Home Others How can America make politics less hostile? The new book by Peter Coleman explained

How can America make politics less hostile? The new book by Peter Coleman explained

Polarization in society isn't necessarily a bad thing, argues Peter Coleman, professor of psychology and education at TC. In a two-party political system in particular, some degree of differentiation in social and cultural positions contributes to the controls and balances that keep the entire building intact.

But when a society reaches the stage where it has essentially split into two tribes who view each other with disdain, resort to completely different sources of information and ideas, and see no value in listening and engaging across the divide, then polarization has turned into a broader phenomenon - one that is clearly destructive.

Our eyes do not deceive us: while partisanship and bitterness have long been factors in American political and social life, and boom at various points in history, things have gotten much worse in the past few decades - and reached a grotesque climax in the Trump years . maybe, but in a process that has gained momentum since the late 1960s, argues Coleman.

PEACEMAKERS As director of the college's Morton Deutsch International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution, Peter Coleman examines the conditions under which divisions - and healing - manifest and flourish. (Photo: TC archive)

As a psychologist, Coleman writes in his new book The way out: how to overcome toxic polarization 'I know that psychosis is a powerful word. With the precision and care of a clinician, he judges the United States today as a psychotic nation where parallel and contradicting realities have prevailed that make it increasingly impossible to communicate, collaborate, and solve real problems. He sets out the mission: Our divisions are a first-order problem; they affect our problem-solving ability as a society.

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The costs are everywhere - in political blockades, in racial relations, in destructive hostility at the level of cities, towns, even within households and families. Coleman is aware that there are also companies that benefit from this - especially the media and social media companies, whose platforms and content shape and fuel the parallel realities.

But as the title of Coleman's new book makes clear, the crisis is not final. For over a decade, while the broader discourse has deteriorated, Coleman, a recognized peacebuilding specialist who directs the TC's Morton German International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution (MD-ICCCR), has worked with colleagues to advance understanding of the Crisis in science, understanding what worked and what didn't work in attempts to lead communities out of stalemates, and experiment in research settings like the Center's Difficult Conversations Lab.

Seemingly immutable patterns can and do change, Coleman writes. in the The way out aiming to provide insights from multiple disciplines in a straightforward style, it provides practical steps for individuals to make their small contribution to national reorientation, but also insights to identify already productive group efforts to join.

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In one last book talk Coleman made a table on Zoom of dozens of specific factors emerging from research to explain political polarization - some at the individual level (e.g., partisan differences in relationship to authority; the rise in loneliness and alienation ; Dependence on stereotypes). with high cognitive need) and some at the societal level (e.g. demographic change, growing inequality, internet algorithms).

Each of these many factors, he said, are clearly contributing to the crisis. And yet the crisis is bigger than any of these drivers - it lies in the way they combined and reinforced each other. The result, he said, based on a concept by Karl Popper, was a cloud problem as opposed to a mechanically addressable clock problem.

When complex systems like this get stuck in patterns, they become resistant to change, Coleman said. And when they change, it is in unpredictable and strange ways. Meanwhile, the polarization pattern is constantly being amplified by the role of attractors - the insidious and addictive effect that creates pleasure, a kind of brain reward for certainty and outrage.

When complex systems like this get stuck in patterns, they become resistant to change. And when they change, it is in unpredictable and strange ways.

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- Peter Coleman, professor of psychology and education

But crisis also harbors opportunities, and not just as popular wisdom.

Indeed, Coleman said, research makes it clear that complex social systems can change when there is a large enough quorum of citizens who are fed up and want change - what he calls the miserable middle majority; when society has gone through significant destabilization; and when people see a way out. The first two conditions, Coleman argued, were largely in place in a post-Trump America freshly shaken by a pandemic and a major racial justice bill. The purpose of this book is to introduce the third variable that is needed for resolution.

The central chapters of Coleman's book take readers on a rather dazzling, but always conversational, journey through multidisciplinary research and practical cases of conflict rooted and overcome both in the United States and internationally, and research, for example to Hindu The Muslim Urban Conflict in India (tip: don't forget to analyze the cities where there was peace) or the trip of one of the members of her central family from the well-known hostile Westboro Baptist Church. He also does it personally, sharing what he has learned to reflect on his position and that of others in institutions such as faculty committees.

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The abundance of research and case histories strengthens six interrelated ways of thinking and acting that Coleman encourages us all to invest in. Each has its chapter, from Think Different - Change Your Theory of Change to Adapt - Seek Evolution for Revolution, with calls to Reset, Bolster and Break, Complicate and Move.

A helpful appendix summarizes the findings of each chapter in bullet points. And the book is related to it website provides further access to the material with its collection of insightful case studies and even suggested exercises for each chapter.

In his book presentation, Coleman emphasized the promise of the present moment, but also the danger.

We're in a very cheap window right now, he said. The soil is fertile to put the guard rails back in, but that doesn't happen automatically. Political shock creates a moment for change, but if not captured, things can get a lot worse.

It's all too easy to caricature or dismiss the potential to bridge the divide, but Coleman pointed out that it only underscores the problem. in the The way out , he hopes to be able to offer tools with which these exercises - which he admits by means of examples, are often pointless or backfired - can deliver.

The fields that are close to his heart, peacebuilding and social justice, are often in tension, Coleman admitted. But in fact, he argued, they have to learn from each other all the time - because they are essentially inseparable if both are to be successful.

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Keywords: Psychology Conflict Resolution Citizenship

Departments: Counseling & Clinical Psychology

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