Friday, March 23 , 2018, 6:33 am | Fair 49º


Randy Alcorn: What Really Divides America

America has always had political differences, sometimes intense differences, but for at least the past decade the nation has been virtually at war with itself ideologically. The scrimmage lines are everywhere from dinner tables to Congress.

The combatants are liberals and conservatives fiercely intractable in their beliefs, each side certain that theirs is the only and best way to organize society.

As that affects governing, little if anything is getting done to address real problems that fester while the combatants scheme and struggle to drive each other from their respective trenches.

No cooperation. No compromise. No solutions, only squabbling.

The fact that the Republican Party will now control both houses of Congress and the presidency won’t resolve the situation. The Democrats will dig in and be every bit as obstructionist as the Republicans have been, and when the political tide inevitably sloshes back to the left, the dysfunction will continue.

But, this entrenched ideological partisanship is the symptom and not the cause of what really divides America. The cause is found among the vast numbers of Americans who are unwilling to engage in or incapable of independent, objective reasoning.

These people are uncomfortable with doubt and ambiguity. They want absolute certainty about how the world works and simple answers to complex questions. They reject any factual evidence that conflicts with their beliefs, but eagerly accept opinion as fact when it ratifies those beliefs.

This vast American ignorantsia is cozy and secure in their self-imposed ignorance.

It is easy to point the finger at the conservatives, often buttressed by religious beliefs they can be so stridently self-certain. But, the liberals, while more subtle, are just as guilty.

For example, at many universities, liberals have refused to allow conservative luminaries to be guest speakers, and have established “safe zones” where students can avoid being exposed to views and ideas that might upset them.

Neither side wants to hear opposing arguments, no matter how cogent. They typically speak over each other while citing standard ideological shibboleths. There is rarely an original thought or fresh observation to be found among them.

Research by social psychologists at the universities of Chicago and Winnipeg has found that both confirmed conservatives and liberals know very little about the concerns and views of the other side and, more disturbingly, they don’t want to know.

Neither side is interested in understanding the other. They believe that they already know the truth of things so further examination or research is unnecessary.

Accepting even one contradictory fact or cogent opposing argument is a threat that could unravel their entire belief system. Without unquestioning belief, intellectually insecure people feel lost and confused. The researchers term this “motivated ignorance.”

Social psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson have documented hundreds of experiments demonstrating how people will distort and select facts to conform to their beliefs. Even when confronted with overwhelming contradictory evidence, the power of belief is formidable enough to reject that evidence.

Self-isolated from the world of facts and ideas, and lacking prudent skepticism, intractable ideologues present a morbific threat to a free society and to a healthy democratic republic. An electorate that cannot make informed decisions eventually makes poor ones.

The American political system is being monopolized by two diametrically opposed, bitterly irreconcilable ideological camps nearly devoid of objective thinking and susceptible to demagogues and oligarchy.

Social media have amplified the vitriol between these opposing groups who sarcastically snipe at and viciously insult each other. Discourse is reduced to invective derision while facts are fabricated from hot air, and tin-foil-hat conspiracy theories abound.

Western civilization hasn’t seen this much mass ignorance and misology since the Dark Ages. Is our nation descending into a hundred-years war of stalemated stupidity?

The bizarre, intensely uncivil presidential campaign that culminated in the election of Donald Trump — a man actively engaged in motivated ignorance who invents facts while rejecting any that do not corroborate his self-aggrandized persona — has shaken the nation, causing visible fractures in the e pluribus unum.

Incipient secession movements in some states seem silly, but so did the possibility that Trump would become president.

What to do?

People aren’t born close-minded. They are indoctrinated. Beliefs are learned. I doubt that anything short of a jack-hammer can penetrate the thick skulls of today’s ideological idiots, but going forward, critical thinking education can train young minds to approach the world with objectivity and healthy skepticism.

That effort begins at home and at local school systems. Concerned parents must insist on critical thinking curriculums in the classroom — from elementary grades on. They must encourage their children’s curiosity, intellectual inquiry and skepticism.

Taxpayer-supported colleges must be disciplined to provide an open forum for all ideas. Repressive political correctness has no place in the search for truth. If students want “safe zones,” they should find private parochial colleges that limit learning within the student’s preferred doctrine.

Open-minded, independent thinking, Americans may still be in the majority but they have not been present enough to dislodge the entrenched ideological duopoly and move the nation onto a path of objective reason and commonsense. Unless that happens, the eventual resolution may be separate, independent or semi-autonomous geographical political entities — states rights on steroids.

California could become homeland to the lunatic liberals, while Texas would make a welcoming homeland for crazed conservatives. The looming hundred-years war of stalemated stupidity could be ended and the rest of the nation could get on with reasonable compromises and rational governing.

— Randy Alcorn is a Santa Barbara political observer. Contact him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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