Why We Can’t Split the Difference on Culture

The United States is an outlier among established democracies in two respects: We face both falling social trust and rising polarization. The two dynamics connect in a doom loop. Trust in others and institutions falls, leading to greater polarization, which drives trust down even more. That is why the two processes are getting worse at the same time. A nasty dynamic has taken hold in the country, and it regularly affects all of us.

Many issues polarize us, but we should prefer polarization on economics to polarization on culture. Polarization is least damaging on issues most amenable to “splitting the difference”—as many economic issues are.

Moral conflict is part of social reality—and always has been. Moral disagreement isn’t some perverse feature of modernity. Human societies have always wrestled with different perspectives and come to different conclusions. Disagreement permeates our personal relationships, too. You’ve probably disagreed with the important people in your life, often about vital things. And yet, usually, you find a way to move forward.


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