September 29, 2017

Credit: theilr / Flickr Creative Commons

America isn’t more divided than it’s ever been. The Civil War stands as a high-water mark for division in the United States, and unless something deeply tragic happens, that’s not likely to change anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean 2017 doesn’t feel awfully divisive. Fully 8 in 10 Americans believe that the country is more deeply divided on major issues than it has been in recent years, according to a CNN/ORC poll released last year.

To find out why that is, and explore what that means for our country, we talked to Jennifer Richeson, a psychology professor at Yale, and Joshua Greene, author of Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them. We also spoke with Eden, a physician in Pennsylvania who has some personal experience with the American divide.

Three Takeaways 

  • Greene thinks that this atmosphere is unique in American history. And he believes that it’s the result of conflicts between people who define America in tribal terms (as being primarily for white Christians), and people who define America in terms of a set of abstract ideals.
  • “It’s time for this discomfort around to be democratized,” Richeson says. She thinks that discomfort, particularly racial discomfort, used to fall predominantly on certain groups entirely, and now it’s being spread a bit more equitably. There’s something to be gained from the other side of this discomfort.
  • Why did support for gay marriage increase so quickly? Greene believes that it’s because when LGBT people started to come out in large numbers, their friends and families had to reconcile their love for the person with their feelings on an issue. And Richeson points out that we don’t have those powerful family ties working to heal divides between races and cultural groups.

More reading 

innovation hub, Culture, Kara Miller, WGBH, joshua greene, jennifer richeson, pri

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