Robert Talisse, Transcript: Rebuilding Democracy Pt. 1

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Turi: [00:00:00] Today we are thrilled to be talking to Robert . Robert is w Alton Jones professor of philosophy at Vanderbilt university in Nashville, Tennessee, where he’s also professor of political science. He’s the author of overdoing democracy, and more recently political argument in a polarized age. Bob, it’s great to talk to you.

Bob Talisse: [00:01:13] Well, thank you for having me on the program, Turi.

Turi: [00:01:16] your. Two most recent books could not be more politically appropriate as we come up to the U S select. and as Europe continues to ask questions about where it sits, how it, how it wants its politics. I want to start with, What seems to be the fundamental thesis of both those books, both overdoing democracy and political argument in a polarized days, which is, and correct me if I’ve misrepresented you, that democracy is the thesis that are stable and decent political order. Is possible among equal citizens who nevertheless disagree sometimes even really violently. That’s the sort of the start starting point. but you come that you come at it with a proviso, which is that, that. The democracy is possible amongst equal citizens who disagree, but only if that disagreement is made to work in the service of democracy by what you call civility. So I want to, for the whole of this podcast, focus on these three core ideas of yours. The first is that democracy can only happen amongst equal citizens. That those equal citizens in a sense need to disagree to further the cause of democracy, but then for them to do that, we need civility. So equal citizenship, disagreement, and civil Liberty. And we’re going to go through the podcast talking about those three ideas. So the first thing that I’d love to ask you about is what is the idea of the equal citizen and why is it so important to you?

Bob Talisse: [00:02:57] Good. So, you know, we like to think it’s very natural for us to think of democracy as a set of institutions and practices, particularly practices having to do with elections, like voting and campaigning and raising money and speechmaking but. It’s hard to make sense of why democracy has the institutional and practical forms. It does unless we identify. Some ideal, some moral commitment that is driving those institutions and practices, right? That is, we want, we might want to ask ourselves, well, why in democracy? Do we have elections? Why in democracy? Is there voting? Why in democracy are there campaigns? And it’s hard to. Answer those questions in any meaningful way, unless we say something on the order of, well, because democracy is a mode of political association in which the people govern themselves. Now that’s a familiar kind of idea. The idea of democracy is self government is , kind of textbooky statement. , but, well self-government, what does that mean? And that’s where I think you’ve got to start talking about the government of, you know, the government by people understood as equals. Now let me put that in a slightly different way. democracy is the, is an attempt to answer. Where to respond to her to solve. We might even say a moral problem, right? The moral problem, that all politics is the answer to is, you know, in order to live decent long, stable lives as individuals, there need to be rules and there need to be ways of checking the rules and ways of enforcing the rules and ways of. Changing the rules. Democracy is the thesis that, we can, as a group, make our own rules, we can govern ourselves. Now the thought then is, you know, govern ourselves. but you know, if one guy is just calling the shots and everybody gets, gets in line that’s of, of having a peaceful, stable, social water, democracy says no, no, no, no. Governing ourselves means governing ourselves in a way that recognizes that. Nobody is another person, political boss or subordinate. That is the law is going to apply equally to all of us. We’re equally going to be imposed upon by the law or equally going to be subject to the rules of government. We each have to have a share and creating, crafting, directing. Governments. We each have to have a share in saying what the rules are. That’s the necessary feature for living lives together of value is that none of us is in the political sense. another person’s, subordinate. So what’s really important then about democracy is the idea. And it’s a radical idea that a relatively, just in stable social order. Is possible in the absence of political hierarchies. Now, when I say that, I mean, you know, there are offices that have special responsibilities and powers. That don’t mean hierarchy in that sense. you know, government are higher. Governments are hierarchical structures. What I mean is that as citizens, nobody simply gets to call the shots. For anyone else? Um, it’s a dignifying, proposal, but what we w I think more often, overlook, and what I think it really needs to be more carefully attended to, especially in, political times, like the ones we’re living in is that democracy is not merely the thesis that government must treat us as equals. It is that democracy is in addition, the thesis that we need to recognize one another. As our equals that is if we’re going to be a self-governing community, that is a democratic political order. We have to recognize, one another as fellow citizens, rather than as subordinates, or masters. Or obstacles to be surmounted. we need to recognize one another as having a civic status equal to our own, even when we also regard one another. As embracing fundamentally flawed ideas about what the government should do, what the rules should be, how the policy should be in stated and so on and so forth. That is democracy calls us to recognize our fellow citizens as our political equals even. Wow. We see at least some of those, some of those other citizens as committed to political aims that we think are deeply flawed.

