For the last few days, I have been talking about the book, The Coddling of the American Mind written by Jonathan Haidt. He and his co-author set forth three foundational untruths. One of those is the “Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life is a Battle Between Good People and Evil People.”
The authors argue, “that the human mind is prepared for tribalism.” They even provide psychological research demonstrating that. But that doesn’t mean we have to live that way. In fact, conditions in society can turn tribalism up, down, or off. Certain conflicts can turn tribalism up and make them more attentive to signs about which team a person may be on. Peace and prosperity usually turn tribalism down.
Unfortunately, in the university community, distinctions between groups are not downplayed but emphasized. Distinctions defined by race, gender, and sexual preference are given prominence. Mix that with the identity politics we see in society, and you generate the conflict we see almost every day in America.
The authors make an important distinction between two kinds of identity politics. Martin Luther King, Jr. epitomized what could be called “common-humanity identity politics.” He addressed the evil of racism by appealing to the shared morals of Americans using the unifying language of religion.
That is different from what we find on college campuses today that could be called “common-enemy identity politics.” It attempts to identify a common enemy as a way to enlarge and motivate your tribe. Their slogan sounds like this: “Our battle for identity and survival is a battle between good people and bad people. We’re the good guys and need to defeat the bad guys.”
Why are civil dialogue and discussion hard to find today? The Coddling of the American Mind helps us understand what is happening and how to prevent our conflict from getting worse.