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Wright: Fixing polarized discourse means accepting everyone’s humanity

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For the last decade or so, conservative commentators throughout the Anglosphere have complained: “The left thinks we’re evil, and we think they’re stupid.”

It’s a useful shorthand for the culture wars, perhaps, if a little depressing. Even before the pandemic, everyone could see that politics had polarized dramatically in the wake of Brexit and the Trump victory. It’s not entirely clear that the stridency of our policy debates — on gender, ethnicity, economic inequality, immigration, free speech, the environment, etc. — is as warranted as some of its practitioners claim or whether it serves, as others have suggested, as a proxy for deeper convulsions in Western civilization. We have, after all, been debating most of these issues for decades. Even the street activists have noticed that 2020 looks a lot like 1968.

Even the street activists have noticed that 2020 looks a lot like 1968.

Critics from all points on the political spectrum have blamed the usual suspects for this acrimony, and also some new ones: opportunistic social media, partisan broadcast media, pervasive pandemic and lockdown anxieties, recession stresses, a sense that the 2020 U.S. election is epochal. Intellectuals endeavouring to occupy the middle ground — the American social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, for example — often find themselves isolated and beleaguered. Historians are loathe ever to concede that the centre cannot hold but, on a bad day, this is certainly how things look to many people in 2020.

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