I believe that the greatest single reason for the political divide is general ignorance among people of all political persuasions about why we humans feel, think, say, and do the things we do in the moral and social realms. I believe it’s true that we tend to demonize that which we do not understand.
It is my suggestion, therefore, that we can work to ameliorate these problems by using our K-12 (and beyond) education system to reduce the ignorance.
Just imagine, in a John Lennon sort of way, if everyone understood the knowledge that current social science offers to us. Specifically…
I honestly believe there is no reason, none whatsoever, that we cannot turn this imaginary tale into reality. I believe this because every idea in it save one represents current knowledge about human nature, and that one is the imaginary part; the notion that “everyone understands” all of these things.
I also honestly believe that it will be very, VERY hard to make this tale come true. I believe it will face tremendous resistance from some circles. I believe it will take a long time, possibly generations, to achieve.
But stranger things have happened. So why not give it a shot? There’s nothing to lose, and much, MUCH to gain.
In the introduction of The Righteous Mind Dr. Haidt says:
People who devote their lives to studying something often come to believe that the object of their fascination is the key to understanding everything. Books have been published in recent years on the transformative role in human history played by cooking, mothering, war . . . even salt. This is one of those books.
I believe Dr. Haidt is more right than even he imagines. I believe he is offering us a Rosetta Stone with which we can better understand not only ourselves and our political adversaries, but current and past historical events as well. I believe that the phenomenon of the righteous mind Dr. Haidt describes in his book is an integral part of the history of mankind, and certainly of politics. For example, I believe that the liberal and conservative righteous minds provided the intellectual underpinnings of the French and American Revolutions, respectively, and more recently of the Occupy and Tea Party movements in America. The two outlooks are also reflected, I suggest, in the economic visions of Keynes and Hayek.
In fact, as I write this Haidt is currently in Asia doing research for his next book, and in the future will travel to other parts of the world to do the same. The working title of the book is Three Stories About Capitalism. You can see the video of a recent talk Haidt gave on the subject here, and you can read some things he’s already written about it inThree Stories About the Ethics of Capitalism, and in Three Stories About Capitalism.
So here’s how I imagine we can accomplish the daunting task of ameliorating the size and venom of the political divide.
This part of my tale applies the lessons of The Righteous Mind, in which the definition of morality is not offered until after all the necessary groundwork has been laid out in a way that prepares the reader to fully grasp its meaning:
There will always be liberalism and conservatism – the compulsion toward compassion and the compulsion toward the preservation of social capital – of that I have no doubt. But there’s no reason in the world that both of those compulsions cannot be equipped with a full and accurate grasp of fundamental human nature and an understanding of why it can be so difficult for humans of differing moralities to “all get along.”
I am confident that if our children understand how Moral Foundations influence the way people think in all walks of life and how they affect the way people relate with one another in the social world then future generations will have a deeper grasp of human nature and will thus be better equipped to get along, and leaders who emerge will make better decisions through an increased empathy for how our righteous minds really work.
One thing’s certain: We cannot possibly expect future generations to get along unless we “change the path” in a way that gives them a truer grasp of why getting along can be so hard to do.