Turi: [00:08:27] Gotcha. How’s that that’s, that’s, that’s exactly where I want us to get to, because I think that’s where we all feel. There’s a kind of crisis, this dehumanization of the other side, a conviction that the other side is somehow corrupt, or as you’ve put it the praised or dishonest or incompetent intellectually or morally, we were in the middle of an election cycle in the U S. I can’t remember a time where the, portrayal of the other side on either side Democrat, a Republican, Republican Democrat Democrat has been so brutal has been so, so full of contempt. So, can you bring us up to speed as to why we’re here? What has happened here? What is this, polarization. That we’re seeing across the political landscape.

Bob Talisse: [00:09:19] Sure. So here’s the thing interesting. A couple of just data points, particularly about the U S so though some of them generalize to other contemporary democracy, is that okay? in the United States, the overwhelm and majority of people agree that politics has of late. Become excessively and unacceptably, antagonistic hostile, aggressive, yeah, uncivil. So we’ve got a, large numbers of people, including people who are. Bitterly, politically divided sharing a P sharing an assessment of the state of play in contemporary democracy. And the assessment is the temperature is just way too high. Temperature needs to come down. We need to restore some, civility and consilience and cooperativeness into our politics. No, that’s the good news. Here’s the second data point that. Cast some shade. We might say on the piece of good news, when you ask those, those same folks who think that politics has become too acrimonious. Well, what could be done to improve things overwhelmingly? The answer is yes. Well, tell the people on the politically other side, just to give us more of what we want. That wasn’t predictable. Yeah. Right, right. So the thought is both that politics has become too uncivil. But the key to civility is resignation from the opposition, right? So it looks as if even the, even the, the lamenting, the decrying of incivility in American politics is itself an expression of, to use the word. You just use our polarization by that. I mean, it’s itself an expression of our sense that our political opponents are in some way. Relevant way, morally, intellectually, socially alien, and they’re alien in a way that calls into question their fitness for democratic citizenship. Now, when did we put it that way? And you start looking as, I suppose, some listeners will be familiar with at some of the rhetoric, that has been. increasingly overt in American politics, especially at, you know, the national levels. The rhetoric is all feeding on that sense that the political opposition is other or alien in a way that makes the opposition. Either unfit for democracy or positively opposed to democracy.

Turi: [00:12:30] So that talks to your specific, sorry, but that talks specifically to your point around equal citizenship, right? Cause that’s what devalues the equal citizenry of the other side.

Bob Talisse: [00:12:41] That’s exactly right. That is when we see our political opposition as, by that fact of there being our opposition as unfit for democracy. We can no longer see them as our fellow citizens in the full sense of that term. We have to see the men as the political equivalent of bad weather, right. Something to be endured something, maybe to be avoided, something, to be overcome, something to be set aside. there are obstacles. And what that means is that. Politics them becomes, what I’ve called the cold civil war politics then just becomes not the prospect of, trying to realize the ideal of self government among equals. Despite the fact that we disagree about what government should look like that gets thrown out the window politics then simply becomes the method by which. Without having to raise arms, we get to impose our will on others. And that’s a fundamentally anti egalitarian, anti equality, stance that politics is, is a contest for whose will is going to prevail over, over others. So again, just think about this, the. The way we do politics has created. And by the way, the way we do politics and some of the strategic incentives that are built into democratic politics for candidates and their campaigns to, to garner support and to rally their basis. Some of these sort of, internal dynamics of democracy create conditions under which okay. Core democratic capacity is erosion. That core democratic capacity is the capacity to regard one political opposition within a very broad spectrum of opinion. One’s political opposition as nonetheless. One’s equal and I’m part of the same project and part of the same political project.

Turi: [00:15:08] So you’re excluding them from your you’re excluding both sides, exclude each other from the democratic process. Essentially. Can I, can I ask you a perhaps crazy question on the surface, but are both sides right? To think that the other is in fact. Extreme and problematic. I think what I’m asking here is, is there evidence that actually black lives matter, protesters in the streets are more left wing than historically the left has been. And that Trump supporters on the right are more right wing than they’ve been historically. Is that true? Can we talk about the actual, what you call the political polarization rather than belief polarization? So, yeah, sure. Are we more extreme?

