percent of Americans lived in a landslide county.
These “tribal moral communities,” as defined by Haidt, all think “the other side” is blind to truth, reason, science, and common sense, but in fact he notes all sides are blind when talking about what they hold sacred. Haidt proposes that if Americans really want to open their minds, they have to open their hearts first. Haidt suggests that this can be done by having at least one friendly interaction with a member of the “other” group: and then—just maybe—a controversial issue might be seen in a new light.
The complete feature appears in the September issue of The Saturday Evening Post and online at saturdayeveningpost.com on September 4, 2012. For more information or to schedule an interview, please contact Shawna Seldon, The Rosen Group, at 917-971-7852 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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