But if polarization is all around us, familiar as an old coat, what about its opposite? What would depolarization look and sound like? Would we know it if we saw it, in others or in ourselves? Perhaps most importantly, what are the mental habits that encourage it?
We’re confronted with an irony here. We Americans didn’t necessarily think our way into political polarization, but we’ll likely have to think our way out. A number of big structural and social trends—including the end of the Cold War, the rising importance of cultural issues in our politics, growing secularization, greater racial and ethnic diversity, the shift from the Greatest Generation to Baby Boomers as the nation’s dominant elites, the break-up of the old media system, the increasing ideological coherence of both of our two main political parties, among others—appear to have helped produce our current predicament.
Yet over time, the intellectual habits encouraged by these underlying shifts developed a life and autonomy of their own. They became “baked in,” ultimately forming a new popular wisdom regarding how we judge what is true and decide what is right in public life. The intellectual habits of polarization include binary (Manichaean) thinking, absolutizing one’s preferred values, viewing uncertainty as a weakness, privileging deductive thinking, assuming that one’s opponents are motivated by bad faith, and hesitating to agree on basic facts and the meaning of evidence.
What are the antidotes to these familiar habits? We can recognize the mindset of the polarizer, but how does the depolarizer understand conflict and try to make sense of the world? Here is an attempt to answer these questions, by way of proposing the seven habits of highly depolarizing people....