"He who knows only his own side of an argument knows nothing of that." -John Stuart Mill
My aim is to create stronger civic cultures in the US and globally. I believe many initiatives that support this have critical blindspots (beyond echo-chambers), and that more progress can come from building initiatives that resonate with practical realities about the nature of humans and societies. I’ve previously worked on this from many different angles, and am now evaluating the best way to tackle this issue directly.
STRONG CIVIC CULTURE depends on empowered and principled individuals, and also on respected societal institutions and norms
Universal education: democracy is government by the collective wisdom of the people, and collective wisdom only works if individuals are independent and intelligent. Only when secure in this can people move from survive to thrive mentalities
Civics and social education: individuals must think and care about others, as we are social animals and exist in (and get meaning from) the context of our groups
Protected liberties: freedom of thought, expression and participation - in the press, classrooms, and everywhere else - are the most basic foundations of a civic society
Openness: humility to discard your ideas for new and better ones, true tolerance, drawing strength from diversity, are all necessary for a heterogenous society to thrive
Shared principles: a degree of unity is essential for a society to enable respectful disagreement, persevere through challenge, and operate smoothly
Strong communities: sitting between the nation and the family, community institutions hold society together by providing opportunities for engagement and real change
Humans are tribal: this is evolutionary, innate and universal. Starting with any other assumption is an extension of trying to combat ingrained historical racism by ignoring race completely. If we want a world where all lives and groups are valued more equally, we need to thoughtfully leverage our natural tendencies; if we ignore this out of principle we just end up fighting against our instincts, which dooms us to echo-chambers and failure.
Individualism is not infinitely good: the steady march towards more individual liberties has been unequivocally good, but there are downsides. We have become more self-centered, with less ability or inclination to value communities and group institutions. Problematic on its own, this also makes us more prone to tearing down the (imperfect) structures that hold society together. This destroys the opportunity for civic engagement, and can be catastrophic: the historical route to dictatorship is not gradual restriction of freedoms, but unchecked liberty that leads to chaos and authoritarian takeover.
Reasoning is very limited: most of our action is driven by instinct. If we care more about impact than ideology, we need to orient around how people will react, not how they should. Emotional messages resonate powerfully, while logical argument drives people further into a corner. This is reinforced by true reasoning and debate being far more rare than we realize, even (especially) in ourselves - more often we are justifying our own positions, ignoring other legit perspectives in favor of strawmans, or mistaking logically sound argument for irrefutable truth. True reasoning needs to be turned on itself to recognize its own faults.
DEEPER APPRECIATION FOR UNPLEASANT REALITIES about human nature can make progressive initiatives more practical, successful and broadly appealing.
THE RIGHT TOOLS AND PROGRAMS can improve the foundations of civic culture (at every age), enabling traditional institutions and progressive initiatives to coexist and thrive
Reasoning education: our massive investment in education has not been well-focused (or effective) on helping each student learn to reason about their own interests (Working on it: Zearn, schools, etc.)
Social education: shared learning of citizenship, history and philosophy, and morality can form the backbone of a society-wide desire and ability to move beyond self-interest and care for the communities we are a part of. This has been largely eliminated from education in the past century (Working on social: C3 Framework)
Perspective: this combination of reason and cognitive empathy can unlock in each of us more wisdom, compassion, productivity, happiness and true openness. It directly combats tribalism and individualism, breaking down echo chambers and strengthening our ability to reason and debate with nuance rather than simplified good/evil dichotomies (Working on it: Danish curriculum, me)
Novel experiences, like travel, challenge assumptions and build openness (Global Nomads, Social Innovation Project)
Reasoning forums lift us out of reactionary, 'myth of pure evil' argument to productive deliberation (Heterdox Academy, Rationalist movement, NCDD)
Technology: while not a cause, tech enables us to follow our nature to more silo'd, confirmatory bubbles. New tech can acknowledge and mitigate this, or combat it where possible (Facebook? Brigade?)
Across many fields, the common thread to my roles and pursuits has been to seek pathways and build skills that can help construct a stronger civic culture.