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Why your political discussions go nowhere | Robb Willer | TEDxMarin

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    So you probably have the sense,
    as most people do,
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    that polarization
    is getting worse in our country,
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    that the divide
    between the left and the right
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    is as bad as it's been
    in really any of our lifetimes.
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    But you might also reasonably wonder
    if research backs up your intuition.
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    And in a nutshell,
    the answer is sadly yes.
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    (Laughter)
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    In study after study, we find
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    that liberals and conservatives
    have grown further apart.
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    They increasingly wall themselves off
    in these ideological silos,
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    consuming different news,
    talking only to like-minded others
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    and more and more choosing
    to live in different parts of the country.
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    And I think that
    most alarming of all of it
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    is seeing this rising
    animosity on both sides.
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    Liberals and conservatives,
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    Democrats and Republicans,
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    more and more they just
    don't like one another.
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    You see it in many different ways.
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    They don't want to befriend one another.
    They don't want to date one another.
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    If they do, if they find out,
    they find each other less attractive,
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    and they more and more don't want
    their children to marry someone
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    who supports the other party,
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    a particularly shocking statistic.
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    You know, in my lab,
    the students that I work with,
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    we're talking about some social pattern --
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    I'm a movie buff, and so I'm often like,
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    what kind of movie are we in here
    with this pattern?
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    So what kind of movie are we in
    with political polarization?
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    Well, it could be a disaster movie.
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    It certainly seems like a disaster.
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    Could be a war movie.
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    Also fits.
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    But what I keep thinking is that
    we're in a zombie apocalypse movie.
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    (Laughter)
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    Right? You know the kind.
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    There's people wandering around in packs,
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    not thinking for themselves,
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    seized by this mob mentality,
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    trying to spread their disease
    and destroy society.
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    And if you're like me,
    and you're a college-educated liberal --
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    and statistically, I'm guessing,
    the majority of you ...
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    (Laughter)
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    are exactly that.
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    (Laughter)
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    And you probably think, as I do,
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    that you're the good guy
    in the zombie apocalypse movie,
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    and all this hate and polarization,
    it's being propagated by the other people,
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    the conservatives.
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    We're Brad Pitt, right?
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    Free-thinking, righteous,
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    just trying to hold on
    to what we hold dear,
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    you know, not foot soldiers
    in the army of the undead.
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    Not that.
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    Never that.
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    But here's the thing:
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    what movie do you suppose
    they think they're in?
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    Right?
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    Well, they absolutely think
    that they're the good guys
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    in the zombie apocalypse movie. Right?
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    And you'd better believe
    that they think that they're Brad Pitt
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    and that we, we are the zombies.
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    And who's to say that they're wrong?
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    Look, they click on stupid internet links
    that say stuff like that ...
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    We click on stupid internet links
    that say stuff like this.
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    (Laughter)
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    They complain about living near us,
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    having to work with us,
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    even eating Thanksgiving dinner with us.
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    And we do all those same things.
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    Right?
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    Look, it's true.
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    The studies that I see on polarization
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    show that conservatives
    look a little bit worse.
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    They look a little bit angrier,
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    a little more averse to compromise.
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    And we could tell ourselves that means
    that this is not our problem.
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    That it's them doing it.
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    But I think that would be taking
    the easy way out.
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    I think that the truth
    is that we're all a part of this.
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    And the good side of that
    is that we can be a part of the solution.
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    So what are we going to do?
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    What can we do to chip away
    at polarization in everyday life?
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    What could we do to connect with
    and communicate with
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    our political counterparts?
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    Well, these were exactly the questions
    that I and my colleague Matt Feinberg
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    became fascinated with a few years ago,
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    and we started
    doing research on this topic.
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    And one of the first things
    that we discovered
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    that I think is really helpful
    for understanding polarization
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    is to understand
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    that the political divide in our country
    is undergirded by a deeper moral divide.
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    So one of the most robust findings
    in the history of political psychology
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    is this pattern identified
    by Jon Haidt and Jesse Graham,
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    psychologists,
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    that liberals and conservatives
