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.
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