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Toward a General Theory of Psychological Suffering

The Polarized Mind

Critical times call for critical alternatives. This post introduces a commentary that professor Sayyed Mohsen Fatemi and I published in Scientific American on April 16, 2019. The commentary proposes a general theory of psychological suffering along with some suggestions about how to reduce that suffering.

Our problem today is that we become embroiled in ideologies or class conflicts or the latest news about the Mueller report, instead of recognizing that our larger problem is not this or that particular party or divide but the fundamental issue that cuts across parties, divides, cultures, and personalities; this is the problem of the polarized mind. The polarized mind is the fixation on a single point of view to the utter exclusion of competing points of view—and it has wreaked havoc wherever there are fear and reactivity—in the streets and in the suites, in homes, in the halls of government, in businesses, and in academia. What our diagnostic categories do not cover, and what politicians repeatedly miss is that due to the stress and anxiety of modern living, to our machine models for coping, and our rampant reliance on instant answers and quick fixes, we are moving quickly toward an inhospitable and potentially explosive human condition.

On the encouraging side however are increasing studies—both quantitative and qualitative—that are showing us that this direction can change, particularly if we get to it early. We can see the fruits of this change in childrearing and education, during critical years at our worksites, and in governmental and deliberative bodies. This is why professor Fatemi and I call for a “public works program for human civility” on the scale of such policy-making that helped build the physical and financial infrastructures that have salvaged decaying societies in the past. Arguably, we are now a decaying society, and we are seeing many symptoms of this decay the world over, lest we shift our priorities.


Schneider, K.J. & Fatemi, S.M. (2016). Today's Biggest Threat: The Polarized Mind. Scientific American online, April 16

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