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Jonathan Haidt: Shared Fear Can Bridge Ideological Differences
Politics | November 08, 2012

Jonathan Haidt: Shared Fear Can Bridge Ideological Differences

"America faces many serious threats, but each side sees some and denies others," Jonathan Haidt writes in The New York Times. "Partisanship is not a bad thing. But when so many of our leaders can’t even occasionally place national interest before party interest, we’ve crossed over into hyperpartisanship. And that’s a very bad thing." Even after the two-year long electoral battle for President has come to a close, Haidt—a moral psychologist and author of The Righteous Mind—said that the heated divide between party ideologies will hold fast. While the country should be banning together to fight the enemies and threats that face the nation, politicians and citizens remain firmly rooted on their own sides of the political divide, Haidt writes. They combine forces with like-minded individuals but are blinded to causes of the opponent. However, Haidt says that there are commonalities between each set of interests, and coming together to attack these similar threats could improve the overall state of the nation.

"When we focus only on the one asteroid that most frightens us, we feel anger at the partisans on the other side, " he explains. "We curse their blindness without recognizing our own." But, he adds, "if we can look up into the sky and see a whole fleet of asteroids heading for us, we lose our tunnel vision and experience a healthy form of panic." It is this panic—this fear of a common threat—that binds the nation together in a positive way, Haidt argues. When we realize that there are things that affect the country as a whole and threaten our stability if not addressed, partisanship can be forgone in favor of fighting a common enemy. "We’re in big trouble," Haidt writes, "and anyone who does that hyperpartisan stuff now should be ashamed—or kicked out of office." In his speeches, Haidt often addresses the effects that our political and ideological divisions have on human nature. These rigid divides are caused by different understandings of morality, he says, and understanding why we are divided—and how we can benefit from coming together—will ultimately lead to a more prosperous, cooperative future.
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