Featured Essays

Polarization and Alienation: The Natural Result of Going Against Our Nature

Because I wrote a book about talking across lines of difference, I’m often asked why polarization has reached such an extreme. I can recite a list of the usual suspects—the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 and subsequent fragmentation of media into overheated niches; geographical sorting; the elevation of morality-infused issues like abortion and …

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Identity Politics: Should We Just Call It Fairness?

The ever-present debate about “identity politics” continues to rage. It’s a conversation that gained strength during the civil rights activism of the latter 20th century, but it truly became a cultural touchstone amid what many have come to see as the “culture war” that has culminated in the horrifically divisive 2016 election, and the current …

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The Pros and Cons of Emotive Politics

Better Angels has advanced its mission of depolarizing politics by focusing largely on psychological techniques encouraging cooperation, empathy, mutual respect, and productive communication. We can justify this approach because politics, like religion, is an emotional issue. Our political positions are largely founded on belief systems that rely on fundamental faith in those beliefs. When our …

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Dispatch on One-on-One Conversations: Talking Ourselves Into a New Perspective

By Randy Lioz and Paul Norris Involvement in Better Angels can be a highly rewarding endeavor, and each of us feels an increasing pull towards the organization, taking on more and more responsibility within it over time. In addition to sharing coordinator duties within California—Paul in the north, Randy in the south—Paul is also an …

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Red or Blue? Liberal or Conservative? The Pitfalls of Labels

Our political divide between red and blue, left and right, is often characterized in the media as an ideological conflict between liberalism and conservatism. Yet the meanings of these ideological terms are often misinterpreted and mischaracterized–most often by opposing points of view– in order to fit a preferred political narrative. For those on the left, …

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Dispatch on a Debate at UC Berkeley

The University of California, Berkeley, holds a distinct place in the history of political discussion in America. In fact, it’s practically synonymous with left-wing campus protests. In the midst of great national division over the Vietnam War, it was in fact a local land dispute—which spurred the crowd-powered creation of People’s Park on university land—that …

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A Mild, Sympathetic Critique of Better Angels Debates

I recently had the pleasure of participating in a Better Angels Debate event in Santa Monica, California, and wanted to offer my insights into the process and how that may or may not feed into BA’s mission of depolarization. The particular debate topic was posited in the affirmative: To abolish the Electoral College system of …

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Mistakes were Made, But Not By Me: A Look at Some Common Cognitive Errors

When I started researching the different types of cognitive errors to which we fallible humans are susceptible, I had a hypothesis: Blues don’t make cognitive errors. Reds do. Oh, the irony. My presumption that my team of liberal and progressive Blues is free of cognitive bias was itself a trifecta of conformity, availability and confirmation …

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Our Descent Toward Political Loathing, Resentment, and Distrust—And How We Rise Again

“My country is tearing itself apart. I must do something…but what, exactly?” These were the thoughts running through my head during the 2016 election. It seemed our country– and my Facebook feed– was full of vitriol. It couldn’t lead to good governing, and it couldn’t be healthy for people to constantly be outraged. Yet what …

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Work and Fairness: Different Visions, Same Values

Perhaps more than any other Western democratic people, Americans revere work. This is not surprising, given our history. Unlike the aristocratic European societies that colonized the Western Hemisphere, where unaccountable noblemen gave the order to work to their peasant subjects, and where labor was carried out for the benefit of society’s rulers, the United States …

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Building a House United: The Political Understanding of Better Angels

If you are an American with any reason to follow local news, chances are you’ve heard of us—Better Angels has been covered by scores of local and regional newspapers, not to mention occasional features in national titans like The Federalist, USAToday, and the New York Times. The stories almost always read the same way: America …

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Political Violence and Bullying on the Left: We’re Better Than This

In The Coddling of the American Mind, Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff argue that we’ve been fostering a sense of fragility within an entire generation of Americans. I think they make a cogent argument that progressives often go too far in their assertion that speech can be equated with violence, at the risk of shutting …

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AOC was Right about Amazon

Better Angels doesn’t try to change peoples’ strong views or move them toward the center. It’s an organization very comfortable with the red/blue divide, as long we speak in productive ways that include empathy and careful listening. Still, there can be powerful moments when the red/blue divide breaks down, and when two people connect on …

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