The Way Out: How to Overcome Toxic Polarization

Peter T. Coleman | 2021
Posted in: Bridging Divides Psychology Social Psychology
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In this book, Peter T. Coleman, a professor of peace and conflict studies at Columbia University, addresses an urgent question: “What can we do to escape the grip of partisan contempt in our divided society and get back to solving our most pressing problems?”

Coleman writes that “our neural tribal tendencies, red-versus-blue moral differences, a loneliness epidemic, a blistering pace of technological and cultural change, sensationalist media, the business model of the major internet platforms, divisive political leadership, foreign interference, and so on,” and the combinations and interactions of these sources of conflict, have led to our current state of dysfunction.

“They draw us in repeatedly to toxic patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving that can begin to feel impossible to escape.” A key factor in creating this intractable conflict is the collapse of complexity. More simplistic, one-dimensional processing of complex problems leads to more intractable conflicts. This more simplistic approach has the advantage of requiring less energy, so they attract us. (Coleman calls these situations “attractors.”)

“Particularly in situations of conflict, when our anxiety increases (which can be exhausting), we often welcome the comfort, familiarity, and ease of sliding into one of our more automatic attractor patterns.”

In response, Coleman recommends we take the time to reset, bolster and break, complicate, move, and adapt. He explains each of these recommendations in more detail.

In Appendix A Coleman provides “Takeaways” that summarize his key points.

You can also see the author’s website for chapter-by-chapter exercises: