Beyond Polarization – Jason Jay

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Jason Jay

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Jason Jay

From Technology Review

This past June, I attended a conference in New York City with colleagues from around the world. After our three days together, my European, Indian, and Latin American friends were a bit vexed. The conversation kept getting pulled into the lightning storm of American politics. We struggled to pay attention as our phones flooded with alerts about congressional primaries, Supreme Court decisions, executive orders, and the flurry of terrified, furious, indignant, or despairing comments ping-ponging between political extremes.

Over beers, a few of us “coastal liberal elite” academics and journalists huddled and commiserated about our extended family members in South Dakota, North Carolina, Florida, and Indiana. How could they deny the reality of Sandy Hook, climate change, and science in general? I suspect those same relatives are similarly confused—why are we so eager to support illegal immigrants, anti-police protests, and lawlessness in general?

This polarization is only increasing as we head to the midterm elections. With our country split into factions like anti-fascists, progressives, moderates, libertarians, evangelicals, and Trumpists, it’s increasingly difficult to know how to engage with others who don’t share our views.

I am deeply torn on this question. On one hand, my friend Gabriel Grant and I wrote a book called Breaking Through Gridlock: The Power of Conversation in a Polarized World. As a proponent of dialogue, civility, and exploration for common ground, I’ve done my share of conversing with people I disagree with. Toward my left, I have stepped into Facebook debates with an anti-fascist friend, pushing back when he sounded too permissive of violence and riots as a resistance tactic, and when he dismissed everyone supporting Trump as “subhuman racists.” Looking toward my right, I have called and visited my cousins who voted for Trump because they thought he would stack the Supreme Court against abortion and drive foreign criminal gangs and terrorists out of our country. Talking with them about how we can keep our family and our country together is challenging and sometimes even painful. But these conversations are gratifying and transformational when we can take a step together in a new direction.

On the other hand, I am not neutral, and I am not patient. I am often outraged. I think I lose a few more hairs every time “climate change” is removed from another federal website. As a parent of young children, I read stories about families suffering through separation at the border, and I felt as if I’d been punched in the gut. I am prepared to send money to any organization or political candidate that I think has a fighting chance of upending this administration. I want to reach out to everyone who thinks like me, and get them out in the streets. And yet I know that this amplified anger sometimes strengthens and rallies the other side and makes rational debate impossible.

Read the full post at Technology Review.

Jason Jay is a Senior Lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management and Director of the Sustainability Initiative at MIT Sloan.  

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