FALL EDITORIAL BOARD 2016
Thanksgiving is next week, a time when people unite with their friends and family for food, fellowship and above all, bitter discussions about politics.
In light of these often relationship-damaging discussions, many people subscribe to a philosophy of avoidance and disengagement; they won’t bring up topics like religion or politics for fear of offending someone.
This defense mechanism is a symptom of a large problem looming over Americans: we generally aren’t very good at creating and maintaining a respectful dialogue between dissenting opinions.
This problem is most apparent in discussions about ideas which are fundamental to our worldviews, such as religion or personal political philosophy.
This isn’t surprising given how adverse humans are toward chaos and ambiguity. We strive toward, consciously or unconsciously, rigid worldviews which are conducive to tribalism.
These worldviews are reinforced by many of our habits. Deleting friends on Facebook who’ve got opinions which differ from ours, belitting protestors and avoiding debates all exacerbate this rigidity.
Of course, it’s morally fine to delete people whose opinions you don’t wish to see, but it comes at the cost of lessening the chance of being exposed to those opinions and potentially growing your perspective. It’s fine to disagree with a protest; but we’ve got to watch the degree to which we let ourselves think less of those who are protesting and justify those impressions.
The puritans argued humans are born into sin. History has confirmed their pessimism with the greatest human failures, such as slavery, the Holocaust and a number of other genocides, being mostly derived from our natural inclination toward tribalism.
However, people are capable of surmounting these tendencies.
The solution is both basic and ambitious: have a willingness to engage respectfully with dissent and actively seek to do so.
This may sound easy, but respectful engagement with dissent is one of those arenas of life which the human brain generally isn’t naturally well-suited for.
It’s far too easy to rationalize narrowing the scope of your Facebook feed for personal comfort, far too easy to say it’s easier to be quiet than to voice your opinion respectfully and learn how to manage the emotions of other people.
This Thanksgiving, we encourage you all to contradict the prevailing wisdom of disengagement. We challenge you all to respectfully and calmly discuss some of the most important topics people can talk about.
Don’t be afraid to say your opinion, be willing to back it up and don’t invalidate the opinions of other people without looking at your own cognitive biases which may cause you to do so.
We’ve only got 70-80 years on this planet on average, and we shouldn’t waste them by sacrificing intellectual growth for short-term emotional comfort.