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Understanding and Respect

Monday plus Tuesday:  Students in my high school learned valuable “lessons for life” from one of our favorite teachers.  In a society-and-government class, he explained ideas clearly in lectures, and we also debated the pros & cons for different positions on a wide range of issues.  He participated, was a skilled debater, and Monday he would argue persuasively for one position.  But the next day (or later in the same class) he would criticize this position, and present strong arguments for the other position(s).

Understanding and Respect:  After awhile, after hearing the strongly presented pros & cons for different positions on many issues in Monday-plus-Tuesday debates, we learned that if we want accurate understanding we should get the best information and arguments that all position-views can claim as support.  When we did this, so we understood more accurately and thoroughly, we usually recognized that even when we have valid reasons for preferring one view, people with other views also may have good reasons, both logical and ethical, for their choices, and this helped us develop respectful attitudes.

 


 

Postmodern Relativism:  An understanding-based respect does not require agreement.  You can respect someone and their views, yet criticize their views, which you have logically evaluated based on evidence (asking “what evidence-and-logic supports each view?”) and values.  The intention of our teacher, and the conclusions of his students (certainly for me, and probably for others), was not a postmodern relativism.*  The goal was a rational evaluation of ideas during our search for truth, and for practical reality-based principles that can be used as a solid foundation (along with good values) for designing better life-strategies, for wise-and-effective thinking and actions, as individuals & societies.

* In school and outside, we should aim for a logically appropriate humility with confidence that is not too little, not too much.     {postmodernists began with useful questions – asking “what kinds of evidence are you trying to find?” and “how are you evaluating this evidence?” – that they pushed to foolish extremes, so we now see the rationality-and-idiocy of postmodern relativism}

 


Part 1 (optimistic) and Part 2 (pessimistic)

Part 1 – Optimism:  Originally, all I wrote about about "Understanding and Respect" was the first two paragraphs above.  Then I added "Postmodern Relativism" to clarify the goals of my teacher, and the results of his teaching.  For decades I've been optimistic, thinking “it would be wonderful if more people could have this kind of experience.”

Part 2 – Pessimism:  I always knew this kind of education would face tough challenges, that it would be difficult to do effectively, maybe difficult to do at all.  Then during 2020 I observed the continuing increase of political polarization that often leads to inaccurate understandings & disrespectful attitudes, so I began learning more about how “motivated reasoning” psychology leads to over-confidence by individuals and groups.  This learning-about-people has led me to become more pessimistic — for reasons described in the rest of this page — about the prospects for Monday-and-Tuesday teaching (in classrooms) and (in society) improving our mutual understanding & respecting.

The rest of this page is a “big picture” overview of the main ideas in Part 1 (above) and Part 2 (full-length in a separate page).     {and a web-resource page lets you see ideas from others, along with a few comments by me.}

also,  {logical reasoning in everyday life}  {empathy with kindness will improve understanding and respect


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An Overview

Understanding and Respect:  If we want accurate understanding we should get the best information & arguments that all position-views can claim as support.  And we can recognize that even when we have valid reasons for preferring one view, people with other views also may have good reasons, both logical and ethical, for their choices, so we should have respectful attitudes.   {more in Part 1}

 

Postmodern Relativism:  An understanding-based respect does not require agreement.  You can respect someone and their views, yet criticize their views, which you have logically evaluated based on evidence (asking “what evidence-and-logic supports each view?”) and values.  A worthy educational goal is a search for truth, and for practical reality-based principles that can be used as a solid foundation (along with good values) for designing better life-strategies, for wise-and-effective thinking, decisions, and actions, as individuals & societies.  Improved understanding should promote an appropriate humility, with a logically-justifiable appropriate confidence that is not too little, not too much.   {postmodernists began with useful questions, but they pushed their claims to foolish extremes, so we now see the idiocy of extreme postmodern relativism}   {more in Part 1}

 


 

Hostile Polarization:  Currently a common tendency is hostile polarization, with some people (especially when they're in groups) promoting disrespectful attitudes toward people who disagree with their positions.  This tendency is affected by many factors, including principles and pressures.

