1 July 2013 TED video ‘Asteroids’ presented by Jonathan Haidt

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This presentation was prompted by the increasing bipartisan and hence no decision-making, of the US political establishment.  He likened 4 characteristics of US social/economic trends to an approaching earth-colliding asteroid.  Do we have to let things become so critical, so obvious that action is required before the politicians are prepared to act for the greater good?  Two crucial issues were identified as:

  • Global temperature rise – characterised by believers (Left) and non-believers (Right) with no common ground
  • US Debt – historically high debt levels have been brought down through a perceived common objective and concerted effort towards debt reduction.   At present increased welfare spending is projected to spiral out of control and require policy changes which are not even being discussed.

Haidt postulated that left unchecked, these 2 factors mean US is (we are) doomed.   The solutions to these two situations have been frustrated by the increasing polarisation of US politics.  Large scale cooperation is rare in nature –either blood related individuals (bees, ants) or humans as they circle around common values.  But these common values can also blind to other views/perspectives.  This is what is being experienced in the US and many other countries at present and why there is no agreement on the ‘asteroids’ heading our way or what to do about them.

The other two asteroids are:

  • Rising Inequality – characterised by an unwillingness to sacrifice for the common good (The Right is not concerned)
  • Rising non-marital births (ie single parent families?) – which contribute to rising inequality (The Left is not concerned)

On these two at least, Haidt argued, both sides could address their concerns if they were prepared to cede some political capital to the other side – by the Left acknowledging family values and the Right allowing wealth re-distribution.

 An interesting perspective on matters of international criticality and a reminder that standing firmly on one’s principles may result in a myopic blindness to wider truths.

Ian Harris