What Polarization Does to Us

Robert B. Talisse in Open for Debate:

Commentators from across the political spectrum warn us that extreme partisan polarization is dissolving all bases for political cooperation, thereby undermining our democracy.  The near total consensus on this point is suspicious.  A recent Pew study finds that although citizens want politicians to compromise more, they tend to blame only their political opponents for the deadlock.  In calling for conciliation, they seek capitulation from the other side.  The warnings about polarization might themselves be displays of polarization.

Discussions of polarization tend to fix on what polarization does to our politics — policy stalemates, negative campaigns, partisan hostility, and so on.  Were polarization simply a matter of its political manifestations, the solution would be simply that everyone should take a moment to recognize that, despite partisan divides, we’re all ultimately on the same team.  The trouble is that polarization runs deeper than this.  It affects us on the inside.

To see this, it helps to distinguish political polarization from belief polarization.  The former is the name for the condition of political intransigence that is now familiar.  The latter refers to a phenomenon by which interactions with likeminded others transform us into more extreme versions of ourselves.

More here.