I’ve called in a doctor (the Ph.D. type) for a consultation on our condition. Christian Crandall is a psychology professor at the University of Kansas. He stresses we need to stay connected to both ends of our political divide.
Troubling things happen in the other Washington, and they need attention. But ultimately the fault with government lies with we the people — and largely with our inability to see past our own biases.
Last week I wrote about the political and cultural gulf between liberal Seattle and the conservative Eastern New Mexico town where I grew up. I said rural and urban America need to listen to each other.
This week, I’ve called in a doctor (the Ph.D. type) for a consultation on our condition. Christian Crandall is a psychology professor at the University of Kansas. I understand that some of you are not fond of academics, but Crandall makes a point of staying connected to both ends of our political divide.
He grew up in Seattle, across the street from Lincoln Park, graduated from Chief Sealth High School in 1976 and from the University of Washington in 1980, before earning graduate degrees in social psychology from the University of Michigan.
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Crandall said the urban-rural divide is getting larger partly because so many people are choosing to associate only with like-minded people. It’s an aspect of human psychology that profoundly affects our politics.
“I have friends from high school who complain about the Pierce-King County axis driving state politics,” he said, meaning urban areas dominate rural areas of the state. He has conservative friends who grew up in Seattle who moved out of the city to places where they could be around people whose political and cultural values matched theirs.
“Mobility is a problem for democracy,” Crandall said. “Clovis (my hometown in New Mexico) lost part of its political diversity when you moved out,” he said, and when I moved to Seattle, I added to its dominant political leaning. The two places moved further apart, and that is happening around the country.
Crandall and I had both listened to a story on NPR about the migration from California to Northern Idaho of conservative people who have made that part of Idaho even more conservative and attractive to even more political refugees from liberal California.
The political isolation that breeds makes communication and compromise difficult.
Research shows that people make friends with people who are like them, which is not surprising, he said. People want to be comfortable in their social interactions, not challenged. But there’s more to it. “Our research shows that once you choose your friends, you don’t have much influence on each other,” not about major political or cultural attitudes, anyway. You already share those and friends just reinforce the ideas that drew you together in the first place.
Like-minded people talk to each other and become more confident in their views and more extreme.
That’s how terrorist recruitment works. A person who already holds certain ideas is isolated among people who have more extreme versions of the ideas, but then the new person gradually becomes extreme.
“Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, had anti-government feelings before he came to Kansas and hung out with other anti-government people,” Crandall said. McVeigh was isolated from alternative ideas.
But short of shuffling people around the country, it will be difficult to make interactions happen. We no longer draw from common information sources since media fragmentation gives people the option to stick with only voices that reflect their own views.
And the problem of self-segregation is made worse by political choices that create congressional districts in which only one party has a chance. In those districts, there is no incentive for elected officials to moderate their views — in fact, extreme views attract more votes.
“The Left and Right don’t talk with each other much,” Crandall said. He stays connected with conservative friends on Facebook, but he said often, “They don’t accept what I consider to be settled facts.”
But he believes everyone has a duty to reach across the divide, even though it can be uncomfortable. Paying attention to people with whom you disagree matters, he said. People don’t want to feel like they’re being dismissed without being heard. “Acknowledging the other perspective is one way to reduce polarization” Crandall said.
That may be a hard pill to swallow, but it’s what the doctor prescribed.