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 book club. This is not a college dorm-room discussion. The initial plan is to meet for two hours once a week for four weeks- although we could do more Meetups if we decide to explore the concepts further.
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!
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.
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.
Class discussions on each of these points.
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?
Do our senses and our mind give us a clear, objective view of the world out there?
We’ll continue to examine the human mind and how it affects our political reasoning and loyalties. Lots of class 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 in the course.