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A wish for a new year, Village Square style…

A wish for 2013, from Dr. Jonathan Haidt’s must-read book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.

“When I was a teenager I wished for world peace, but now I yearn for a world in which competing ideologies are kept in balance, systems of accountability keep us all from getting away with too much, and fewer people believe that righteous ends justify violent means. Not a very romantic wish, but one that we might actually achieve.”

It’s what we’ll be working hard on this year at The Village Square and with our new project The Asteroids Club.

(Photo credit)



C.S. Lewis: “A hothouse of mutual admiration”

A hothouse of mutual admirationIn honor of the anniversary of C.S. Lewis’ birthday today: Remember in The Screwtape Letters , C.S. Lewis writes a fictitious letter by God’s enemy, a senior demon Screwtape, so references in the letter to “The Enemy” are references to God. References to “the patient” or “he” are to a man whose soul Screwtape is seeking. Read the entire clip of Letter #7 HERE.

“I had not forgotten my promise to consider whether we should make the patient an extreme patriot or an extreme pacifist. All extremes, except extreme devotion to the Enemy, are to be encouraged. Not always, of course, but at this period. Some ages are lukewarm and complacent, and then it is our business to soothe them yet faster asleep. Other ages, of which the present is one, are unbalanced and prone to faction, and it is our business to inflame them. Any small coterie, bound together by some interest which other men dislike or ignore, tends to develop inside itself a hothouse mutual admiration, and towards the outer world, a great deal of pride and hatred which is entertained without shame because the “Cause” is its sponsor and it is thought to be impersonal. Even when the little group exists originally for the Enemy’s own purposes, this remains true… Read all »



“… reckless is the new normal…”

Beth Kassab in yesterday’s Orlando Sentinel calling out intemperance in the Trayvon Martin case.

We need to be really careful to keep our balance and stay close to facts.
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Thanks to Florence for the heads up… where would we be without smart people who read what other smart people write?



Mark Goodkin of “Conversational Shift”: Why It’s a Bad Idea for Liberals or Conservatives to Monopolize Power

(Find Conversational Shift online HERE.) Liberals and conservatives would each like to control the three branches of the federal government, and if they could, state and local governments. However, such political domination would be unhealthy for the political process and our nation as a whole.

We know that it was a bad idea when kings ruled with absolute authority; it’s a bad idea for one company to monopolize an industry. So, why then, do so many people think that it is a good idea for their political persuasion to control the decision making process of this country? Read all »



Check out our friend Jon Haidt on today’s Morning Joe

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

(You should know that Dr. Haidt lists us as one of the projects applying moral psychology to heal the partisan divide – check that out HERE.) And whatever you do, read his book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion, which releases tomorrow.



New York Times: The Gulf of Morality

Thomas Edsall writes in Sunday’s New York Times about the wide differences in the moral views of liberals and conservatives and the worrisome tendency of each to assess the others’ morality as lacking.

Edsall points out that the focus on morality as the dividing line in political discourse, when everything is essentially a matter of good vs. evil, makes it pretty hard to manage pragmatic thinking on topics that require real world solutions:

“The intensification of disagreements over moral values not only makes compromise difficult to achieve, but sharpens competition for scarce goods at a time when austerity dominates the agenda. If, as is increasingly the case, left and right see their opposites as morally corrupt, the decision to cut the benefits or raise the taxes of the other side become easy – too easy — to justify.”

Edsall refers to the research of Dr. Jon Haidt of University of Virginia, who did a Skype interview last spring for our Polarization & Demonization dinner program featuring UVa’s Matt Motyl. If you haven’t before, Haidt’s work is important and worth a read. Also worth reading are the John Hawkins and George Lakoff pieces, on conservative and liberal morality respectively, linked at the top of the Edsall article that paint a pretty dim picture of our view of each other and portend much more trouble ahead.

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Photo credit: DonkeyHotey.
Thanks to Peter for sending the article



Eric Deggans is on to something

“Far as I’m concerned, our biggest shame right now, is people insisting on taking emotional, complex topics and reducing them to the length of a bumper sticker slogan, Twitter feed or six-graph blog post.” Eric Deggans, St. Petersburg Times

(Thanks to Florence for the heads up)



Making the world safe for propaganda

More from Farhad Manjoo in True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society:

“Investigating the rise of carelessness toward “reality” is, of course, the headlong purpose of this book. But I’ve been driving at a theory more pervasive than the peculiar psychology of one president, the transgressions of a single dominant political machine, or the aims of certain powerful players. The truth about truthiness, I’ve argued, is cognitive: when we strung up the planet in fiber-optic cable, when we dissolved the mainstream media into prickly niches, and when each of us began to create and transmit our own pictures and sounds, we eased the path through which propaganda infects our culture.”

(Photo credit: TJ Morton)



Mac vs. PC

Apparently, according to Farhad Manjoo in True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society, journalists live every day with the repercussions of the hostile media effect, where partisans view coverage through a lens that always sees it as unfair to their “side” and fail to notice aspects of the coverage that is favorable to their “side.”

It isn’t just politics that brings this out in us, it’s there with coverage of the world of Mac vs. PC. Alas, even operating systems have gone tribal. You’ve got the Apple devotees and then the people who just can’t stand the perceived snobbery of Apple devotees. David Pogue, who writes technology reviews for the New York Times, wrote a Vista review that brought out the worst in everyone.

