Hidden Motives

A look at the hidden factors that really drive our social interactions

A Nation of Extremists

Divided and "Split"

“The overall share of Americans who express consistently conservative or consistently liberal opinions has doubled over the past two decades from 10 percent to 21 percent. And ideological thinking is now much more closely aligned with partisanship than in the past.” 

This is how the Pew Research Center summed up its recent findings about the electorate. They used the familiar language of politics: “opinion,” “partisanship,” “ideology.” But for psychologists this finding looks like a more dangerous form of pathology. It’s not just that the electorate has different ideas. They live in two distinct emotional worlds. For “consistent” read “rigid.” They don’t communicate or understand each other – or even try to understand each other. Reality is “split” into two incompatible halves. (See, “Dangerous Divisiveness.“)

We know this from other sources: the gridlock in Washington, the fragmenting of the parties, the huge sums being spent in elections, campaigns to defeat issues and candidates at all costs. What Pew did was provide evidence and numbers for what we already know. 

It’s a recipe for hatred. The “other” side – which ever side that is, liberal or conservative — is no longer seen as reasonable adults with whom we differ or can be reconciled. They are less than human.

Ken Eisold is a psychoanalyst and organizational consultant whose book about the unconscious, What You Don't Know You Know, came out in January.

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