Jonathan Haidt Explains Our Contentious Culture


The segment of a Moyers & Company episode, Jonathan Haidt Explains Our Contentious Culture, describes itself as follows:

Our country is more politically polarized than ever. Is it possible to agree to disagree and still move on to solve our massive problems?  Or are the blind leading the blind — over the cliff?

Bill and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt talk about the psychological underpinnings of our contentious culture, why we can’t trust our own opinions, and the demonizing of our adversaries.

“When it gets so that your opponents are not just people you disagree with, but… the mental state in which I am fighting for good, and you are fighting for evil, it’s very difficult to compromise,” Haidt tells Moyers. “Compromise becomes a dirty word.”

Here is the video:


Haidt makes a lot of sense and I like to believe I am self-aware enough to know about many of the issues he talks about. This is not to say that I agree with everything he said.

I have talked about confirmation bias in a number of articles on this blog. I do look for evidence that my ideas are wrong as well as evidence that they are right. I am also willing to admit that there are somethings we do not know and there are some things that have huge uncertainties. Any policy needs to try to accommodate the uncertainties.

There is a reason that I disagree with the consensus view in almost every group I am in. Although I believe strongly in progressive ideals, I know that they can be carried too far. I try to remind people that any policy is not merely an issue of yes or know. It is not a single bit binary decision. We must deal in real numbers where we have to estimate how much of any policy is right. We have to realize from the outset that any estimate we come up with may be in error by significant amounts.

I also liked what I thought was Obama’s management style that he touted in his campaign and in his books. Once a policy is decided on, its implementation must be measured. You have to know if the policy is working satisfactorily or not. If it isn’t, you have to know how much it is off and how much needs to be fixed. There is plenty of distance between saying the program is hopeless and must be stopped to the program is perfect and nothing needs to change.

I have the blog’s motto Extremism is the Enemy of Rationality™ at the top for a reason. By the way, somewhat contrary to what Haidt said, asking for rationality is only bad if you think the human mind is completely rational.

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