Important Principles:  When an issue-position is considered extremely important, it's more difficult to think an opposing view can be supported by "good reasons, both logical and ethical."  In this context, an opponent may be viewed as an enemy who must be defeated in “us versus them” warfare.  But even though it's almost always wise to avoid "warfare" we shouldn't try to buy peace at the high cost of abandoning important principles.

Interpersonal Pressures:  To reduce disrespectful attitudes, accurate understanding is useful but isn't sufficient, because other factors also influence our thoughts & emotions, attitudes & actions.  Sometimes tribal attitudes develop when members of a group convince themselves that “we are smart, they are stupid” and “we are good, they are bad” so “they are a threat, are the enemy.”  This kind of thinking, with not enough understanding and too much overconfidence, can lead to un-critical groupthink and un-productive words & actions, online or in person.  Interpersonal social pressures occur when a person wants to be respected in a group that rewards a disrespectful attitude toward those who — due to their “stupid and bad” views on issues that are important for the group's insiders — are defined as outsiders.  Maybe disrespect can be reduced, IF more people encourage their groups to socially reward those (both inside & outside the group) who try to promote peace by communicating more enjoyably and productively when there are disagreements.

{more by me & others}

 


 

I.O.U. – Later, I'll rearrange the page by moving the two "negative" sections below (about "a rational personal strategy" and "unkind shaming actions") to later in the page.  {these two sections are now in a gray box to show that I don't want them here, instead they'll be moved}   Why?  Because after describing some reasons for pessimism (our hostile polarization) above, I want to begin with optimism – with the short paragraph about “being a judge, not a lawyer” (re: thinking & behaving) plus the whole section about "Empathy with Kindness" plus "enjoyable and productive."

 

Lawyers and Judges:  One way to improve our mutual understanding & respect is by trying to think-and-behave like a judge, not a lawyer.  Why?  First, opposing lawyers each argue for their view with biased non-neutral rhetoric;  then a judge tries to determine what is true about reality, tries to be fair when evaluating views and deciding which view is more accurate (in what ways) and/or is more useful (in what ways), tries to do neutral judging, to avoid biased judging that is motivated by wanting to achieve personal benefits.  A wise judge wants their evaluating-and-deciding to be neutral, not affected by personally-motivated biased reasoning. [[that is motivated by wanting "inappropriate over-confidence," and then produces "inappropriate over-confidence"]]  Our society would have less polarization and disrespect if more people decided to be more judge-like (less lawyer-like) in their feeling & thinking & behaving.   [ i.o.u. - Later, I'll continue revising this paragraph to make it fit better here;  it needs better transition-connections because it was moved to here from later in the page where it originally was written-to-fit. ]

 

a rational personal strategy:  When a teacher tries to accurately describe different views, and the best arguments for each view, some people will think the descriptions are non-accurate, and the teacher is being non-neutral.  This is due to both perception (because many people think a treatment-of-views is neutral only if it's biased in the way they want) and reality (because it's impossible for a teacher to describe views in a way that is totally neutral).  But teachers can try to be fair by aiming for accurate descriptions, treating different perspectives with respect, and providing access to high-quality resources where skillful advocates for different views explain the evidence-and-logic supporting their own view, and criticize other views.  Despite a teacher's best efforts, however, some students (and parents & others who feel strongly about an issue) may want to make life unpleasant for the teacher.  Because of this, teachers have a personally-rational reason to avoid controversy, and therefore to avoid a Monday-plus-Tuesday kind of “thinking skills” activity.     {more by me including our teacher's main rule, “don't be a nut” who will cause trouble}

 

Unkind “Shaming Actions” don't improve Understanding & Respect

People, individually and in groups, sometimes "want to make life unpleasant" for teachers and also for others.

