The World Is Grey

We live in a world today that is, as they say, “polarized”. People have joined one of a small number of ideological bandwagons which are always heading the opposite direction of many of their peers. This has been reflected in major election results quite obviously lately where the result of a contest was won or lost by a razor thin margin. These include: Brexit, the US Presidential Election of 2016, this latest referendum in Turkey, and others. It isn’t just these recent close elections that show this outcome, political observers will be keenly aware that the US Congress has for many years been paralyzed by an ideological stalemate.

The reasons for this polarization have been debated at length in many other places so instead of looking at the causes of the polarization let’s examine its effects. The effects are now all around us, people throughout the world have hole up in their ideological bunkers and productive conversation has all but ceased. Every political debate has become an exercise in participants slinging talking points over the heads of their opponents in hopes that they land squarely with their supporters. Perhaps this is not new, but with the complexities and a few pressing realities of today’s world we need to have a civic discourse that is able to produce more than just hot air, protests, and executive orders.

Here in the United States of America, our public conversation needs to describe our national grand strategy. On the foreign policy front we need to decide which problems can be defused with soft power and which situations demand hard power actions. Also, on the domestic front people are awakening to fact that the maxim of capitalism having winners and losers might actually be true, giving many people the keen sense they’re not winning!

Sounds dire but what’s the solution? Turns out that by starting with social science we can begin to see why many of the world’s problems are not likely to see much progress any time soon, unless the political leaders involved literally change their attitude. They must be prodded to do so by improving the quality of civic dialog around them.

The world is still grey.

Humans are predisposed to binary thinking. However, reality rarely lines up in such simple ways. Tribalism, racial, and gender biases are part of the human experience that we have inherited through our evolution. At one time these impulses were beneficial to our survival, now they are embarrassing relics in the post-modern world. There are a few more psychological phenomenon that play staring roles in today’s political dynamics which keep bad situations in stasis until somebody tries a different approach.

Debate without mutual respect. It just doesn’t work. People will never be convinced of anything when people talk past them. This is now what happens in both the US Congress and on every cable news network. The news may be real but the debate is certainly fake. The silent majority has never been so quiet.

The beatings will continue until morale improves. This shows up in cases where one side is much more powerful than the other but the weaker side refuses to back down. In most of these situations there’s a reason why one side can’t just obliterate the other, weaker, side so instead huge populations of people are held in limbo. Needless to say, it’s not in our human nature to back down under direct pressure. When pressed into a corner, people, like animals, tend to fight. We should perhaps recognize that when our goals are “improving peace and stability”.

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