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I just finished reading Jonathan Haidt’s book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion and I’m not sure I can think of a recent work that’s more “for us right now.” Haidt’s research on political and religious discourse feels like it comes straight from one of those old fashioned California gold mines.

Haidt argues that our minds process information through two distinct yet intimately connected systems. Haidt compares the first system to an elephant. This part of our mind (which some experts call System 1) handles our “automatic processes,” including emotion and intuition. A good example would be how our brains automatically add 2+2 or read the word “red.” We don’t make a conscious decision to do those things, they just happen. System 1 also includes our biases—those internal beliefs ingrained into psyche.

Haidt describes System 2 as a rider on top of System 1’s elephant. The rider is our conscious reasoning. If the elephant tells us what 2 + 2 equals, the rider is who we go to for 12 x 15. (Note: Haidt first published this analogy in a previous book titled The Happiness Hypothesis.)

Usually, when we talk to someone about a deeply emotional topic like religion or politics, we speak to the rider. We throw facts at the rider. We scream at the rider. Per Haidt, this won’t change anyone’s mind. The inner beliefs of a person, their emotional response, is already going in the opposite direction. And if the elephant is going one way, then the rider follows along, too.

Haidt conducted a number of experiments where he asked subjects if certain taboo scenarios where morally wrong. The elephant moved, and the subjects mostly said yes. When asked to explain themselves, many people didn’t have any logical arguments to back up their beliefs. So, they made them up on the spot. Even for fairly cut and dried judgements, we still struggle to include the rider. Haidt says, “The rider is skilled at fabricating post hoc explanations for whatever the elephant has just done, and it is good at finding reasons to justify whatever the elephant wants to do next” (54).

Here’s the highlight quote for me:

The rider and elephant work together smoothly to fend off attacks and lob rhetorical grenades of our own. The performance may impress our friends and show allies that we are committed members of the team, but no matter how good our logic, it’s not going to change the minds of our opponents if they are in combat mode too. If you really want to change someone’s mind on a moral or political matter, you’ll need to see things from that person’s angle as well as your own (58).

I think what frustrates me so much about discussion these days (and Haidt alludes to it) is that there are many people who know how to say good things, but few people who know how to say good things persuasively. Social media exacerbates the problem. Social media doesn’t reward long, charitable responses. Rather, it crowns the individuals who “lob rhetorical grenades.” At this point, I wonder how much good can come from debating over deep topics via the feed.

As I’m working through how to both think and discuss better, here are a few “rules” that immediately come to mind. Rules designed to speak to the elephant first, then the rider.

  1. Don’t post about politics and religion online if your only goal is to prove how intelligent you are or to prove how unintelligent your opponents are.
  2. Posting on social media will probably only change someone’s mind if they’re already close to your position. Most radical change happens over long periods of time in face-to-face relationships.
  3. “Owning” or humiliating an opponent will energize people who agree with you, but make it harder for those opposite you to understand your position.
  4. You may need to change parts of your perspective as well. A little humility goes for miles.
  5. Listen to other people. (Yeah I know it’s elementary, but most people aren’t good at it.)
  6. Before you responds to someone, imagine what it’s like to wake up as that person, to go to work in their footwear, to interact with their friends and family members. If you can’t imagine, then you need to listen more.

Not an exhaustive list, but a place to begin.

It smelled like it did twenty-three years ago—stagnant moisture combined with diluted soil and grass. The familiar scent enveloped me like a tiny cloud as I knelt in Mom’s closet, using a chalky razor blade to slice across a seam in the Sheetrock. It was the same joint my dad cut through when I was seven, and I can still picture him pulling back the crumbling fragments of wall with a hammer and crowbar.

This is the second time my childhood home has flooded. The first in 1994; the second by the recent Hurricane Harvey. The house still bears the physical marks of one trauma, even as we are cleaning up from another. Continue Reading…

I don’t even want to calculate how many days it’s been since I’ve last blogged—let alone blogged regularly.

If you used to follow Wadebearden.com, you might have wondered where I disappeared to. Well, let me explain. The last few years I’ve been:

Continue Reading…

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If you grew up in a Christian home during the last thirty years, you’re a member of an exclusive clique. You lived through McGee and Me’s tornado episode, survived a youth group game that required drinking a gallon of milk, and even weathered the Newsboys’ disco phase. Remember the day you accidentally ripped your Amy Grant poster? Some tragedies are too difficult to bear.

Christian culture possesses a unique attachment for its members, and judging by the amount of nostalgia-centric artifacts surging in popularity, we can’t seem to get enough of it…

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mockingjay-lawrence

Jennifer Lawrence’s appearance in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 embodies juxtaposition. While rummaging the corridors of District 13, Katniss is modestly dressed. Humble clothes divert attention rather than absorb it. Her hairstyle is simple; her face unadorned. If you didn’t know Katniss was the Mockingjay, you probably wouldn’t have guessed it. Continue Reading…

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“If I had known more about Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, I probably would not have watched it.

Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s Sundance darling finds its protagonist in Greg (played by Thomas Mann), a teenage loner who spends his free time producing parodies of classic films. Greg is an enigma. Like the layout of his Pennsylvania high school divides into multiple sections, Greg’s life is purposely compartmentalized. He is on a first-name basis with nearly every group in school—he is just as comfortable bumming it with the drama club as he is high-fiving the senior class drug dealer—but his relationships are shallow and superficial. He makes small talk, and there’s little more.”

Click here to read the rest of the article on Christianity Today…

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Some of you may have seen John Oliver’s recent take on the prosperity gospel. It’s been making its rounds since Monday—for good reason. It’s energetic and thought-provoking. Fair warning: if you do watch it, be prepared for language. Continue Reading…

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During Jurassic World’s climatic showdown, the main characters find themselves lying in a stack of the park’s merchandise. Hats, shirts, etc. The image is cleverly ironic, given that consumerism brought about the film’s primary conflict. It’s also a metaphor of our own perilous state of art consumption, and, if I am being straightforward, why Jurassic World isn’t a very good movie. Continue Reading…

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I won’t spoil the end of The Jinx here—if by some chance you haven’t already read reports of the much lauded HBO documentary series—but I think it’s safe to say that the finale provided the seemingly “definitive” conclusion we all pined for in Serial. The last episode plays more like a suspense thriller than an open-ended study of the American justice system. The Jinx possesses a clear beginning, middle, and, most importantly, powerful resolution. Not that an open-ended plot can’t have a “conclusion,” but there’s a certain amount of satisfaction attached to having all the answers handed to you before the credits roll (though “all” is certainly up for debate here). Continue Reading…

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A few Easters ago, I lectured on the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. At the end of my talk, a woman chastised me in front of the group. “It doesn’t matter what theologians, scholars, or logic says. All that matters is the Bible.” Work that statement out as you may, but I think the main thrust of it was, “You just have to believe.” Continue Reading…