Here are my oversimplified descriptions of some common terms & relationships (re: different ways to make life unpleasant for others) based on my limited understandings, shared with justifiable humility:  A person who is woke is aware of social injustices.  In groups, this awareness can lead to call-out culture that publicly calls attention to a person's actions (including their words, written or spoken, recently or in the distant past) that are considered to be unacceptable.  This attention-focusing can be beneficial (by encouraging personal accountability and increasing awareness in useful ways) or detrimental;  in extreme cases, call-out culture becomes cancel culture that not only publicly shames a person, but also tries to cancel their influence by ruining their professional life (and usually their personal life) with aggressively retributive “canceling demands” that punish them, to serve as a warning for others, with the shaming done in ways that typically just harm the person who is being “canceled” instead of benefiting them by helping them improve.   /   Or instead of aiming for social justice, in similar ways a person can be publicly shamed for personal reasons, with cyberbullying by a group in social media, using tactical actions that are newer but are similar to the older in-person bullying by an individual or group;  but with online shaming, a human tendency toward hurtful thoughts-and-actions can be amplified by online anonymity (if a bully wants it) and by the social dynamics of an over-confident group.      {more by others}

Although politically-oriented “shaming actions” are more often done by people on the left end of the political spectrum, they're also done by those on the right.

Typically these actions are disrespectful and unkind, are deficient in empathy-based understanding and compassion.  By contrast,... [iou - this “transition” will be fixed, because it won't be useful after this section has been moved from here to its new location later in the page.]

 

Empathy with Kindness improves Understanding and Respect

How?  It's easier to treat another person respectfully when with empathy you understand their thinking & feeling, and with kindness you want to help make life better for them.  In a mutually supportive relationship, empathy-with-kindness can improve understanding & respect, and be improved by it, with each helping produce the other.

Empathy plus Kindness:  Thinking with empathy is beneficial for others when it's combined with kindness-and-caring in feeling & thinking & actions, when an attitude of caring for others (in feeling & thinking) leads to caring for others (in actions).  When your actions are motivated by kindness, by genuinely caring for other people, this will reduce the weaponized use of empathetic thinking as a tool to hurt another person — when empathy helps you understand how to help them or hurt them, and (without kindness) you want to hurt them — which can occur when empathy (a useful skill) is not accompanied by kindness (an essential aspect of good character).  More people will have better lives when more of us are more often motivated by kindness, with goals of trying to “make things better” for other people, wanting to affect their lives in ways that are beneficial for them;  and when our empathy-based compassion is more often actualized with kindness in our actions, including our words.  Each of us can want our actions to produce win-win outcomes, and can recognize (as in my favorite movie, It's a Wonderful Life) that each of us affects many other people, and our own life is better when we affect others in ways that make their lives better.

Wanting Win-Win for More People:  In many common life-situations, two understandings (external for others, and internal for self) are combined when you ask – while you're defining your goals – “what do they want?” (using empathy to understand others) and (using self-empathy to understand yourself) “what do I want?” and (if you choose to define your goal as an optimal win-win result) “what do we want?” and “how can we get it?”   /   In addition to deciding whether you want win-win (instead of win-lose or lose-win, or even lose-lose), you also make choices when you define the scope of your win-win goals.  How broadly do you define "they" when you're trying to achieve win-win results that will be good for you and for them?  Unfortunately, the scope of win-win goals becomes more narrow when one strategy for developing strong relationships among insiders (within a team) — by promoting hostile “us against them” attitudes toward outsiders (not in the team) — converts positive teamwork into negative tribalism.*  One way to reduce our tendencies toward negative tribalism (when loyalty to insiders leads to hostile attitudes-and-actions toward outsiders) is to increase our understanding and respect.     {* negative tribalism occurs when strong loyalties produce some negative effects, in addition to the positive effects of loyalty.}   {one polarizing influence is the “package deals” of American political parties}

