News & Reviews
Why We Are Polarized
September 17, 2020
Ezra Klein wrote a brilliant, data rich book explaining and describing why and how we are polarized as a country today.
He quantifies our polarization in extremely useful and insightful ways.
Klein is focused primarily on our political world, and he offers an extremely useful history of our main political parties that explains very clearly how we got to where we are now in each party and why that polarization has happened and continues to exist.
The book is extremely well researched and hugely data dependent in very useful and insightful ways.
It explains how our demography and our economic realities have led us to the situation we are now in. Our polarization is actually increasing in very measurable and discernable ways.
Klein points out that we have become geographically polarized, for example, and he shows that when you look at facts like the existence of “landslide counties” — where the presidential candidates achieve more than 60 percent of the vote — the number of those counties has gone from 39 percent of voters living in landslide counties in 1992, to having 61 percent of our voters living in landslide counties in the last election.
He explains how a combination of gerrymandering and local political concentration has reduced both parties to needing to appeal to their own most extreme members to be nominated and elected, rather than having a need to appeal to the middle of the political spectrum to gain votes.
Klein writes about the political ethics that stem from that polarization — with the other group being regarded as the enemy rather than the opposition for too many of our political leaders.
He writes about the role that various religious alignments have played in steering those thought processes.
He presents an extremely useful history of the news media evolution from needing just a few years ago to achieve the expectation of objectivity to needing to meet the expectation of pure advocacy in order for our media people to maintain their audience. He describes the role of CNN and Fox News and MSNBC as news organizations that represent and present points of view rather than simply reporting on current events.
His data about the fact that there is a very low likelihood today that the people who choose each of those outlets for their own information will ever even see or hear a news story on the networks that are not their personal political leaning is one of the most jarring and alarming elements of the book.
Large percentages of people in this country today do not tend to have any exposure to the other point of view other than the one brought to them by their chosen social media outlets and preferred news channels.
The book explains clearly how the various highly targeted social media tools steer people’s thoughts and perspectives.
Klein actually runs a social media service — and he is very candid and informative about that business and that process.
Patterns of behavior are clearly in the scope and focus of the book.
He is grounded in some of the key elements of instinctive behavior — although he does not identify instinctive behavior clearly when discussing it.
“The human mind is exquisitely tuned to group affirmation and group difference,” Klein wrote. “It takes almost nothing for us to form a group identity.” (p. 135.)
He writes about group behavior, group identity, group competition, and group loyalty without ever discussing that those behavior patterns all have deep roots in our instincts and hard wiring.
He is not optimistic about our future. After describing clearly how we got to where we are now, he suggests that we have very heavy lifting to do to get to better and less damaging future patterns of behavior. At that point the usefulness of the book breaks down a bit, because his suggestions are directionally correct but clearly less than adequate for the task at hand.
He writes about reforming the filibuster and improving the electoral college situation, and maybe even moving to a ranked-choice voting approach for various elections as suggestions for making the future better. Klein admits to his strong tendency and love of being a wonk — and those particular solutions come very directly from that functionally insightful but very wonk anchored way of thinking.
The problem is that none of those well-intentioned solutions will ever be attempted or supported or even understood until we reach a higher level of interaction as a people and until we come to a shared understanding that we actually want to be an American people, and that we want America to both thrive and survive in our most noble elements and form.
At our very best, we have some of the most enlightened and positive elements for any society or people on the planet. We also have sinned and done horrible things.
Klein’s wonderful podcast that he did with author Isabel Wilkerson after she published her book Casteboth talked about how badly we have sinned and how extremely enlightened we can be at our very best — and we need to build on and strengthen that sense of who we are in order to come together in ways that can help us survive the divisions we face today.
We need to agree on our basic values. We all need to have an understanding that we do support democracy and fairness and a future where we all both win and continuously improve.
Then, to succeed, we will need to do very intentional things to bring us together — with a sense that we face great danger if we go down the wrong paths, but can enter into a golden age for our country if we get things right. We have a huge opportunity right now to deal with our racism and with our gender-damaging and even misogynistic behaviors across our various settings because both the Black Lives Matter and the Me-Too movements have made us more aware than we have ever been in those areas about things we shouldn’t do and the things we can and should do that can give us enlightened future behaviors.
We are building a new culture in a number of important areas, with an awareness that we did not have before those movements began to impact our thinking and expectations.
We are at a golden point for our potential and we are in great danger as a country at the exact same time. We can go far too easily down the slippery and seductive slope into our most negative tribal inter group behavior and into hating each other and celebrating the people in our group who do damage to other people — or we can decide now to be inclusive and we can set up a future that helps us all get to the best elements of the best version of the American Dream.
We need enlightened people to recognize how heavily influenced we are by our instincts to be territorial, tribal, hierarchical, loyal, and protective of our own group — and we need to build on our instincts to create broader and more inclusive definitions of who we are in ways that allow us to be united by our values and beliefs, and not just by our race, ethnicity, or other inclusion factors that inherently divide as well as unit us.
We need to have our intellect create our cultures instead of having our cultures drive our intellect into damaging behaviors and beliefs.
To do that, we need to understand exactly where we are now in multiple important political areas of our lives — and this book about why we are divided can help us with that discernment and awareness process. We can use the Six Group Alignment Triggers to help make that happen.
Ezra Klein’s book, Why We Are Polarized, can be an extremely useful tool for helping us get grounded at this point in the process.
Everyone should read it to gain and benefit from the blessings of his extensive research and to more clearly see where we are now.
Thank you, Ezra.
Knowledge is power.
Klein increases our knowledge and our personal power to discern and to understand in good and appreciated ways with a book that was clearly an extremely challenging book to write and that is also a very challenging book to read.
Don’t expect to get through it in one setting. Also — don’t expect not to feel a need to read major parts again. This book is almost a relationship when you have finished reading it.
We are very blessed to have both this book and Caste coming to us in the same year.