Couple this commentary with Shankar Vedantam’s Hidden Brain recent episode on Group Think.
How do the groups you identify with shape your sense of self? Do they influence the beer you buy? The way you vote? Psychologist Jay Van Bavel says our group loyalties affect us more than we realize, and can even shape our basic senses of sight, taste and smell.
Jay Van Bavel is an Associate Professor of Psychology & Neural Science at New York University, an affiliate at the Stern School of Business in Management and Organizations, and Director of the Social Identity & Morality Lab.
A celebrated moral thinker and renowned Judaic intellect, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks died last week at 72 from cancer.
“The greatest single antidote to violence is conversation, speaking our fears, listening to the fears of other—in that sharing of vulnerabilities, discovering a genesis of hope.”
When Krista Tippett, On Being, spoke with Lord Sacks in 2010, he modeled a life-giving, imagination-opening faithfulness to what some might see as contradictory callings: How to be true to one’s own convictions while also honoring the sacred and civilizational calling to shared life — indeed, to love the stranger?
Krista: You’ve made a statement. I think it’s audacious: “The greatest single antidote to violence is conversation, speaking our fears, listening to the fears of others, and in that sharing of vulnerabilities, discovering a genesis of hope.” Now as someone who conducts conversation for a living, I love that statement. I wonder how you know that to be true — that the antidote to violence is conversation.
Lord Sacks: Listening gives each of the two parties the feeling that they are heard, and once they’re heard, they can then begin to speak what they really feel. And then they can begin to realize that there are things they still care about in common.
Sometimes I think what would happen if we generated real conversations at the grassroots level between the people whose lives are really affected?
The real conflicts arise when our minds are focused on the past.
I think God is setting us a big challenge, a really big challenge. We are living so close to difference with such powers of destruction that he’s really giving us very little choice. You know, to quote that great line from W.H. Auden, “We must love one another or die.”
So I am full of hope as we face the greatest challenge humanity ever has.
‘No Body of Men:’ A militia movement, recast, takes to the streets of North Idaho
“This has been just the gasoline on the fire for civil war. If it’s coming, North Idaho is the heart of the new confederacy.”-Rebecca Schroeder
Rebecca Schroeder, Idaho progressive activist, has gone into hiding with her 13-year-old because of death threats from the right-wing extremists in Northern Idaho.
To understand these gatherings, where they came from, and their ramifications, the Statesman interviewed local officials and residents of Coeur d’Alene and Sandpoint, as well as experts studying the militia movement and representatives from human rights groups. Every militia group the Statesman reached out to declined to comment for this story, except for the Seven Bravo 3% Militia. Seven Bravo’s leader, Ron Korn, said the recent gatherings have led to a “huge influx of people finally wanting to get involved” in the militia movement.
For North Idaho residents like Schroeder, who have watched warily as armed militia groups gain a foothold in their town, the area’s history — the leveled Aryan Nations compound lies just seven miles from Coeur d’Alene — doesn’t feel so far away.
“They have been calling for a civil war for a long time. I mean, this is a perfect excuse. The Black Lives Matter protests layered in with the COVID pandemic and the restrictions placed on movement and masking and things like that in our community,” Schroeder said.
When Rebecca Schroeder reported the increase in death threats — she estimates she’s blocked 1,000 people on Facebook in the past month — to the police department and to various levels of leadership in the city, she received no offer of protection.
“I needed to get the hell out of town,” she said. “There wasn’t anyone in local leadership who was going to hold these folks accountable.”
Schroeder says combating right-wing extremism in North Idaho could be like firing at a shifting target.
“Because it’s hidden under this guise of ‘patriotism,’ and it kind of co-opted that word and that identity, it’s much more difficult to single out and oppose those folks,” Schroeder said.
For (one resident), who previously hoped to retire in Coeur d’Alene, the recent trend toward open right-wing extremism has also become untenable. After events this summer, he no longer wants his granddaughter to visit. He plans to sell his house and leave town for good as soon as possible.