Bob Talisse: [00:15:55] So again, I’m just now going to talk primarily only about the United States. Although some of these data also generalize, to the UK and to parts of Europe, although. So here’s something that, citizens, typically on first hearing are kind of shocked to hear, which is this, power sense? Of the extremity of the opposition has intensified in the United States. So citizens are inclined to see their, their fellow citizens who are differently affiliated politically as further. extreme in the direction of those opposing political commitments than they did 30 or 40 years ago. Right. However, and here’s the surprising part when you actually look at individual citizens policy commitments with respect to issues that not too long ago, talking like the nineties, 1990s in this country were considered. Hot button culture, war divisions. The United States. Citizenry is no more divided. On any of those questions, then they were in the eighties and nineties.

Turi: [00:17:14] And maybe just to ask what those are, abortion gay marriage, gays in the military, those kind of cultures.

Bob Talisse: [00:17:20] Exactly it STEM cells euthanasia. , these were the hot button, political issues of the day, such that there were, you know, really what were understood at the time to be really unbridgeable Gulf between the United States versions of liberals and conservatives on issues about sexual morality, the beginning and end of life, abortion, women in the workplace, gay marriage. These sorts of things were days in the military, as you just said, these sorts of things were really hot button issues in the United States today. Not only with respect to those particular issues, we were just talking about are conservative and liberal citizens no more divided than they were in the nineties with respect to a lot of them. They’ve moderated. That is opposition to same sex. Marriage has plummeted in the United States. It’s now not even a hot button issue. In fact, you won’t hear any candidate talking about this in any election in the United States now.

Turi: [00:18:22] So there’s a real back cultural shift. There’s been an alignment of issues across left and right. So, and in fact, on a political level, there’s actually this far more in common between. Left and right on that issue. One question here, have, has the, the, the, kind of the, the frenzy of disagreement in the nineties about those issues just translated into the same level of frenzy of disagreement, about issues such as, I don’t know, transgender rights rather than gay rights or, intersectionality and critical theory versus whatever it would be. I’ve we just has the rage of before just translated into a different rage, but equal rage on other things today.

Bob Talisse: [00:19:00] Well, so the effect of stuff, the rage that you’re talking about has indeed escalated. and it’s escalated in ways that far out strip any of the actual. Divisions. What it looks though, however, is that these culture issues about particularly surrounding race resonate deeply with citizens, unlike in the eighties and nineties, when you could find citizens who were perfectly able to tell you what the debate about abortion is or what gay marriage is now. In the United States, the culture issues, although they’re more, volatile emotionally, the average citizen, can’t tell you what critical race theory is. Doesn’t really know what the hubbub is about, about transgender rights. They have some picture in their mind of. Radical leftist. And our kiss somehow left us in anarchists and Democrats are role the same in the United States these days, in the imaginary, in the United States these days, they have these senses, these sort of gut feelings of dislike for this pretty amorphous nebulous ill-defined other, but cannot articulate in any sustained way. What the political issues are. That’s got them so angry. It sounds like the worst of all possible worlds. This is exactly right. It’s the effect, right? The negative effect we have in the States for the people on the other side has outstripped in a way that’s confounding in a way like any grasp of what the disagreements are, what the issues are. Well, bring it up in fact are that’s fine.

Turi: [00:20:59] That’s fascinating. And, as you articulate it, but you’re fine. Can I ask you to, just bring this back to the theoretical terms that you use to, to, to, to map this out on the one hand you’ve got. Political polarization, which is the, the distance in, in ideas. Right. And then on the other, you have what you call belief polarization. Can you unpack that a little bit so we can