According to Pogue: “The Mac people saw it as a rave review for Windows Vista and the Windows people saw it as a vicious slam on Windows.” Apparently Apple fans are consistently prickly about the slightest – well – slight. Over at the Wall Street Journal the technology reviewer Walt Mossberg even coined a term for this: “The Doctrine of Insufficient Adulation.” Read all »



Manjoo: Central vs. peripheral information processing

Doing a little Village Square-ish reading with True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society by Farhad Manjoo, who writes for Salon.

I’m intrigued by his distinction between 2 cognitive methods we use for forming our opinions: A central route – which undertakes a direct investigation of facts – and a peripheral one where you rely on the evaluation or even social cues of experts or people you trust. We tend to choose a peripheral route to save time or when the information is too complex for us to understand on our own. It’s when we use Consumer Reports. And we’re living in a world with increasingly complex information and increasing hyper-specialization. Read all »



Fareed Zakaria: Narrowcasting

THIS CNN VIDEO is well worth a watch. As much as we read up on political division, he mentions factors new to us. If you’re a Tea Party devotee, please watch past his initial premise as he develops it intelligently.



Serendipity, information cocoons and our very own facts

Evgeny Morozov has a smart book review of Eli Pariser’s The Filter Bubble in today’s NY Times Book Review.

Not a bad time to re-run Pariser’s TED talk:



Our broken conversation (as told through a week in the life of Newt Gingrich)

Welcome to today’s Purple Post (why not go on over and read it at Purple, John’s about to write about tomorrow’s rapture, which will probably not be boring):

This week’s brouhaha surrounding the newly-minted candidacy and ensuing political missteps of Newt Gingrich provides an opportunity to understand just how wacky our civic conversation has become. Here’s how the apparent crash and burn started:

DAVID GREGORY (Meet the Press): “…Do you think that Republicans ought to buck the public opposition and really move forward to completely change Medicare, turn it into a voucher program where you give seniors…”

GINGRICH: “I don’t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering. I don’t think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate… I think what you want to have is a system where people voluntarily migrate to better outcomes, better solutions, better options, not one where you suddenly impose upon the–I don’t want to–I’m against Obamacare, which is imposing radical change, and I would be against a conservative imposing radical change.”

Essentially Gingrich had just staked out a semi-populist/smidge libertarian middle position that appears now to be similar to that of the majority of the American people (who don’t quite like either Ryan’s or Obama’s).

The right’s reaction was predictably based on Gingrich’s lack of loyalty rather than a recognition that he was riding the cresting public opinion wave while the rest of the party was likely being cumulatively tugged under it. This was so predictable because we’ve gone tribal, Shia and Sunni style, where no one on one side is ever going to advisedly take an opinion (publicly) against their own “tribe”, never mind what they actually think. The condemnation was round and swift, ending the week in the traditional conservative perp walk to the Rush Limbaugh show where countless Republicans have found themselves after saying ridiculously obvious things such as… no, Limbaugh isn’t the head of the Republican party, he’s an entertainer (Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-KS and RNC Chair Michael Steele) or that Limbaugh throws bricks (uh, duh) (Rep. Phil Gingrey R-GA). Gingrich did the standard prescribed perp dance too, trying to say he didn’t say what he clearly said.

Of course none of this has ever been about reality, Gingrich just had to pay his tribal dues. Then again having paid them, it won’t make a bit of difference because in tribal politics like ours, he a goner. No “Sunni” would ever have supported him no matter how reasonable he became measured against their positions and he’s politically dead to the “Shia” now having disagreed with them on 1 (one) topic.

Indeed, over at America’s other political tribe, I heard precious little discussion of whether Gingrich had a point or possibly a bit of political courage, notably not by the people who ought to have thought he did. Ridiculing him has become sport, so why stop when he says something that presumably makes sense to them? Gingrich couldn’t buy a friend, even while representing a majority opinion in America. Instead most liberals didn’t seem able to resist taking general cheap shots. If you lean left and are resisting my point, think of the syndrome suffered by talk radio where no matter what position a Democratic leader takes and how close it is the position espoused by conservatives, the talk-radio crowd will tie themselves up in twisty illogical rhetorical knots to stake a position against him/her even if they have to argue against what they’re always arguing for. Hypocrisy is just so last season these days.

Liberals did that to Gingrich this week. It’s all because we lead now with our tribal anger.

Queue up Gingrich’s official spokesman’s statement, maybe the most bizarre I’ve ever heard, and you’ve got the three-ring circus at full-freakish tilt (you can also watch John Lithgow’s dramatic reading of the statement, starts about 3:30):

“The literati sent out their minions to do their bidding,” Tyler wrote. “Washington cannot tolerate threats from outsiders who might disrupt their comfortable world. The firefight started when the cowardly sensed weakness. They fired timidly at first, then the sheep not wanting to be dropped from the establishment’s cocktail party invite list unloaded their entire clip, firing without taking aim their distortions and falsehoods. Now they are left exposed by their bylines and handles. But surely they had killed him off. This is the way it always worked. A lesser person could not have survived the first few minutes of the onslaught. But out of the billowing smoke and dust of tweets and trivia emerged Gingrich, once again ready to lead those who won’t be intimated by the political elite and are ready to take on the challenges America faces.”

And so it goes.

Barely a peep this week in the way of an articulate conversation on health care and about whether Gingrich’s point had any merit at its heart. You see, we aren’t actually trying to solve any problems anymore. Keep this up and we’ll be getting exactly the public policy we deserve.

Ask the Shia or Sunni how well this has worked for them.

(Illustration credit: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t)