Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
I joined Ricochet as part of a personal, spiritual project—-though a liberal, I had come to see political polarization as an obstacle to what I believe to be not only my calling but the highest human calling: love one another.
Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind, had convinced me that liberals have to talk to conservatives and conservatives have to converse with liberals, or the country as a whole will become stupider and uglier. This makes civil dialogue between liberals and conservatives (and everyone in between) into a serious patriotic duty. Indeed, since I am unlikely to be asked to defend my country by force of arms, engaging in such dialogue may be the sole contribution I can make to the great American experiment.
“Center-right” describes (loosely) a much wider range of orientations and opinions than I had dreamed possible before joining. Folks on Ricochet do not agree about everything (to put it mildly). I admire the intellectual diversity I’ve found here, and applaud my fellow members for their willingness to hang in there and keep talking even when passions are aroused and the debate is unlikely to be resolved to everyone’s (or anyone’s) entire satisfaction. I have learned a lot about good conversation—-not just in terms of more and better content, but technique and tenacity too—-from you.
Here is what I’m worried about:
In their 2015 Atlantic article “The Coddling of the American Mind,” Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff discussed the ways that American college students are being trained into habits of thinking that are strongly associated with mental illness, specifically depression and anxiety disorders.
One of these is “negative filtering,” and Lukianoff and Haidt (quoting Leahy, Holland and McGinn) described it as a habit of “focus[ing] almost exclusively on the negatives and seldom notic[ing] the positives.”
“When applied to campus life, mental filtering allows for simpleminded demonization,” said the authors.
When I became involved with Ricochet, I told my husband I felt like I’d gone back to college — challenged, stimulated and discomfited by turns, reading and writing about ideas I hadn’t thought about for years (or ever) while making new and interesting friends. Now I’m wondering if there is another similarity. Am I being trained into negative filtering?
Am I selectively noticing and angrily highlighting egregious nuggets of leftist cant in the president’s speeches, New York Times editorials, idle remarks of friends and relatives while ignoring the rational, reasonable parts? Persuaded that they are irrational and unreasonable, am I now avoiding conversations with left-leaning people the way I used to avoid conversations with conservatives?
“If students graduate believing that they can learn nothing from people they dislike or from those with whom they disagree, we will have done them a great intellectual disservice,” Haidt and Lukianoff write.
If I am simply becoming the right-leaning version of my left-leaning self, demonizing and disdaining the political Other, that may be an improvement in one sense — though fretful and depressed, I am more likely to be accurate in my facts and correct in my reasoning.
But how will this make me a more helpful, loving contributor to the American project?