Bob Talisse: [00:21:21] sure. Sure. So, you know, it’s common, among political commentators across the spectrum. It’s kind of like the word civility people, lament polarization it’s this country is so polarized. It’s not often, articulated what exactly the term means. And it turns out it means lots of different things. And so, a lot of, even the academic discourse about polarization sort of confronts a, a kind of terminological ambiguity. So political polarization is you just pour it, put it. Turi is the some metric of the ideological distance between opposing political camps, different ways of measuring ideological distance. And we could talk about those if you like, but you know, we, the intuitive story about political polarization is that when opposing political camps or parties are politically polarized, the common ground drops out. The middle ground drops out the. Cooperative people huddled together at, at the polls and no longer see fit to cooperate with the other side. And what results from political polarization is deadlock and frustration and resentment. And also, a, you know, an impaired ability to actually get on with governing because in a democracy governing requires compromise and give and take and exchange and, and all the rest cooperation and all the rest. So that’s an intuitive sense of polarization and, depending on what exactly what, which exact metric we want to point to, to talk about how to measure that distance, we could talk about the United States, being, especially politically polarized or only moderately politically polarized and so on. So we could talk about that. I feel like, but I think the more important contrast here is with a less familiar, but, in some ways, all the more intriguing. A phenomenon. That’s also called polarization, which I call in the book belief polarization. And in other contexts is sometimes called group polarization. Belief. Polarization is a social cognitive phenomenon. It’s not the metric or the measure of the distance between two groups. It rather is a measure of the way in which a like-minded group shifts. Into more extreme beliefs and attitudes. This is a very, very robust cognitive phenomenon. And it’s got, you know, sort of popular correlates in. The yes man, or group think phenomenon, this sort of idiomatic, sense of, you know, what happens when you surround yourself only with people who tell you, how great you are and how correct you are about everything. Well, what happens in those sort of yes, man or group thing cases is, you surround yourself with people who are constantly affirming your views about things you sometimes imperceptibly, but reliably, nonetheless, Shift into more radical versions of those views. turns out that this is a, very powerful cognitive dynamic. It’s been studied since the 1950s, we find polarization in like-minded groups of all kinds all throughout the world, groups that are likeminded, with respect to different kinds of commitments from moral commitments and political commitments, even to, just, you know, you get a bunch of people who agree that I don’t know. Jennifer Anniston is. I mean, I’m dating myself here. Jennifer Anniston is particularly attractive. You get all the Jennifer Addison fans together. Talk about how attractive she is. And in the course of a discussion about her physical appearance, everybody adopts a more favorable estimation of her appearance. That is, you’ve got a bunch of people come clear Patra. She’s not just a very beautiful woman. She’s the most beautiful woman of all time. Yeah, this is exactly it.

Turi: [00:25:14] now, so let’s sorry. I know you’re a philosopher, not a psychologist. what you’re describing is something that I try and avoid and fail to every day, which is, spend time on Twitter. And I see this every, every day on Twitter, I try and you walk me through the psychological mechanisms at work here in belief, polarization, group polarization.

Bob Talisse: [00:25:33] Sure. Sure. Sure. So, you know, there are different accounts of what the mechanisms are and I’m just going to, I’m going to give you sort of my view about how this works, in the scholarly literature, among political psychologists, psychologists, some cognitive scientists and philosophers, you can find different ways of trying to sort of square up the data, but here’s how I think belief polarization works. I don’t think belief polarization occurs simply because when we surround ourselves with likeminded others, we hear new and unfamiliar reasons to believe the thing we already believe. And, when we hear new unfamiliar reasons that confirm our views, we, we put those new reasons onto the pile of evidence. We take ourselves already that, and therefore we become more, more confident and ready to say more extreme things. I think that it’s a far more group dynamical, phenomenon. And this is why it’s so easy to spot it. On social media, even in cases where new information is not being shared. Right. you know, the,

Turi: [00:26:46] so one thing here is, sorry, just to interrupt. One thing here is, you’re in a group, you add more information in support of your view. Therefore your view, you become more confident in your view. That’s one key phenomenon phenomenon of, of, of group polarization. There’s also that tendency to extreme views that you’ve just described in the case of Jennifer, Anna, since you’ve got extra confidence, you’ve got a sort of a radicalization of views. Right. Is there an element of protectiveness in group? cause there’s also, I mean, from social media, there is something very aggressive about the ingroup polarization aggressor V the other group. What happens then? What’s that negative definition of the in group.

