The psychological dangers of being in a silo - Braver Angels

The psychological dangers of being in a silo

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It was March 2018 and I was scrolling through Facebook. My feed had been carefully curated by the algorithm to only show me what I wanted to see; and it was full of journalists, economists, and experts in other fields who all agreed with me. All of them talked about the dangers of big government (I’m libertarian). All of them discussed how taxes and regulations kill jobs, how power corrupts, how thousands of data points showed clearly the inverse correlation between size of government and economic prosperity. All of them told me exactly what I wanted to hear.

And I was miserable.

We talk a lot about the societal dangers of political siloing, but one point isn’t brought up enough: being in a silo is psychologically bad for us. It’s like eating junk food: it gives us cheap dopamine hits, while crowding out our ability to live a better and healthier life. When I was living in my silo, I was furious. What was wrong with all those people who disagreed with me!? Couldn’t they see how self-evidently right my side was? Were they too stupid to read the data, or did they just not care about all the problems caused by big government?

Each time politics came up, I was like a dog with a bone. I worried and harried my friends until I had pounded whatever anti-government point I was trying to make into their heads

My conversations with other people also suffered. Each time politics came up, I was like a dog with a bone. I worried and harried my friends until I had pounded whatever anti-government point I was trying to make into their heads (or, perhaps, until they voiced polite agreement so we could take the conversation in a less obnoxious direction). Instead of using political conversations as a way to learn more about an infinitely complex world and to grow as a person, each took on a binary notation. Had I moved the other person towards libertarianism? If yes, good. If not, the conversation was a failure.

It was no way to live.

So what helped me break out of my silo? I started doing deep work on myself. I found a truly gifted men’s coach. Among many other things, we worked on understanding the root cause of my attachment to libertarianism. The goal wasn’t to talk me out of being libertarian; the goal was to let go of attachments in general in order to live a stronger and freer and more joyful life. I unearthed my fear and distrust of authority, which stemmed from a few unpleasant childhood experiences. I learned to separate past and present, and to stop seeing governmental authority through the lens of a scared child. 

My coach also helped me develop a stronger sense of identity beyond politics. In 2018, my identity was “Julian Adorney, Libertarian.” That was a problem because I interpreted every criticism of libertarianism as an attack on me. Now my sense of identity is deeper. I’ve made close friends, found a connection to God, and tapped into a sense of myself that’s fuller and wider and ultimately more mystical than a political label. 

This broader identity helped me to truly listen to people who disagreed with me, because my goal became to perceive the breathtaking complexity of the world rather than to protect my narrow political identity from any threats.

God knows I’m still not perfect, at political conversations or at anything else. I still have to work on myself every day. But that’s the point. Unhealthy political conflict is downstream from our psychology. We think we’re yelling at our political opponents, but we’re really yelling at our own demons — and I don’t think we can stop yelling until we address those demons head-on. 

We’ll always fight over how to fix the world. That’s both healthy and essential to a republic. But those fights can be a whole lot healthier if we first do the work to fix ourselves.

Disclosure: the men’s coach Julian mentioned is also a client of his.

(This essay first appeared in the Braver Angels newsletter. Subscribe to our newsletter to hear the latest Braver Angels commentary on how to knit our country back together)

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