Bruce W. Dayton

The opening of the American mind

The antidote to closed-mindedness is simple and inexpensive

The rise of closed-mindedness in this country should be of grave concern to anyone who values democracy. From the breakdown in bipartisanship in Congress, to the segregation of our media into partisan camps, to the highly polarized public discourse on debates as diverse as immigration, gun control, and sexual harassment, distrust and hostility toward “the other” is at fever pitch.

Democracy requires that citizens engage in a vigorous exchange of ideas, have access to a free and open debate over values and policy, and are regularly exposed to ideas that they are unfamiliar with or even hostile to. The healthy evolution of social, political, and economic systems depends on it.

To understand the origins of closed-mindedness, we need to understand a little bit about the social psychology of identity - specifically, what motivates the three principal weapons of closed-mindedness: stereotyping, prejudice, and dehumanization.

Each involves a psychological dynamic known as “in-group favoritism and out-group bias,” whereby the individual views the capabilities and virtues of their own groups (be they ethnic, religious, political, or other) in a more favorable light than those of other groups and selectively marshals evidence to support such beliefs.

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