Bob Talisse: [00:27:27] Good, good, good. So as we shift into our more extreme selves and you just, I think you sort of touched on it very nicely. I think that the phenomenon is driven by. Are as effective or emotional senses of belonging. With particular others. And the way that we shift both into being more confident and more extreme is when we find out that others who are relevantly like ourselves believe the same things that we do. that is, I think belief polarization is better understood on the model of fans in a stadium. That is, I think that what happens in belief, polarization is roughly what happens, at a sporting event. You become more of a fan by attending a sporting event. And by the way, as you become more of a fit fan by attending a sporting event. Not only do you become more enthusiastic? Not only does your estimation of your team become even more heightened, not only do you start to entertain these more exaggerated, evaluations of the team, your behavior becomes more and more like the other fans. You start behaving more and more, or in unison with them, you cheer when they cheer you dress like them, you wear symbols that indicate to others that you’re a fan of that team so that they can say, Hey, another Yankees fan. We’ve got something. Yeah. In common. All of this is affirmation in the effect of sense. It makes us feel good about who we are. And when we feel good about who we are, We become more confident and when we become more common, we adopt exaggerated more extreme. formulations and articulations of the commitments that we see as essential to who we are, that is we become more. , we become more fanatical in that sense, simply in virtue of being affirmed by people who think we’re like ourselves now to get to your particular question while that happens. As we shift into this more confident, more extreme, more fanatical in that sense, I just spelled out version of ourselves, our conception of the outsiders, our conception of the people who are different becomes increasingly distorted. And for those who listen, who are sports fans, you’ll probably recognize this too. You’re in a packed stadium. Your favorite team is winning. Your estimation of the team is going through the roof. Your enthusiasm is going through the roof. Something else happens. You start to adopt. more, you start doing more heavily negative attitudes towards the other team and towards its fans, you might start to pity them or show contempt for them, or wonder why they’re such loser. You start to feel actual contempt for the people, for the guy wearing the other Jersey. That guy becomes. An enemy, not just the fan of a team who’s losing and isn’t it terrible. That guy becomes an opponent. It’s very, very interesting. And as you say, sort of petrifying sort of feature of group dynamics, that one, the stronger we feel. And I want to emphasize that this is an effective it’s about our feelings, the stronger one, we feel affiliated with a group and the more. We see the other members of that group as affirming us as authentic, partners in membership. The more negative and more intensely negative effect we adopt towards the people that we perceive to be outsiders. and that’s not a bad thing. No, no, that’s not a good thing. And so you can see, I see, especially in a, in a, a political arrangement, like the United States where we really have, you know, two major parties. we can talk about whether that’s a, a bad feature of, of a democracy as such, if you like, I happen to think it is, but we have two major parties and it’s a winning strategy for the parties to, punctuate, to even exaggerate to, to escalate their expressions of contempt. For the other side, because that’s a potent form of political motivation. Is the contempt for the other in the same way that, you know, sports teams, mascots, rile up the crowd by getting them to feel their, you know, their enthusiasm sometimes by getting them to, by stoking their contempt for the, for the away team. Similarly, that’s what we’re seeing in at least U S politics. Now it’s driven by contempt for the out party.

Turi: [00:32:34] I want to, I want to open this up in a little bit, but, the key feature of democracy that emerged from both your books was that it turns out this polarization is not a bug. It is a feature. Right. It is there for a reason. not just because it, it helps these political parties set up, but actually because the very principle of debate and arguments and the rest of it is, sort of both morally and epistemically embedded in the idea of democracy. I want to, I want to ask you why, why now? Why have we seen this, this, this radicalization of. A belief, polarization. Why have we seen that over the course, the last 30 years what’s happened? And perhaps I might also ask you just to drop in, some, some of your examples about the ways in which we see it, because one description of polarization is also that, political identities end up wrapping up far more into everything that we do, right. So it’s not just that we’re left and right. Is that everything about us is one thing or another.