America is not some finished work or failed project but an ongoing experiment.
If parts of the machine are broken, then the responsibility of citizens is to fix the machine, not throw it away.
Our imperfections can, and out to, draw us together in humility, realism, patience, and determination.
No one has a monopoly on wisdom or is free from error. Everyone benefits from understanding other points of view.
The foundational virtue of democracy is trust, not trust in one’s own rectitude or opinion, but rust in the capacity of collective deliberation to move us forward.
To often we define our real national challenges–climate change, immigration, health care, guns–in a way that guarantees division into warring camps.
Instead we should be asking one another: What could “better” look like?
Our Founders thought in centuries.
Abraham Lincoln warned that the greater danger to the nation came from within. All the armies of the world could not crush us, he maintained, but we could still “die by suicide.”
-James Mattis, a former secretary of defense who served for more than four decades as a Marine infantry officer.
“Sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns disposition to the purposes of his own elevation on the ruins of public liberty.”
If we want our democracy to succeed, indeed, if we want the idea of democracy to regain respect in an age when dissatisfaction with democracies is rising, we’ll need to understand the many ways in which today’s [various] platforms create conditions that may be hostile to democracy’s success. And then we’ll have to take decisive action to improve.
-Social Psychologist Jonathan Haidt and technoethicist Tobias Rose-Stockwell
“Democracy isn’t just messy — it’s dirty. And getting dirtier.”
And it’s been hard pressed to figure out why. Why is this happening?
To better understand the U.S.’s continuing corrupt and eroding political infrastructure, this book by Duke University history professor Nancy MacLean. The Chicago Tribune calls MacLean’s research, “contemporary history at its best.” It is clear insight to help navigate the current political climate and post Brett Kavanaugh confirmation. MacLean gives us a roadmap and answer to, How did this happen?”
Without Buchanan’s ideas and Koch’s money, the libertarian right would not have succeeded in its stealth takeover of the Republican Party as a delivery mechanism. Now, with Mike Pence as Vice President, the cause has a longtime loyalist in the White House, not to mention a phalanx of Republicans in the House, the Senate, a majority of state governments, and the courts, all carrying out the plan. That plan includes harsher laws to undermine unions, privatizing everything from schools to health care and Social Security, and keeping as many of us as possible from voting. Based on ten years of unique research, Democracy in Chains tells a chilling story of right-wing academics and big money run amok. This revelatory work of scholarship is also a call to arms to protect the achievements of twentieth-century American self-government.
An explosive exposé of the right’s relentless campaign to eliminate unions, suppress voting, privatize public education, stop action on climate change, and alter the Constitution.
Behind today’s headlines of billionaires taking over our government is a secretive political establishment with long, deep, and troubling roots. The capitalist radical right has been working not simply to change who rules, but to fundamentally alter the rules of democratic governance. But billionaires did not launch this movement; a white intellectual in the embattled Jim Crow South did. Democracy in Chains names its true architect—the Nobel Prize-winning political economist James McGill Buchanan—and dissects the operation he and his colleagues designed over six decades to alter every branch of government to disempower the majority.
In a brilliant and engrossing narrative, Nancy MacLean shows how Buchanan forged his ideas about government in a last gasp attempt to preserve the white elite’s power in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education. In response to the widening of American democracy, he developed a brilliant, if diabolical, plan to undermine the ability of the majority to use its numbers to level the playing field between the rich and powerful and the rest of us.
“[A] vibrant intellectual history of the radical right.”—The Atlantic
“This sixty-year campaign to make libertarianism mainstream and eventually take the government itself is at the heart of Democracy in Chains. . . . If you’re worried about what all this means for America’s future, you should be.”—NPR
*Winner of the Lillian Smith Book Award
*Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize
*Finalist for the National Book Award *The Nation‘s “Most Valuable Book”
The following article, written by Lynn Parramore, gives an overview of MacLean’s research. It was published by the Institute of New Economic Thinking.