    tend to endorse different values
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    to different degrees.
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    So for example, we find that liberals
    tend to endorse values like equality
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    and fairness and care
    and protection from harm
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    more than conservatives do,
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    and conservatives tend to endorse
    values like loyalty, patriotism,
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    respect for authority and moral purity
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    more than liberals do.
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    And Matt and I were thinking
    that maybe this moral divide
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    might be helpful
    for understanding how it is
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    that liberals and conservatives
    talk to one another
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    and why they so often
    seem to talk past one another
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    when they do.
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    So we conducted a study
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    where we recruited liberals to a study
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    where they were supposed
    to write a persuasive essay
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    that would be compelling to a conservative
    in support of same-sex marriage.
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    And what we found was that liberals
    tended to make arguments
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    in terms of the liberal moral values
    of equality and fairness.
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    So they said things like
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    "everyone should have the right
    to love whoever they choose,"
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    and they -- "they" being gay Americans --
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    "deserve the same equal rights
    as other Americans."
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    Overall, we found
    that 69 percent of liberals
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    invoked one of the more liberal
    moral values in constructing their essay,
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    and only nine percent invoked
    one of the more conservative moral values,
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    even though they were supposed
    to be trying to persuade conservatives.
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    And when we studied conservatives
    and had them make persuasive arguments
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    in support of making English
    the official language of the US,
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    a classically conservative
    political position,
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    we found that they weren't
    much better at this.
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    59 percent of them made arguments
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    in terms of one of the more
    conservative moral values,
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    and just eight percent
    invoked a liberal moral value,
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    even though they were supposed
    to be targeting liberals for persuasion.
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    Now, you can see right away
    why we're in trouble here. Right?
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    People's moral values,
    they're their most deeply held beliefs.
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    People are willing
    to fight and die for their values.
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    Why are they going to give that up
    just to agree with you
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    on something that they don't particularly
    want to agree with you on anyway?
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    If that persuasive appeal that
    you're making to your Republican uncle
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    means that he doesn't
    just have to change his view,
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    he's got to change
    his underlying values too,
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    that's not going to go very far.
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    So what would work better?
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    Well, we believe it's a technique
    that we call moral reframing,
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    and we've studied it
    in a series of experiments.
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    In one of these experiments,
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    we recruited liberals
    and conservatives to a study
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    where they read one of three essays
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    before having their environmental
    attitudes surveyed.
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    And the first of these essays
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    was a relatively conventional
    proenvironmental essay
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    that invoked the liberal values
    of care and protection from harm.
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    It said things like
    "in many important ways
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    we are causing real harm
    to the places we live in,"
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    and "it is essential
    that we take steps now
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    to prevent further destruction
    from being done to our Earth."
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    Another group of participants
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    were assigned to read
    a really different essay
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    that was designed to tap into
    the conservative value of moral purity.
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    It was a proenvironmental essay as well,
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    and it said things like
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    "keeping our forests, drinking water,
    and skies pure is of vital importance."
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    "We should regard the pollution
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    of the places we live in
    to be disgusting."
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    And "reducing pollution
    can help us preserve
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    what is pure and beautiful
    about the places we live."
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    And then we had a third group
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    that were assigned
    to read just a nonpolitical essay.
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    It was just a comparison group
    so we could get a baseline.
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    And what we found when we surveyed people
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    about their environmental
    attitudes afterwards,
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    we found that liberals,
    it didn't matter what essay they read.
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    They tended to have highly
    proenvironmental attitudes regardless.
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    Liberals are on board
    for environmental protection.
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    Conservatives, however,
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    were significantly more supportive
    of progressive environmental policies
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    and environmental protection
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    if they had read the moral purity essay
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    than if they read
    one of the other two essays.
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    We even found that conservatives
    who read the moral purity essay
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    were significantly more likely to say
    that they believed in global warming
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    and were concerned about global warming,
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    even though this essay
    didn't even mention global warming.
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    That's just a related environmental issue.
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    But that's how robust
    this moral reframing effect was.
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    And we've studied this on a whole slew
    of different political issues.