Bob Talisse: [00:33:37] Good. So perfect. Let me just pick up with the sports fan analogy, because I think this can be helpful in this, with response to this kind of question as well. Remember when we feel, or when we identify with a particular sporting team and its fans. Not only as I just described as our enthusiasm and all the rest sort of escalate. But as I had also mentioned, we become more homogeneous has a group that is, sports fans, particularly activated ones, really committed fans. they’re expressions of their. Sports affiliation, start to permeate other parts of their lives. They decorate their homes with, you know, the emblem of their team. They wear clothing that signals, there are sports affiliation in the States. We, you know, it’s not uncommon to see bumper stickers that. We’ll tell you the people inside this car are fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers, right? A football American football team. So more and more as we sort of, as, as we identify with a sporting team and its fans, expressions of that identity starts spilling over into more and more of our daily lives. Now we’re seeing this in the political. context in a way that far out strips the sporting case in that in America and other places as well. But I’m going to, again, stick with the United States for a moment in America. As our country, past 30 to 40 years has become more diverse as a population. In the aggregate and all kinds of encouraging ways, ethnic religious, sexual orientation, and identification, so on and so forth. The local space individuals inhabit physically, socially and otherwise have become increasingly homeless genius, such that in the United States today. Professions are more partisan, homogeneous or more homogeneous or on par along partisan lines than they were 30 years ago, schools are more homogeneous along partisan lines than there were 30 years ago. Neighborhoods are more homogeneous along partisan lines than they were 30 years ago. Even within large cities that are home to a. Pretty diverse, largely diverse population. There are still neighborhoods within those cities that are fundamentally conservative. For example, walk me through something I want to, I want some, I want to get, I want some examples of the professions, give me a left and a right. So it’s very, very likely that your dentist is liberal. Very likely that your surgeon is conservative. For example, why? I think again, it’s, I’m, I’m not exactly sure. The explanatory mechanism is there a, I don’t know. No. Okay. It’s very, very, I mean, you know, these are whatever the explanation is simple. Oh, there are tons of others, right? There are tons of others. just give one example, the number of clocks in your home. Positively correlates with how conservative your politics are by contrast the number of maps in your home positively correlates with how liberal you are. There’s a signifies, not just decoration. In other words, that’s right. They’re signifiers, not just decoration. That’s the important, the number of tote bags, you know, the UK, I’m sure you have the, we have the United States, we’ve got tote bags. typically in the U S. Tote bags, have graphics on them. sometimes even verbal messaging, in almost all cases, or in many cases, at least the tote bags will have sort of either political or moral messaging about the importance of reusable, bags or recycling, the left leaning for the United States, major cable net. net news network, MSNBC sells tote bags that say, this is who we are on them. That’s the message. the other side of that tote bag has the message talk politics to me, which is interesting because it does not have a tote bag. Well, Fox has tote bags, the, the, the more extreme right wing outlets, Breitbart. Will not sell tote bags. you know, the joke there is that, you know, tote bags are for people who think climate change is real, but notice these are not only ways of living your political commitments. There are also ways of publicly expressing them to others in ways that invite certain kinds of social interactions and disinclined others. So it’s inviting a political conversation only after having expressed. Right. So like talk politics to me. But first you have to know what I’m going to say in order to have the conversation, which is again, I think a puzzling from his head kinetic perspective message. So can I ask you, because, you frame this. Beautifully as, in a sense, a, an irony, I kind of counterpoint to the heterogeneity of the U S so you have this tribalization of politics, and a sort of balkanization of lived experience while at the same time. The U S becomes more and more diverse. Is that not just, is that, is there a cause effect game here? Is it, is there a sense that as the country gets more and more diverse identity politics becomes the place in which you tribalized? Because, because everything else is just too complicated. So I think that’s part of it. you know, again, I don’t, I don’t think that there’s a unitary explanation for this kind, for the set of phenomenon. So what you’ve just described seems to be part of the explanation. I think another part of the explanation though, one I explore in the overdoing democracy book in particular is the fact that over the past 30, 40 years, More and more of our even physical environment, but certainly our social environment has become up to us. That is through technology through the internet, through, the way business is conducted for the way commerce is now conducted. We have more and more latitude. Over our physical and social surroundings than we did in the past. That is we’re more mobile, socially and other. And in other regards, as a society, that’s not inconsistent, but not to say that, that there aren’t sort of inequalities in material wellbeing that are inconsistent with justice in my view, in the United States. And there are, it’s just that. As compared with 30 or 40 years ago, Americans are more mobile in all kinds of respects. That is to say more and more of who we interact with, where the interactions take place, what features of our environment we’re going to have to contend with and which features of our environment can be neutralized. This has all become in an amazing way. Increasingly up to us as individuals, we have more latitude over the world, our immediate surroundings than we did 30 years ago, 40 years ago. And it turns out I happen to thank for reasons that are, You know, sort of normal, quite, you know, innocent, you know, just reasons about personal preferences and all the rest. I don’t think there’s a deeper sinister story about this, or at least not a detailed one. It turns out that with this enhanced latitude, each of us is decided each of us has, acted. We’ve made choices in ways that have constructed our local environments in our own image, such that now it’s really easy to go through the world in your day to day activities and not have to interact with anything unexpected, anyone who’s going to, present you with something that is unfamiliar. and that does on that back to your point around equal citizens and this notion of a shared project, a shared democratic project that everybody’s involved with that does, you know, death by a thousand cuts, but it phrase the understanding of this collective that’s right. So when you see that our social spaces are partitioned in these ways that we have chosen that reflect. Our partisanship, because as we were saying a moment ago, more and more is expressive of and reflective of our partisanship. So we’re living in social and physical spaces that are segregated politically, which means that we are heightening our exposure to believe polarization, which also means that more and more of our conception of what the political other side is like. Is coming from our own side and surprise, surprise those depictions of the political opposition that we get from our political allies are increasingly distorted so that we come to, I think, we come to hold, let’s say increasingly negative. Attitudes and dispositions towards the other side, on the basis of portrayals of them that come from people who are like us and often also from people who are like us and have an interest in us. Not liking the people who are different.