Meet the Economist Behind the One Percent’s Stealth Takeover of America
“Nobel laureate James Buchanan is the intellectual linchpin of the Koch-funded attack on democratic institutions, argues Duke historian Nancy MacLean
Ask people to name the key minds that have shaped America’s burst of radical right-wing attacks on working conditions, consumer rights and public services, and they will typically mention figures like free market-champion Milton Friedman, libertarian guru Ayn Rand, and laissez-faire economists Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises.
James McGill Buchanan is a name you will rarely hear unless you’ve taken several classes in economics. And if the Tennessee-born Nobel laureate were alive today, it would suit him just fine that most well-informed journalists, liberal politicians, and even many economics students have little understanding of his work.
The reason? Duke historian Nancy MacLean contends that his philosophy is so stark that even young libertarian acolytes are only introduced to it after they have accepted the relatively sunny perspective of Ayn Rand. (Yes, you read that correctly). If Americans really knew what Buchanan thought and promoted, and how destructively his vision is manifesting under their noses, it would dawn on them how close the country is to a transformation most would not even want to imagine, much less accept.”
Another perspective on constitutional rot and political polarization, read Jack, M. Balkin’s,”Constitutional Rot Reaches the Supreme Court”, published Oct. 6th, 2018.
“The fight over the Kavanaugh appointment exemplifies our country’s advanced case of constitutional rot. The rot has been growing for some time, and has now reached the Supreme Court of the United States. The Supreme Court is unlikely to save us from decay. We will have to do that ourselves.
As I have argued in this lecture, our country has gone through cycles of constitutional rot and renewal throughout its history. We are at (what we can only hope is) the most extreme point in a cycle of constitutional rot. Unfortunately, we are also at the high point of a cycle of party polarization. And, to make matters worse, we are also at the end of the debilitated Reagan regime, with a new political regime yet to be born. The endings of political regimes are highly confusing periods regardless; extreme party polarization and advanced constitutional rot make our current period even more difficult.
A few week’s back I gave a Constitution Day lecture at Drake Law School. The question I asked was this: How does the cycle of constitutional rot affect the Supreme Court and the federal courts? Can courts help us come out of constitutional rot? Does judicial review help counteract the slide into political corruption, or the accelerating loss of democracy and republicanism?
The answer, sadly, is no. In times of severe constitutional rot, coupled with high party polarization, courts are not the solution. They are part of the problem. Courts will not drag us out of a period of constitutional rot; they will either do little to help or actively make things worse. Moreover, as we have seen, the courts are a special prize in these periods, and politicians are likely to engage in ever more outrageous hardball tactics to entrench their power in the judiciary.
Consider the last two periods of pronounced constitutional rot in American history: the years just before the Civil War, dominated by the Slave Power, and the Gilded Age, dominated by what Teddy Roosevelt called “the malefactors of great wealth.” In neither age was the U.S. Supreme Court the great protector of democracy and republicanism. Quite the contrary, the Supreme Court behaved very badly during both periods, and produced Dred Scott in the first period, and Plessy, Pollock, Lochner and Coppage in the second. The corruption of an age rubs off on the courts of that age. In a period of constitutional rot, the Supreme Court will be sullied as well.
Right now we are in an especially corrupt moment and the courts are unlikely to help extricate us. They may even make things worse in the short run. And they are likely to be compromised and tainted by the corruption that surrounds them. But that does not make me a Thayerian or a Holmesian. One should be guided by the nature of the times. Rather than oppose judicial review per se, one should simply not expect too much from courts, and endeavor to keep them from doing too much harm. Things will eventually change. In the meantime, it is best not to look to an institution that cannot and will not help the country”
The lesson of history seems clear enough: During a period of advanced constitutional rot and high political polarization the federal courts are unlikely to be an instrument of constitutional renewal. Renewal will have to come from political mobilization instead.