Empathy in Education:  In my page about empathy in education & life a paragraph for empathy in teamwork — which is useful because "when you're co-designing as part of a group, you'll want to develop empathy for the other solution-designers in your team, to make your process of cooperative problem-solving more enjoyable and productive" — leads into a section about empathy in relationships that begins with educational goals:  "our most important problems (our opportunities to make things better) usually involve people, so improving relationships is a worthy goal.  When we're designing whole-person education to help students improve personally useful ideas & skills in their whole lives as whole people, our goals should include the important life-skill of building better relationships, with empathy & kindness and in other ways.  An effective general strategy — for educating students (and teachers & everyone else)* in all of the multiple intelligences, including social-emotional intelligences (empathy & self-empathy, and much more) — is to develop & consistently use a growth mindset" by thinking (re: an ability they want to improve) “not yet” instead of “not ever.”   /   * developing-and-using a growth mindset is useful for "everyone" because education (as broadly defined in the home-page for my website about Education for Problem Solving) is the lifelong “learning from experience” that everyone does.}

clever and kind:  In a wise insight, Abraham Heschel said "when I was young, I admired clever people;  now that I am old, I admire kind people."  With whole-person education we can help students, while they are still young, appreciate the value of being truly clever (with skills in creative-and-critical productive thinking that helps make things better) and also kind.     {more by others}

{more - If you want to learn more about these ideas (that are not discussed later in this page) you can read my page about empathy in education and in life.}

 

i'm not arguing, just explaining why i'm rightenjoyable and productive:  Because respect does not require agreement, for important issues we should not be timid or mentally lazy by accepting a postmodernist assertion that “you should not claim your position is better, you should claim only that you prefer it.”  Instead we should feel free to explain our views and defend our views.*  We should try to search for knowledge that is true & useful, and for actions that will help make life better for more people.  It should be socially acceptable to disagree with others, to explain – using evidence-and-logic plus values – why we think our views are better.  But we can help make the process of disagreeing about some things (although agreeing about most things in life) more enjoyable and productive.  While we're trying to achieve this worthy goal, a key principle is listening for the purpose of understanding because – as in Habit 5 of The 7 Habits... – we should "seek first to understand, then to be understood."

* Although this t-shirt is intended to be humorous, I agree with its message IF it's claiming "I'm just explaining why [I'm appropriately confident that] I am right," as described below.

 


 

appropriate confidence:  Improved understanding should promote an appropriate humility, with a logically-justifiable appropriate confidence that is not too little, not too much.

inappropriate over-confidence:  We often see people being over-confident about the logical justification for their own personal views, and the views of their in-groups.  Why does this happen?  and how?

 

over-confidence by groups:

When a group develops strong relationships among insiders (within a team) by promoting hostile “us against them” attitudes toward outsiders (not in the team), they can convert positive teamwork into negative tribalism.  When this happens, group dynamics can affect the reasoning of its members, amplifying their tendencies to become individually overconfident, as described below.  The social dynamics of a group also can affect the actions of its members when interpersonal pressures overcome its members' empathy & kindness and intensify their disrespectful attitudes;  if there isn't effective filtering, these attitudes can lead to disrespectful actions.  Unfortunately, in some ways, in some situations, people behave differently (and less wisely) in a group than when they're alone.  In many ways the typical sociological effects of a group is to increase (to amplify, intensify, magnify) the psychological tendencies of its members, so most of this section is about the thinking-and-feeling of individuals.     {e.g. one way for a magnifying of individual psychology to occur is with unkind public shaming}   {more by me & others}

 

over-confidence by individuals:

Why are so many so confident?  A major cause is the motivated reasoning that happens because people (individually and in groups) have mixed motivations, combining logic and emotion in their thinking-and-feeling;  logically we want to have accurate understanding;  and emotionally we want to have a positive self-image so we can feel good about ourselves (as individuals)* and (as individuals in groups) we want to get respect from others and have supportive allies, and (as individuals & as groups) we want to win arguments and have a positive group-image.