Turi: [00:44:20] So the specific example here is that your idea of what a Trump voter feel believes in would come via MSNBC. If you are a. Democrat and your idea of what a Democrat believes would come to you via Sean Hannity or Fox, if you’re a Republican and that, so that, in a sense that political polarization, the bit, which she isn’t so bad in the U S and elsewhere that bit. Is sort of, is exaggerated and therefore plays back into the belief polarization

Bob Talisse: [00:44:51] that’s right. Ultimate th the, the, the overall view in the overdoing democracy book is that political beliefs and political and belief polarization work together in a kind of downward spiraling dynamic is in fact, I might even say that in the book that belief polarization incentivizes, it rewards, political agents, who are interested in. expanding the gap between opposing partisans, it incentivizes politicians and parties and commentators to emphasize their contempt for the other side, which requires them to promote distorted portrayals of the other side. Now here’s the weird part about the dynamic, This mixture of intensified political and belief, polarization feeding off each other actually turns us. Into people who are more like what the other side thinks of us, right. It’s kind of a self fulfilling prophecy. We become more, what more like the caricature that is peddled by the other side, by these forces. So it’s self fulfilling in a way that ultimately is degenerative. Of democracy. Eventually we lose the ability to sustain civil relations with people who aren’t just like us. Now, when you put it that way, you say, Oh yeah, I could see how that’s degenerative democratically. You say, yeah, democracy, the core competency of democracy. The question capacity for democratic citizens has to be the ability to recognize in their political opponent partners in a common. Political endeavor, equal partners. That is not only, we also get a vote. And so far as we’re recognizing them as equal partners, they’re people who deserve a vote who are entitled to an equal say they don’t really get one. They’re entitled to one. And right now in the United States, that message that the other side is entitled to have their say. That is almost overtly now denied on all sides. Now it’s the other side gets the, gets another stay. And that itself is a weakness of the system is a pretty mainstream political idea. Even if it’s not overt, it’s pretty clearly communicated, nightly, on, on news channels,

Turi: [00:47:19] Bob. So, we you’re, you’re describing a, a sort of quite bleak situation. but we’re also talking a little bit to the incentives around it, media, Fox, and MSN doing, doing their piece, politicians themselves, again, I’m talking about this in the context of polarization being a feature of democracy, not a bug, right? lot of people have spent a lot of time talking about the polarization, built into the algorithms of the tech platforms, Facebook, YouTube. Twitter, which deliberately puncture the filter bubble. They do show you opinions from alternative sites, yours, but really in an effort to make you irritated outrage. You, there’s a final piece that I want to touch on as well, which is in your description of. Lifestyle politics. The, the tote back from MSN, the fact that, liberals will get their coffee at Starbucks and conservatives will get their coffee at Dunkin donuts. For example, Nike’s support of Colin. Kaepernick’s taking of the knee dove in the UK and possibly in the U S as well, very much taking an approach to a, sort of a liberal approach to what counselor’s beauty. Is there a straight question of marketing that a whole bunch of corporations and media organizations and platforms have worked out that actually humans like being polarized, they liked being tribalized and therefore the profiting of it.

Bob Talisse: [00:48:49] Oh, yeah, no, I think that you just put it in, put it exactly right. There is a, so this feeds into the it’s a feature it’s, it’s an unfortunate feature, not a bug in the sense that it’s deviation from democracy, you know, democracy requires us to interact with likeminded people, build coalitions with them. Talk about our shared political objectives. That is that part of good citizenship. Requires us to expose ourselves to these forces that ultimately chip away at our capacity to do democracy or to perform well as democratic citizens. That’s right. Part of this, of course, because the belief polarization phenomenon is okay. Effective, active, right. Having to do with emotions. We like it. We like being in, yeah. We like watching our favorite, you know, rock band play in a gigantic stadium of people cheering. It feels good for us to be affirmed in these ways. So I think that you’re right. A lot of the, the, the infiltration of. Political messaging, political, overtly political campaigning from corporations, from celebrities even. Is, incentivized and in many cases it’s just straightforwardly a marketing strategy. It’s true. Right? And the reason why it’s a marketing strategy, by the way, it wouldn’t be a marketing strategy. If we, if the people who are in charge of designing marketing strategies, didn’t have really good reasons to think it works.

