It’s time for some political rehab

Warning: this content is older than 365 days. It may be out of date and no longer relevant.


Renowned psychologist Jonathan Haidt is often cited from his excellent book The Righteous Mind that when people argue about politics or religion, the effect of defending your position acts on your brain like a drug. Win or lose an argument, dopamine hits your brain after you defend your viewpoint and you feel the same characteristic flush of good feelings that you get from drugs like cocaine or heroin (obviously in vastly smaller quantities, or that’s all we’d do as a species and starve to death fairly quickly).

Today, we’re waking up from a nearly two year political campaign that was as vitriolic as I can remember. Two years of making political arguments that fed our brains as surely as if we were snorting politics off of a mirror. In the process, many of us found out that our friends, acquaintances, colleagues and coworkers, even family, took some pretty extreme viewpoints. We bashed each other on Facebook, we forwarded info graphics that had, at best, a tenuous connection to reality, and we got high off of it.

Today, we’re coming off of that high as the political cycle, thankfully, comes to an end for now. In the process of sobering up from this election, we’re going to realize that we did some damage to our friendships, to our acquaintances, maybe even to loved ones while we were getting high on politics. In the same way that we need to be more compassionate and loving to those who are recovering from actual substance addiction, I’d ask that you take some time over the next week and re-evaluate your personal connections that may have taken some damage during our political high.

We’ve all had or known that friend who had too much and made an ass of themselves at the party. That’s us as a nation and on our social networks right now. Take a few moments over the next week to look at the people you unfriended over the past two years or the people you got into fights with about politics, and consider reaching out. Forward them this post or Haidt’s book that says, “hey, we all got a little too high on politics”. Let’s sober up together and fix up our friendship, in the same way that we’d forgive and try to help each other after partying too hard and maybe saying some unfortunate things.

Finally, I also hope that next time as a nation, to the greatest extent possible, let’s not inhale so much, okay? A little spirited political arguing is fine and healthy. Going totally nuts is not. It’s the difference between having a martini and going face first into the entire keg. Restraint and moderation are good things in all aspects of life, but most especially in politics.

You might also enjoy:

Want to read more like this from Christopher Penn? Get updates here:

subscribe to my newsletter here

AI for Marketers Book
Take my Generative AI for Marketers course!

Analytics for Marketers Discussion Group
Join my Analytics for Marketers Slack Group!


2 responses to “It’s time for some political rehab”

  1. Strong and effective metaphor to get attention on your accurate assessment of the state of social media and nation. I hope there will be increased emphasis on collaboration from here on. I do not want to go through this again.

  2. Thank you for writing this Chris. I’ve been caught in the middle of too many battles amongst friends. I abhor such division between those who should be brothers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This