I watched Bill Moyers segment with Jonathan Haidt – a social psychologist – on the extreme positions that so many have these days both in our culture and it’s manifestations in politics.
The segment deals with what Jonathan Haidt refers as The Righteous Mind. That now more than in the past, both sides tend toward good vs evil and black and white thinking. And judging each other in this way.
JONATHAN HAIDT: Anytime we’re interacting with someone, we’re judging them, we’re sharing expectations, we think they didn’t live up to those expectations.
So, in analyzing any social situation you have to understand moral psychology. Our moral sense really evolved to bind groups together into teams that can cooperate in order to compete with other teams.
So, some situations will sort of ramp up that tribal us-versus-them mentality. Nothing gets us together like a foreign attack. And we’ve seen that, 9/11, and Pearl Harbor. And, conversely, when there are moral divisions within the group, and no external attack, the tribalism can ramp up, and reach really pathological proportions. And that’s where we are now.
They speak of how the civil rights acts push the south over to the republicans. And he and Moyers make some interesting points but I think they did not spend enough time on this main point.
JONATHAN HAIDT: So there are three major historical facts, or changes, that have gotten us into the mess that we’re in. So the first is the realignment of the South into the Republican column, which allowed both parties now to be pure. So that now there are basically no liberal Republicans matching up with conservative Democrats. So, the parties are totally separated. The second thing that happened was the replacement of the Greatest Generation by the Baby Boomers.
BILL MOYERS: The Greatest Generation fought World War II. Came home. Built the country, ran the economy. People’s politics, and, created this consensual government your talking–
JONATHAN HAIDT: Exactly. These are people who joined groups, had a sense of civic responsibility, participated in the democratic process. And so these people, as they moved through. I mean, they could disagree. Politics has always been contentious. But at the end of the day, they felt they were part of the same country, and in the Senate and the House, they were part of the same institution. They’re replaced by the Baby Boomers. And what’s their foundational experience?
It’s not responding together to a foreign threat. It’s fighting each other over whether this country is doing evil, or good. So you get the good/evil dichotomy about America, and about each other happening in the ’60s, and ’70s, when these people grow up, assume political office. Now, you got Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich. It’s a lot harder for them to agree than it was for Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan.
BILL MOYERS: So we get through the culture wars. Fights over abortion, prayer in schools. And that conflict becomes very polarizing.
JONATHAN HAIDT: Exactly.
BILL MOYERS: And that’s because of the Baby Boomers, and-
JONATHAN HAIDT: Well, the Baby Boomers, I think, are more prone to Manichean thinking.
BILL MOYERS: Manichean thinking. Good and evil.
I believe that this one issue has as much to do with our culture these days ans it’s politics as anything else. Maybe more so. The righteous ideology that has been appearing now bares a striking resemblance to the ideological riffs between the baby boomers and their parents and parents generation and even between the baby boomers themselves.
My father never got around to talking about his experiences during the depression and WWII. Most of what I learned has been from my mother. I do not believe there has been a generation since that has gone through the same kinds of situations as those who fought in WWII or even those who remained state side and worked in the industries that supported it. I don’t mean to imply better or worse, just vastly different. That those who were fighting in Europe and Africa and the Pacific, though they may have hated the enemy – a lot of them also gained great respect for them as well.
And more so for their comrades in arms. You may or may not know or even agree with his or her’s personal politics and social, religious and other beliefs – they were your comrades and you learned to respect them. This carried over after the war. It’s is very difficult to have extreme views of those whom one has fought, worked and seem killed. I believe that it was a mistake that this need to respect and need to be able to view those who you disagree with was not passed on the way it should have been. And more so as to the reasons we need to be able to to this. That more people who were involved with WWII should have expressed better what it was really like. Instead what we got was some Hollywood romanticized version that was at best counter productive.
It was believed that WWII was a righteous and just war and though there was anti-was sentiment at the time, it was small and mild.
This was not the case with Vietnam however. The anti-war sentiment among those of my generation – baby boomers was very strong. Although mostly remembered as being directed toward those of my parent’s generation who supported it, what is rarely reported these days is how strong it was within the baby boomers who apposed it toward those who supported it. I would say with out fear of contradiction, even stronger as they were seen as evil war mongers, killers and traitors to their generation. And this feeling went both ways, with the supporters viewing the protestors as equally vile.
And the Kent State shootings helped to cement this view on both sides. Along the same lines there was a large number who were also beginning to question our form of government and economic system as well. And were seen by those who unquestioningly supported it as being traitors and anti-American and worse. These feelings that each side had toward one another did not magically disappear after the war concluded and the troops came home. And having not been really dealt with, have been passed on and have festered.
So the seeds of disdain amongst certain sectors of the the baby boomer generation were already sowed on both sides.
And as Jonathon Haidt point out later on in this segment, our culture has been self segregating since after WWII.
JONATHAN HAIDT: The third is that America has gone from being a nation with localities that were diverse by class, in particular, let’s say. You had rich people, and poor people living together.
It’s become, in the post-war world, gradually a nation of lifestyle enclaves, where people chose to self-segregate. If people are concentrating just with people who are like them, then they’re not exposed to the ideas from the other side, from people that they can actually like and respect. If you get all your ideas about the other side from the internet, where there’s no human connection, it’s just so easy, and automatic to reject it, and demonize it. So once we’ve sorted ourselves into homogeneous moral communities, it becomes a lot harder to work together.
Thus making it easier to justify our views of each side. Especially when we already have a negative view of them. And to justify our own beliefs as well.
This kind of thinking – this demonization of each other – has lead in the past to some of the bloodiest conflicts in history. At least one of which has occurred here on this continent.