Turi: [00:50:31] Nike is never going to be selling. Nike’s never going to be selling trainers into, to, to, to ID 70 year old conservatives. This is exactly right. I wanna, I wanna ask you whether this is new or whether in fact this polarization has always been that I’m, there’s a wonderful French sociologist called Emmanuel Todd who’s starting view on France. Is that. Since the French revolution, you can basically draw a diagonal line between the bottom left and the top. Right. And everything to the left and above that line is Republican. And by which I mean non monarchist. Okay. I understand. So yeah, they are Democrats that broadly irreligious they’re predominantly on the left and everything to the right of that line. It’s. Very Catholic, much more still monarchist in peculiar ways. and that, that line has basically split French politics for 200. Yeah. Is what you’re in the U S or what we’re seeing with the polarization. In the UK or across Europe, notably in Eastern Europe. Sure. Is this a reversal to the, to the mean, did we have just a little blip over the course of the last, last 30 years where having beaten communism all are all these Western countries sort of coalesced around us, single liberal Neo liberal order.

Bob Talisse: [00:52:05] So sure. So I think in one sense, the answer is, perhaps, certainly the end of the cold war. With the, therefore the demise of some common demon for Western democratic citizens to see as the, the real, alien force that everybody has to, you know, seek to demote and, and defeat, that, Certainly set, democratic politics, in search of, new ways to understand, sort of galvanizing threats that could so energize a base. So I think that that’s part of the explanation, but I also want to say that another part of the explanation again has to do with, the way in which the technology has enabled us to. More easily curate our own social experiences because here’s one other feature of, of, how polarization has, how, how, how the negative effect for the other that is part of polarization has sort of shifted that we didn’t get to mention, but I think it’s an important piece of this one thing that’s not new. Is hostility for the other side. That’s not new. That’s part of human nature. That’s certainly part of human political culture. And it’s certainly part of every democracy. So cross partisan animosity is not new. my father was a lifelong Republican. And he, when I was a kid, he really, we disliked Jimmy Carter, both as a candidate. And also then as a president, really disliked Jimmy Carter, intensely disliked Jimmy Carter, and intensely disliked the Democrats of the time. So there was a lot of animosity and hostility for the democratic candidate, the democratic office holder, the democratic party, the democratic party leaders. And so on the interesting thing about my dad and this is as it turns out typical of the, citizens of the United States, through the seventies and much of the eighties. The interesting thing about my dad is that the guy who lived across the street from us was a union guy and a Democrat and liberal. And he was my dad’s best friend in the neighborhood. That is like, I don’t know, you know, if they just didn’t talk about it or what, but my father didn’t transfer his negative. Attitudes and dispositions towards the Democrats and the democratic party and the candidates to ordinary citizens who affiliated with that political platform, those political candidates, those political agents. My dad liked the guy across the street. They were friends. My dad didn’t see the guy across the street as defective as a citizen or deprived as a human being because the guy across the street was clearly a Carter voter and a Carter supporter that has shifted in the United States. And your is partisan. Animosity is now more commonly directed. Not only towards the party elites and the party leaders and the candidates and the spokesperson. We now have those same intense, negative feelings towards our fellow citizens, who we believe to be differently affiliated that has shifted. That’s part of it. That’s gotta be part of the story that we’ve turned this negative effect on our fellow citizens. We’ve and I take it. At least on my account. This has to do with the personalization of politics that now, now that politics, our political identities are all the more central to our understandings of ourselves as social creatures that is now that our political identity or political affiliation has become. And in some cases by some metrics has surpassed the role that religion plays in our understanding of ourselves. That is we’re now more inclined than we were to regard ourselves as liberal and conservative, rather than Christian or Jew. You see our political affiliation as defining. And all encompassing in this way. That’s new and it’s got a complicated set of sort of ex you know, sort of causal explanations and social explanations that, you know, are clearly going to be very complicated, but that’s, that’s new. And that’s what is, I think, ultimately the source of how this particular feature of democratic citizenship that involves some risk because. Democratic citizenship exposes us to and laudable and admirable activities of democratic citizenship exposes us to belief polarization, but that personalization of the political in the sense I just described is what makes that feature, not a bug. It’s a feature, but it’s still pathological, right? So you have here.

Turi: [00:57:42] A beautiful story about your father, but what it also talks to is one, the personalization of politics. The fact that for all sorts of reasons, politics has now become a much stronger identity marker for each of us personally, we’ve got the fact that there is massive amounts of self selection in our media because of the way technology, you know, allows it. But critically Physical landscape has changed. And that has also meant that it’s super unlikely that your father would have met his buddy, the union worker, right, Bob. This has been absolutely fascinating and I think, a nice place to end. The first part of this podcast thank you so much for giving us this expos. They have polarization in America today.

Bob Talisse: Well, thank you Turi, for having me on the program.

This page was last edited on Thursday, 1 Oct 2020 at 12:01 UTC