* self-image is improved when a person reduces the unpleasant cognitive dissonance (i.e. dissonance of thinking) that occurs when they recognize an inconsistency between their beliefs, or between their beliefs & actions.  They want to judge their system-of-beliefs {and their actions} as being internally consistent, and also having quality because it's better than other beliefs {and actions} they could choose. 

How?  When a person is motivated (e.g. by wanting to reduce their cognitive dissonance), they can use motivated reasoning to increase their self-confidence in their beliefs & their decisions-and-actions, or to achieve other personal goals.  A person's mixed motives — logically wanting to have accurate understanding, and emotionally wanting to improve their self-image, get respect, have allies, win arguments — can motivate them to change their uses of evidence-and-logic.  They can feel more confident that their own views are correct (and opposing views are incorrect) when they...   use confirmation bias by seeking-and-accepting evidence that confirms (supports) their own view, but ignoring-or-rejecting evidence that disconfirms their view or confirms opposing views;*   use gentle criticism for their own view, when logically evaluating its pros-and-cons, but use harsh criticism for other views;   shift the evaluative “burden of proof” so it favors their own view by asking “can I believe this?” for the view they want to accept, and “must I believe this?” for a view they want to reject;   use other ways-of-reasoning (e.g. by ignoring relevant complexities) to persuade themself that their view is correct, is the best view.  And if necessary they can rationalize by thinking “my thoughts {and actions} are acceptable because      ” and filling the blank with self-protective rationalizations.

* re: confirmation bias, learning Monday-plus-Tuesday taught us that "IF we WANT accurate understanding, we should get the best information and arguments that all position-views can claim as support."  But this "if" doesn't describe the way we often think, when instead we WANT to see only evidence that supports our own views (even if this isn't an accurate understanding of reality) so we say “I don't want to hear about Tuesday.”  By contrast, a person who wants accurate understanding is willing to learn more about the pros & cons of differing views, and to change their views when it seems wise — if they find justifiable evidence-based reasons for a change — because they see the change as wisdom rather than weakness.

motivated reasoning occurs when people (quoting Wikipedia) "use emotionally-biased reasoning to produce justifications or make decisions that are most desired rather than those that accurately reflect the evidence, while still [even though their motivated justifications don't "accurately reflect the evidence"] reducing cognitive dissonance.  In other words, motivated reasoning is the tendency to find arguments in favor of conclusions we want to believe to be stronger than arguments for conclusions we do not want to believe."     {more by me & others}

Although a person's motivated reasoning can lead to a changing of views {or actions} in ways that help them achieve personal goals (e.g. by improving their perception of internal consistency, to reduce their cognitive dissonance), instead this reasoning usually leads to increasing confidence in their existing views {and actions}.

When a person becomes overconfident about their own views, they may treat their opponents (i.e. people with other views) in harmfully disrespectful ways, and justify their own behavior by thinking “my opponents are stupid-and-bad so they deserve the harmful treatment they're getting from me.”  This kind of behavior (and rationalizing) is encouraged by polarizing groups when the person's desire to be a contributing member of the group — and be respected by people in the group — motivates them to become active in “the battle of us-against-them,” and this desire overcomes their empathy & kindness.

 

analogy – soldier vs scout:  Different goals for thinking lead to different ways of thinking.  When you're behaving like a soldier, your goal is to be an effective fighter;  for achieving this goal, it's useful to think over-simplistically, to view yourself as a correct-thinking “good guy” and your opponent as a wrong-thinking “bad guy” who deserves to be the enemy you hate, and fight;  you don't want to acknowledge that "people with other views also may have good reasons, both logical and ethical, for their choices."  But when you're behaving like a scout, your goal is to find truth, to accurately know the actual situation (re: numbers & locations of soldiers, their equipment, the terrain,...) so you want accurate observations-of-reality that will be a solid foundation for an effective planning of battle strategies.   /   Of course, nobody is purely soldier or purely scout.  Each of us combines some of both, with their relative strength depending on what's happening in our life-context, and how we're responding.  Each of us has mixed motives;  we want to have accurate understanding, but we also want to win arguments (internally within ourselves & externally with others) and have supportive allies.  When our main goals are wins & allies, a common strategy is to get knowledge as a scout (to improve understanding) and then use knowledge as a soldier (to win arguments & gain allies);  unfortunately, when this happens and understanding is weaponized, often the result is increasing polarization & disrespect, instead of increasing mutual respect.     {more by me & others}