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    So if you want to move conservatives
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    on issues like same-sex marriage
    or national health insurance,
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    it helps to tie these liberal
    political issues to conservative values
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    like patriotism and moral purity.
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    And we studied it the other way too.
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    If you want to move liberals
    to the right on conservative policy issues
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    like military spending and making English
    the official language of the US,
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    you're going to be more persuasive
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    if you tie those conservative
    policy issues to liberal moral values
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    like equality and fairness.
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    All these studies
    have the same clear message:
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    if you want to persuade
    someone on some policy,
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    it's helpful to connect that policy
    to their underlying moral values.
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    And when you say it like that,
    it seems really obvious. Right?
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    Like, why did we come here tonight?
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    Why --
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    (Laughter)
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    It's incredibly intuitive.
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    And even though it is,
    it's something we really struggle to do.
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    You know, it turns out that when we go
    to persuade somebody on a political issue,
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    we talk like we're speaking into a mirror.
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    We don't persuade so much
    as we rehearse our own reasons
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    for why we believe
    some sort of political position.
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    But, speaking as a liberal,
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    I believe that we're going to need
    a whole new set of arguments,
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    if we're going to move
    the next wave of people
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    on critical issues like climate change,
    immigration and inequality.
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    And to come up with those arguments,
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    we're going to have to take the time
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    to really listen
    to our conservative counterparts,
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    to understand what they value,
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    and then creatively think about
    why they should come to agree with us,
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    and in a way that doesn't
    involve them having to sacrifice
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    the things that they hold most dear.
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    We kept saying, when we were designing
    these reframed moral arguments,
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    "empathy and respect,
    empathy and respect."
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    If you can tap into that,
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    you can connect
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    and you might be able to persuade
    somebody in this country.
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    So thinking, again,
    about what movie we're in,
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    maybe I got carried away before.
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    Maybe it's not a zombie apocalypse movie.
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    Maybe instead it's a buddy cop movie.
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    (Laughter)
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    Just roll with it, just go with it please.
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    (Laughter)
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    You know the kind:
    there's a white cop and a black cop,
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    or maybe a messy cop and an organized cop.
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    Whatever it is, they don't get along
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    because of this difference.
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    But in the end, when they have
    to come together and they cooperate,
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    the solidarity that they feel,
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    it's greater because of that gulf
    that they had to cross. Right?
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    And remember that in these movies,
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    it's usually worst in the second act
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    when our leads are further apart
    than ever before.
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    And so maybe that's
    where we are in this country,
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    late in the second act
    of a buddy cop movie --
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    (Laughter)
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    torn apart but about
    to come back together.
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    It sounds good,
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    but if we want it to happen,
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    I think the responsibility
    is going to start with us.
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    So this is my call to you:
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    let's put this country back together.
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    Let's do it despite the politicians
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    and the media and Facebook and Twitter
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    and Congressional redistricting
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    and all of it,
    all the things that divide us.
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    Let's do it because it's right.
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    And let's do it
    because this hate and contempt
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    that flows through all of us every day
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    makes us ugly and it corrupts us,
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    and it threatens
    the very fabric of our society.
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    We owe it to one another and our country
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    to reach out and try to connect.
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    We can't afford to hate them any longer,
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    and we can't afford
    to let them hate us either.
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    Empathy and respect.
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    Empathy and respect.
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    If you think about it, it's the very least
    that we owe our fellow citizens.
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    Thank you.
  • 13:19 - 13:23
    (Applause)
Title:
Why your political discussions go nowhere | Robb Willer | TEDxMarin
Description:

Compelling new research on language offers a response to political polarization. What if new social psychology research held the key to bridging America's political divides?

Robb Willer is a professor of Sociology, Psychology, and Organizational Behavior at Stanford University.  He received his Ph.D. and M.A. from Cornell University and his B.A. from the University of Iowa. He previously taught at the University of California, Berkeley, where he was the 2009 recipient of the Golden Apple Teaching award, the only teaching award given by the student body.

Professor Willer’s research focuses on forces that bring people together (cooperation, morality, solidarity), forces that divide them (prejudice, competition), and settings featuring the complex interplay of the two (politics, organizations). A theme of his research is that many aspects of social life that are often viewed as antisocial – gossip, hierarchies, moral judgments – are in fact fundamental to social order.

This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at http://ted.com/tedx

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Video Language:
English
Team:
TED
Project:
TEDxTalks
Duration:
13:37

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