Polarizing, demonizing, conspiring. Cha cha cha.

People make sense.

Years of schooling in behavioral sciences (thanks mom and dad) ultimately led me to that conclusion. If you know what people know, if you know what people don’t know, if you experience what they’ve experienced, well, then… they tend to make sense.

Could that mean that people make sense in the unhinged world of politics too? An organization called CivilPolitics.org is accumulating information from the study of our psychology as it relates to our political polarization. Co-founder Dr. Jonathan Haidt of University of Virginia is doing fascinating work in looking at our moral psychology vis-a-vis our political orientation. His work supports my conclusion – albeit with a smidge more science: People make sense if you understand their moral foundations. Read all »

Hold up a Guinness to the “Northern Irish”


This post is from 2 years ago on St. Patrick’s Day, but worth another run. The commentary addresses the March 2009 killing of two British Royal Air Force soldiers and concern about the return of violence to the long history of difficulty. Matthews’ description of the social segregation of the people of Northern Ireland is instructive.

Like him or not, it’s worth watching Chris Matthews’ commentary on Ireland tonight. Read all »

Bob Schieffer on David Broder: Talk less, listen more.

Our Crossroads, Mr. Franklin

I spent last night into the wee hours editing the video of The Big Sort from our February visit from Bill Bishop. It could have been exhaustion from the tedious process of video editing but I ended the evening with an even more onerous feeling about the importance of where we turn from here in our life as a country. I was struck with the heavy realization that what Bill describes and documents in his must-read book may be the beginnings of our form of government gone to seed.

“A Republic, if you can keep it” were Franklin’s haunting words. If we are half the patriots we like to say we are, times a wasting for the actions required to do so.

A “government by and for the people”, by definition, requires that we engage in the conversation of governance. “Us” doesn’t have to mean you and me literally, but at the very least it means the people we elected to govern for us. In case you haven’t noticed, they aren’t. They’re only partly to blame though because when they hold their fingers in the political wind – as they are apt to do – they know that we don’t exactly want them to. Read all »

Too late now.

“Someday, someone will invent a giant talking tube by which you can address the whole nation at once. Surely the police will arrest him, lest the populace become deranged.” –Kierkegaard, 1850

(Thanks, as always, to Lea)

University of Arizona slated to open National Institute for Civil Discourse

“Former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush will serve as honorary chairmen of a new center at the University of Arizona that will focus on civility in political debate, university officials will announce Monday.”

“The National Institute for Civil Discourse – a nonpartisan center for debate, research, education and policy about civility in public discourse – will open Monday in Tucson. It was created in the aftermath of the Jan. 8 shootings in the city where six people were killed and 13 injured, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.)…” Read the entire Washington Post article HERE.

Going to extremes, round and round and round

I’m reading Going to Extremes: How Like Minds United and Divide by Cass Sunstein. Sunstein has – quite ironically given the nature of Sunstein’s academic work – been charged by such disparate bedfellows as Glenn Beck and Glenn Greenwald with being an extremist. Doubly ironic is that much of the rhetoric against Sunstein by Beck – considered by a whole lot of people to be pretty seriously extreme himself – is pretty well described by Sunstein in his writings. Like this:

“The most important reason for group polarization, and a key to extremism in all its forms, involves the exchange of new information. Group polarization often occurs because people are telling one another what they know, and what they know is skewed in a predictable direction.”

Hard to draw conclusions about who out extremes who in this melee of accusation. Like falling down a rabbit hole.

President Reagan at 100

Today, President Ronald Reagan would have turned 100. From a Village Square perspective it’s interesting to observe the feuding over Reagan’s legacy, mainly because it’s more of a legacy of our time than it is of Reagan’s. Ronald Reagan was clear in his beliefs but he was not a flame-thrower. He invited people to the conversation. So in that spirit, and on this day:

I have always believed that a lot of the troubles in the world would disappear if we were talking to each other instead of about each other. –Ronald Reagan

Tallahassee Democrat: Liz Joyner, “On Jefferson and Adams”

Printed in The Tallahassee Democrat:

“You and I ought not to die until we have explained ourselves to each other.” So began the late-life correspondence between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the founding fathers described in the epic HBO mini-series “John Adams” as “the north and south poles of our revolution.” Once friends, differences in opinion and political competition had taken a toll. They, like others in the founders’ generation, had deep philosophical disagreements. But as they went about Read all »

David Brooks: Tree of Failure

A exceptional, must-read column by David Brooks in today’s New York Times:

“Civility is the natural state for people who know how limited their own individual powers are and know, too, that they need the conversation. They are useless without the conversation…”

Read this editorial HERE (and read it now, it’s smart).


This week we paid attention to wise words offered on the tragedy in Arizona last Saturday. Here are some of them. Feel free to add your own in the comments.

“I do think it’s a worthwhile goal not to conflate our political opponents with enemies if for no other reason than to draw a better distinction between the manifestos of paranoid madmen and what passes for acceptable political and pundit speak. it would be really nice if the ramblings of crazy people didn’t actually resemble how we talk to each other on TV. Let’s at least make troubled individuals easier to spot.” – Jon Stewart on The Daily Show Read all »

We should all be disturbed by how true this is.

“The centrifugal forces are becoming dominant” – Lee Hamilton, quoted by Pat Buchanan on Morning Joe

A Partisan Dictionary

Editor’s note: We write Friday’s Purple State of Mind column then usually post it here Monday. Today is no exception but we do it with sadness as some of what we describe here has gone to seed this weekend in the tragic shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, her staff and other innocent victims in Arizona. Please forgive the somewhat flip tone. Our self-deceptions in how we talk about things can get very very serious.

We’ve got Oxford Unabridged and French-English, heck we’ve even got Urdu-English. But as far as I know there isn’t such a thing as a partisan dictionary. We think it’s high time to remedy the oversight.

Language has a long history of being twisted and torqued to make feuding points. Take the fact that in certain quarters these many years later you’ll still hear references to the “War of Northern Aggression.” Language choice heavily implies causality, justness of cause, and suggests appropriate action. Language can also be fact-bending in ways that damage civic discourse (and certainly damage problem solving based on “facts” that turn out to not be true).

Word choice can strongly suggest an amazing number things about the speaker. For example, references to the “Democrat” party are usually made by heavy talk radio listeners and Fox News watchers, as they don’t represent the name that the actual Democratic party chooses to be called. I’m not sure I get the point of this particular language battle – except maybe bullying – but this kind of linguistic battle can be damaging to both sender and receiver of such ill-willed verbiage, because there is always a fair amount of coming and going around. Read all »