What we're about

In this Meetup, inspired by Jonathan Haidt and other authors who examine how humans think and act in cultural and political environments, we will try to better understand our own and others' values and beliefs - and possibly even find ways to improve dialogue across the usual political and cultural boundaries. This is NOT "Crossfire" or some other political debate program. This is not a college dorm-room discussion. This is not a book club. We use lectures, case studies, exercises, and group discussions to explore concepts and issues raised by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt in his works, including "The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion." We also explore issues related to polarization discussed by other social psychologists, cognitive scientists, etc.

The objective is not so much to debate political issues, advance policy prescriptions or find areas of policy agreement (e.g., in health care or defense policy) as to explore – using exercises, case studies, lectures and group discussions – how we think and how we become so attached to particular values and beliefs that separate us into Blue, Red, and other Americans. Class participation and a strong interest in hearing and understanding other points of view will be crucial to our success. There are recommended (but not required) readings that allow members to get more out of the Meetups.

Hopefully we will learn something about ourselves and about those other Americans we often consider to be our opponents in political and cultural battles. And we'll have some fun, too!

SYLLABUS for our four central topics:

Topic 1

We begin by considering what it would be like to live in a society other than the WEIRD (Western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic) world we enjoy here in the DMV (the District and nearby Maryland and Virginia).

We then explore the human inclination to join groups, become loyal to groups and the groups’ moral narratives, and then become blind to alternative moral worlds.

The attractions of authoritarianism as opposed to liberal democracy.

The epidemic of loneliness in much of the world.

Sorting ourselves out. Many of us don’t really want to live with diversity.

Plenty of class discussion as these points and examples are raised.

Topic 2

Through case studies of moral dilemmas, we examine our tendency to respond quickly with intuition, then use our reason to justify whatever decision our intuition has produced. The case studies also give us an opportunity to consider our moral values, utilitarianism versus other moral values, and our duties to society. Lots of class discussion about the case studies and the issues they raise.

We consider different approaches to creating a society in which unrelated people can live together peacefully – Mill v Durkheim, individualistic versus sociocentric – and the role of our righteous minds in creating human societies.

How to deal with the challenge of freeloaders?

Haidt’s moral matrices for Libertarians, Liberals and Conservatives.

Group discussions on each of these points.

Topic 3

We’ll discuss whether, as Jonathan Haidt, J. S. Mill, Bertrand Russell and others write, we should see a yin – yang relationship between liberals and conservatives: Do we need both for a healthy state of political life?

We’ll then examine the human mind and how it works. In particular –

Do we know as much as we think we do about the world and important political issues? Enough to justify the strong views we hold about some political issues? We’ll try some exercises to find out.

If not, how do we make our decisions on political issues? What role does our political tribe play in this?

Does it help to keep up with the news? Social media?

Do our senses and our mind give us a clear, objective view of the world out there?

Topic 4

We’ll continue to examine the human mind and how it affects our political reasoning and loyalties. Lots of discussions here.

Confirmation bias, groupthink, peer pressure, motivated reasoning, etc., etc.

Extreme partisanship may be literally addicting.

How good are our memories?

How well can we predict the future?

How will future generations look at the conventional wisdom and beliefs we hold today?

We’ll next consider and discuss Haidt’s views on the role of religion in creating and maintaining large human societies.

Finally, we will consider and discuss how we might move forward in our political relationships, taking into account what we’ve discussed.

Upcoming events (1)

Redo: We’re right about our beliefs, right? And the other side is wrong, right?!

We've hit our 25-person limit for the January 19 meetup so, in the interest of keeping our meetups small enough to allow everyone to participate, I'm creating this new meetup for January 25. It will be the same topic and the same program as we're doing on January 19.

If you're already registered for the January 19 meetup and want to switch to January 25, feel free. We may have a smaller group in the second get-together, which you may prefer. If you're registered for the January 19 meetup and decide instead to go to the January 25 meetup, please be sure to send a "not going" RSVP to the January 19 event so someone else can take your spot there.

On January 25, 2022 we will get back together to talk about the well-known fact that we and our team are right about political issues and the other side is composed of ignoramuses, or possibly evil people.

If you’re interested in getting a head start on this discussion, you may want to read one or both of:

Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, by Kathryn Schulz

On Being Certain: Believing Your Are Right Even when You’re Not, by Robert Alan Burton

Note: You don’t have to read either one of these!! No required readings!! I mention these books just to allow those who are particularly interested in the subject to dig deeper. (And also to give you a hint that the title of this announcement and the paragraph above -- that our group is right and the other side is not -- may not be serious statements.)

I hope we’ll also have one or more people who would want to give us a report on their visit to “the other” as an open-minded anthropologist, as we discussed in our last Meetup. This “moral fieldwork,” as Jonathan Haidt calls it, gets to the heart of what this group is all about: engaging constructively with those who think differently from us. Yes, it may take us out of our comfort zones, but the rewards can be tremendous. If you want to do this, you might want to take a look at the message I posted on our group’s message board November 20 titled “Let’s do some moral fieldwork!” Or you can contact me directly, particularly if you have any questions, so we can talk about how you might want to take this on. Thank you to all who are adventurous enough to try it.

Once you register for the Meetup, make sure you have the Zoom link!! If not, please let me know as soon as possible so I can get it to you.


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