Patty Limerick on Depolarization

This is an op-ed in the Denver Post by Dr.Patty Limerick of the Center of the American West. Note: you can order T-shirts with Gifford Pinchot’s quote here. I am posting because some of the research she cites may be just as true of positions and debates over land management. (I feel the same as she about being “civilian casualties” in a “battleground” state.)

Here’s the link, and below are some excerpts.

CU psychology professor Leaf Van Boven has been doing extraordinary research challenging the popular perception that polarization is the operating mode preferred by the American citizenry, and revealing, instead, the existence of a majority of moderates.

Van Boven’s work makes a close match to the findings of CU business professor Philip M. Fernbach. People asked to “justify” their political position become more entrenched and less moderate, Fernbach reports in a New York Times essay co-authored with Steven Sloman, a professor at Brown University. But ask people to “explain how [their] policy ideas work,” and “they become more moderate in their political views.” When people “explain, not just assert” they come to recognize the limits of their knowledge and become correspondingly more flexible and tolerant.

Thus, Sloman and Fernbach argue, if we are tired of extremism, “we can start to fix it by acknowledging that we know a lot less than we think.”

In a campaign season in which advertisements, speeches, and debate performances consisted almost entirely of assertion, the idea of “explaining” comes forward as a wonderfully appealing and restorative alternative.


Fellow citizens, public officials, and aspiring candidates, join me in starting this Wednesday in this manner: contemplate what Adams wrote to Jefferson on July 15, 1813, and then imagine a world in which we took to heart the example that these two old men bequeathed to us:

“You and I ought not to die, before We have explained ourselves to each other.”

We do a great deal of this on this blog, and hope that we continue to do so.

5 thoughts on “Patty Limerick on Depolarization”

  1. Sage advice!! Here is what I just sent to our local paper on the subject: Sunday’s Nov. 4 Opinion page offers an interesting contrast between New York Times columnists Paul Krugman and David Brooks. Regardless of one’s political persuasion, it is such a relief to observe David Brooks’ positive take on the Democratic Presidential candidate as opposed to Paul Krugman’s headline likening the GOP to “politics like mob protection racket.” I wish both campaigns would adopt the Brooks approach. Regardless of who wins, the victor will be MY President and I will root for him. Our country should not have to suffer any longer from the divisiveness that has emerged in this campaign.

    • WASHINGTON—According to a poll released Monday, the U.S. populace remained unsure which of the presidential candidates’ plans to destroy natural resources and render the environment unfit for human habitation would put more Americans back to work. “On one hand, President Obama has proved his commitment to creating jobs that will poison the entire American Northeast with toxic fracking chemicals, but on the other hand, Mitt Romney, with his pledge to intensify oil exploration offshore and in our nation’s protected wilderness, seems genuinely determined to put millions to work contaminating the oceans, exterminating scores of species, and inevitably accelerating a planetary cataclysm,” said Denver voter Lynn Russell, stressing the economic importance of good-paying jobs that systematically eliminate all remaining natural resources left on earth.

      (From The Onion)

  2. “if we are tired of extremism,”

    Response: Who gets the authority to label (some) participants’ positions as “extreme” within debates related to common property resource conflicts resulting in extreme predicaments?

    Polarization is to be expected– after all, this is a late hour for the planet with Super-sized Sandy still fresh in our memories. This is hardly the same planetary conditions as Adams’ and Jefferson’s.

    Applying the “extreme” label instead of acknowledging the extreme conditions we face is not only subjective and highly relative, but itself, conducive to polarization.

    So what is actually extreme? How about regulatory capture which results in citizen property and drinking water poisoned, leading to cancer and other diseases. That qualifies as extreme doesn’t it?
    Take for example, Sharon’s statement,

    (I feel the same as she about being “civilian casualties” in a “battleground” state.)

    I invite all readers to view “Gasland”, an independently- produced documentary on the human casualties of hydraulic fracking in Colorado and elsewhere across the US.

    Then blithely label those casualties and their points of view as “extreme.” This post ignores the obvious connection between advocates of free market environmentalism (sic) the well-funded “collaboration” schemes they employ for the purposes of “depolarization” in order to get along with privatization, deregulation, and devolution of the public process in exploitation of the commonwealth.

    Anyone who gets in the way of such schemes must face the slings and arrows of being labeled “extreme” by the corporate-funded bully pulpit.

    So what’s new here ?

  3. David,
    I don’t know that the authors labelled any specific view as “extremist” …yet I know that if there are middle views, there are also views on the ends. Now whether those points of view could be right or not, is a different question. Which reminds me of almost 50 years ago..

    Also the Sandy thing is not necessarily resulting from climate change. You can check out the Pielkean observations here…and his WSJ op-ed here.

  4. Gasland provides all the opportunities for “explaining” what victims of extreme public lands policy are being forced to endure, and at the same time, it provides yet another example of how the corporate bully pulpit gets used– not for addressing these environmental crimes — but how to “depolarize” victims’ points of view. This is the maintenance, care and feeding, of Business As Usual regardless of the horrific consequences.

    Fracking on public and private lands is but one of the many dimensions of environmental victimization that will continue to be denied.

    Denial, such as Sharon’s reduction of “the Sandy thing” as not being (sufficiently ?) connected to the consummate environmental crime of global warming is but a glimpse into what one can expect to emerge in these discussions.

    If the goal is truly depolarization, I suggest seeking out the root causes of victimization..

    Denialism in form or another, can be found at the root of it all.


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