I have been thinking a lot lately about the polarization taking place in our Western society, and particularly in the US, and trying to quantify how much of that is externally driven (media, political discussion, economic gaps etc) and how much is actually hardwired in us, biologically.
We seem to naturally gravitate 50-50 towards conservative or progressive positions, to a degree that psychologists have identified some sort of a biological connection between a person and how they are inclined to think. It’s as if nature knew that we need both sides of the coin, and has programmed the gene pool to extract a similar amount of let’s say order-oriented people (conservatives), and of disruptive/creative people (progressives), and that optimal survival of the human species comes from the tension between both groups – or at least, by their cooperation.
If this assumption is true, i.e. that we are hardwired to think in a certain way, it’s not surprising how difficult it is for people on one side to understand the other. It’s as if we were speaking a different language: I talk to you in Italian, and you respond to me in Chinese. It will cause frustration and it can lead to conflict.
However, democracy has optimized somewhat this tension between sides by allowing both sides to take power at different times, allowing the broader community to shift one way or another depending on what the current situation requires. If we live in very uncertain and unstable times, it’s likely that a conservative government will be picked to rein things in. If we are living in great prosperity and tranquility, a more disruptive experiment-running progressive government can be more helpful.
What is missing somewhat on the current scene, at least in the US, is a space for the two sides to communicate and cooperate. Polarization seems to come from the proclivity to disconnect from each other and isolate in your own bubble – and my sense is that current polarization is far more driven by external agents, that are self-serving, rather than our own intrinsic nature.
You have a set of agents – mainly politics and media – who are seemingly loosing status and power, mainly due to their own failings; and they are trying to grab a share of attention back by raising the tone and screaming, and feeding narratives that isolate their group further, to keep it somewhat captive.
My personal hope is that sensible people in the middle will avoid getting spun out to the sides, but will slowly untangle themselves and generate an alternative – however, you need leadership for that, and it doesn’t seem to me that an alternative is clear or available yet.