analogy – lawyer vs judge:  Another useful metaphor-pair (similar in some ways to soldier & scout) is lawyer & judge.  Opposing lawyers each argue for their view with biased non-neutral rhetoric (analogous to soldiering, trying to win) and then (as in scouting, trying to find truths about reality) a judge tries to be fair when determining which view is more accurate (in what ways) and/or is more useful (in what ways), tries to do neutral judging, tries to avoid biased judging that is motivated by wanting to achieve personal benefits for themself;  they want their evaluating-and-deciding to be neutral, not affected by motivated reasoning.  Our society would have less polarization and disrespect if more people decided to be more judge-like (less lawyer-like) in their feeling & thinking & behaving.

 

complexity and confidence:  Most important issues are complex.  First, there is complexity in using cause-effect reasoning to make predictions about issues with multiple complex causes (with a variety of causal input-factors) and multiple complex outcomes (with outcome-effects that affect a variety of people in different ways).  Second, there is complexity in defining “the greatest good” even if we agree to aim for “the greatest good for the greatest number” as our general goal, because we must compare different kinds of “good outcomes” and “bad outcomes” along with the number of people who are affected by each outcome, so we can decide how to weigh the importance of each outcome;  and each person's weighting will depend on their worldview-based values & priorities, and will depend on their life-experiences & life-situation.  {e.g. try to imagine how your evaluations would be affected if you didn't know “who you are” regarding your intelligence, looks, race, health, wealth, status, location,... so, due to your imagining, your actual current knowledge of “who you are” has less influence on your evaluative weighting of different outcome-factors.}    /    But many people aren't skilled in “coping with complexity” and they don't enjoy trying to cope with it, especially when the real complexity challenges the oversimplistic reasoning they have been using to defend their own views, so it decreases their over-confidence in their views, and the policies they advocate.

 


 

Business using Our Motivated Reasoning

Many companies develop business strategies that take advantage of our motivated reasoning, especially our confirmation bias.  For example,

• cable news channels (beginning with CNN in 1980, followed by MSNBC & Fox News in 1996, and then others)* specialize in attracting viewers from the left or the right by helping to satisfy their confirmation bias, by “telling them what they want to hear,” no more and no less.     {* other sources of news (e.g. Twitter) also can appeal to confirmation bias.}

search engines are (I think)* designed to “give people what they're looking for” to make them happier with the search engine, due to their confirmation bias.  Why?  Because if a person is unhappy with the pages recommended by the search-results of a company, that person (and maybe their groups if they share their disappointment with allies) may decide to use the search engine of a competitor.   {the biasing influence of search engines is probably weaker than for news channels & social media}  {of course, in addition to its business strategy a company can also add biasing for other reasons.}  {* it's just "I think" because these claims are disputed, and I haven't yet researched (using experience that's second-hand or first-hand) the claims, or the relative biasing in searches by Google & Yahoo & Bing versus DuckDuckGo}

• social media (like Facebook) is designed to help you “hang out” with people who share your views, thus appealing to your confirmation bias, and your tribal desires for finding allies who support your views, and developing personal relationships that support your self-image.

These business strategies, especially news media & social media, can influence us to spend much of our time in echo chambers with "an environment where a person only encounters information or opinions that reflect and reinforce their own." {wikipedia}

 

Politicians using Our Motivated Reasoning

In the United States, a major factor that tends to increase motivated reasoning and hostile polarization is...

