Why Are We So Antagonistic?

In America, tensions are running high. Neighbors, family members, even communities are clashing. Why are we so antagonistic toward each other?

There is no shortage of ways to separate people. For example, the political divide is larger than it has been in a generation. Economic inequality is at record levels. Rural and urban areas are at odds with each other.

Why is there so much tension?

It’s true that thanks to the Internet, people are able to seek out ideas similar to their own. Social media can act as an echo chamber, and algorithms can limit exposure to competing ideas.

Similarly, cable news has spawned a news channel for every political outlook. Talking heads with an agenda help shape public opinion.

There is also what is known as “self-selection”. When deciding where to live, people will often choose a neighborhood filled with people who look like them, vote like them, and pray like them.

Gerrymandering, or the political act of grouping conservative or liberal voters in a district has led to candidates that are more ideologically extreme.

There also seems to be just a general lack of civility. People arguing are quick to insult, or to simply disengage altogether.

What is the cause of our polarized environment? Is it one of these explanations, or something else entirely? Why are we so antagonistic?

Related questions: How can we encourage debate? How do you know who to trust? Angry or afraid? What makes a community?

How Do We Know We Are Right?

This week’s (right?) question comes to us via reader Harold:

One of the problems we face in today’s society s that we live in a media bubble. From the blogs we read, to the TV channels we watch, to the conversations we have with friends, our own opinions are often reflected back at us, reinforcing our view of the world.

But what happens if that view is not accurate? What if my incorrect beliefs, my mistaken facts, have been repeated so often that I simply accept them as true?

I hold my truths to be self evident. But then again, people who believe the exact opposite from me think they are right just as passionately as I do. If they didn’t — or I didn’t — we’d change our minds.

If two people hold opposite viewpoints on things, at least one of them must be mistaken. Is there any way that I can make sure that it isn’t me? Or is it likely that we are both wrong, and the truth is actually somewhere in the middle of our beliefs? Does it matter?

It would certainly be an unfortunate turn of events if I hold the correct point of view, but due merely to lack of confidence I were to incorrectly concede. Instead, I barrel on in every circumstance, certain of my infallibility, despite copious evidence to the contrary. That would be fine of I were right about everything, but clearly I am not.

So how can we tell? How can we separate out truth from persuasive fiction? How do we know we are right? Or wrong?

Related questions: How can we encourage debate? What beliefs do you have that might be wrong? How do you know who to trust? How can we become better listeners?