One of the most general and robust findings in social psychology is the power of situations to shape behavior. For example, if you are in a situation where you are competing with others, you will tend to dislike them, whereas when you are cooperating with them, you will tend to like them. This is relatively intuitive, yet we often fail to appreciate this in practice, and then we end up amazed when arbitrary groups put in competition end up in deep conflict. If artificially created competitions can inflame divisions (e.g. sports fandom usually pits very similar people against each other), perhaps we can also manufacture cooperation to reduce division.
Jonathan Haidt (a director of CivilPolitics) conceived of the idea of The Asteroids Club with this in mind and the idea is currently being incubated by To The Village Square, a non-profit dedicated to improving political dialogue. Below is an excerpt from an op-ed by Haidt in The Tallahassee Democrat:
Partisanship is not a bad thing. We need multiple teams developing multiple competing visions for the voters to choose among. But when our political system loses the ability for national interest to come before party interest, we’ve crossed over into hyper-partisanship. And that’s a very bad thing, because it paralyzes us in the face of so many impending threats.
What can we do about this? How can we free ourselves and our leaders from hyper-partisanship, and return to plain old partisanship? By joining the Asteroids Club! It’s a club for all Americans who are willing to grant that the other side sees some real threats more acutely than their own side does. It’s a concept developed with Tallahassee’s Village Square, which is hosting a series of Asteroids Club Dinner at the Square programs this year.
Asteroids Clubs would never hold debates. Debates often increase polarization. Rather, a local Asteroids Club would hold telescope parties in which members help each other to see approaching asteroids — one from each side — that they hadn’t really noticed before. Telescope parties would harness the awesome power of reciprocity. If we acknowledge your asteroid, will you acknowledge ours?
So come on, people! Dozens of asteroids are closer to impact than they were yesterday. Don’t wait for Washington to fix itself. Let’s just start working together, and if we can do it, it will be easier for Washington to follow our example. The alternative is for us to follow theirs.
If you are in the Tallahassee area, consider joining the event on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 from 5:30 to 7:30pm (more info at www.tothevillagesquare.org). At Civil Politics, we plan to both support the work of such groups, by giving them access to academic research and to support the work of academics, by giving them access to the findings generated by such real-world events.
- Ravi Iyer