Political Package Deals:  Our electoral system requires (for practical purposes) a two-party system {why?} and each major party offers a “package deal” with many parts, with policies (for decisions-and-actions) on a wide variety of important societal issues.  If a person wants to become involved in politics and have a practical effect, they must compare the two package deals and choose whether to vote mainly for candidates from one party or the other, and argue for (and maybe work for) one party or the other.  In the discussion below, I'll call the two parties “X” and “Y”.

Motivations to Be Personally Consistent:  When a person chooses a political party, they will be motivated to prefer EVERYTHING in the package deal of that party.  Why?  IF they choose Party X but instead of "everything" they think some policies of Party Y are better, they would recognize an inconsistency between their actions (choosing X) and their beliefs (disagreeing with some policies of X), and this recognition of personal inconsistency would produce unpleasant cognitive dissonance within them, damaging their self-image.  Often, when a person says “I prefer ALL policies of X” they are tricking themselves by thinking “I am not making a mistake, because my actions (choosing X) and beliefs (preferring all policies of X) are consistent & are correct,” even though with neutral reasoning (like an unbiased judge) they would prefer many parts of the X-Package and some parts of the Y-Package.   /   For example, if a person chooses Party X based mainly on issues A & B, for personal consistency they will be psychologically motivated to agree with X-Positions on all issues, not just on A & B, but also on other parts of the X-Package, on C & D & E & F & G.  They will tend to oversimplify, to ignore important distinctions (between the logical support for A, B, C, D, E, F, G), to be more confident (and feel more strongly) about all party views, not just A-B but also C-D-E-F-G.    {but here is a counter-argument: Even with unbiased judging, a person's worldview-beliefs and their core values (about some things-in-life being more important than other things) can produce “clusters of preferred positions” that logically go together;  e.g. if they like A & B, they also logically (with unbiased reasoning) probably will like C & E & F, so there can be logical reasons to strongly support MORE views of one party, even if not ALL of the views.}     /     These motivations to be personally consistent are combined with...

Motivations to Be Socially Consistent:  When a desire for personal consistency (thinking “I support Party X, so I should approve all positions of X”) combines with a desire for social consistency (thinking “I'm a member of X, so I should be loyal to my allies,” so I want my views to be consistent with their views), this mutually supportive combination will increase the tendencies of individuals, and their groups, to be more confident and feel more strongly.  Some results of this are beneficial for the individuals and their groups.  But some results are detrimental — when the two-way support between these levels – personal and social, with each level supporting the other – produces polarizing pressures (personal plus social) that are not balanced by empathy & kindness — by producing an increase of hostile polarizings, misunderstandings, and disrespectings.

Ideological Purity in Political Parties:  Beginning in the mid-1960s, there has been increasing polarization between the two political parties.  For reasons that are emotional and practical, politicians want to maintain & strengthen their party allegiances.  They don't want to fight with their allies, they want to be a loyal party member who is appreciated & respected by their allies, and is given power.  Therefore, politicians tend to not disagree with “the party line” because this is psychologically uncomfortable and sociologially unproductive, because if they “go against the group” they usually will lose more than they gain, personally and politically.  Instead they tend to behave in ways that will increase their loyalty-bonds within their party.  Typically, any dissent from “the party's package deal” is too costly, so dissent is reduced.  Within each party there is a range of views, but this range is narrowed by pressures to conform (to make all party-politicians agree with all party-positions, and vote as a unified block), with desires for group-unity producing group-uniformity in thinking about the package deals of each party's positions.  Thus, in the past few decades we've seen variability within each party decreasing, and overlapping-of-views between the parties decreasing, so polarization has been increasing.

 

Our System – Primary Elections:  In most states the system for primary elections favors the choosing of non-centrist candidates who are more left-wing extreme or right-wing extreme.  Or it forces candidates — if they want to win the primary election(s) so they can be in the general election — to move further from the center toward a left-extreme or right-extreme.

Our System – General Elections:  Our electoral system requires a two-party system because a candidate can win, and be elected, even if they get less than 50% of the vote;  e.g. the presidential winners in 1968, 1992, 2000, 2016 had percents of 43, 43, 48, 46.  The result is to convert votes for a 3rd party candidate into “wasted votes” that have no direct practical effect, re: who wins the election.  People don't want to “waste their vote” on a candidate from a minor party, so they usually vote only for candidates of a major party.  And almost always a major-party candidate wins, so if a politician wants to win they will join a major party.  The overall result is to eliminate minor parties (3rd, 4th,...) or at least reduce their political influence, to "require (for practical purposes) a two-party system."    /    Also, a 3rd party may decide (and I think this is wise) that it won't offer a candidate in a close election because their 3rd party will hurt the major party it's closest to.  In fact, this happened in the presidential election of 2000 when the Green Party got 1.64% of votes in Florida (from people who otherwise would have voted more for Al Gore than for George Bush who won Florida by only 0.01%) which caused Gore to lose the state, and thus — due to our strange system of an Electoral College in which most states choose “winner takes all” — the nation.    /    more – why revisions of our electoral system would produce many positive effects (and some negative effects), but these revisons won't happen.

 


 

Education to encourage Understanding and Respect

Teachers can encourage accurate understanding and respectful attitudes by designing argumentation activities that help students accurately understand the main views (for an issue) — by accurately describing each view, and the best arguments that can be used to defend it.  When this kind of activity is done well, students can improve their thinking skills, in their logical evaluating of arguments & counter-arguments, in their planning of persuasion strategies and their communication skills.

How?  In common language, an argument often involves hostile attitudes & words, and maybe even hostile actions.  But during argumentation in a classroom, students should reduce hostile attitudes that can lead to antagonistic words & angry confrontation.  More generally, a teacher can encourage students to be “peacemakers” who try to reduce hostility (in attitudes, words, actions) by themselves and by others, both inside the classroom and (especially) outside it, who want to make communication more enjoyable & productive for more of us, and to help achieve this goal they improve their beneficial uses of empathy with kindness.

How?  A simple informal activity — useful in all areas of everyday life, inside & outside the classroom — is to just listen to another person during a conversation, because it's an opportunity to better understand what they are thinking and feeling.

How?  One teaching method is that of my teacher, with HIM doing the expert analysis-and-debating Monday, and then Tuesday.  His method was time-effective for helping us quickly learn the pros & cons of differing views on a wide range of interesting life-relevant topics.  But methods with STUDENTS being “more active” will be more effective in helping students improve their own thinking skills.*  For example, one kind of argumentation activity would have expert analysis-and-debating done by students — either individually or (typically more time-practical) in cooperative teams — with students first arguing for one view, and then (after a period of preparation) arguing for the other view(s).   {some details}

* Most educators think the best way to improve thinking skills is with active practice, when students “actively think” during a challenging activity.   /   It also can be useful to explicitly define the educational goals, e.g. to say “you are learning the pros & cons of issue-positions, and how to think more effectively, and how to understand others & respect them” at appropriate times during activities.   {more by me}

How?  Unfortunately, concerned students (and parents & others) can "make life unpleasant for a teacher" so teachers "have a personally-rational reason to avoid controversy, and therefore to avoid a Monday-and-Tuesday kind of ‘thinking skills’ activity."  Maybe... when "expert analysis-and-debating is done by students" a teacher is less likely to be justifiably criticized for being personally biased.  But this might not be enough to avoid controversy.   {more by me}

 


 

If you want to discuss any of these ideas,
you can contact me, <crusbult@wisc.edu> ;
Craig Rusbult, Ph.D. - my life on a road less traveled
 
Page-URL is https://educationforproblemsolving.net/design-thinking/da-ua.htm
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