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America: A Tipping Point.

By George J. Chanos, Mar 7th, 2019

America is at a tipping point.

We are living in the most extraordinary period in human history. The opportunities and challenges that we will encounter over the next 30 years are beyond extraordinary — they are beyond our ability to even comprehend.

These changes will test our competency, our sense of community, our beliefs and our resolve. And yet today, at a time when we should be planning and preparing, we are instead divided by race, age, sex, religion, economics, and identity politics. And we are paralyzed by political dysfunction.

For the first time, in the 40-year history of the Gallop Poll, public confidence in government is now measured in the single digits. Researchers, who have examined the last 160 years of our political history, have concluded that we are now more divided than at any time since the civil war.

This level of division and dysfunction is beyond disturbing. With tinderboxes of hopelessness and discontent scattered across our country and a tsunami of technological change on the horizon, it’s incredibly dangerous.

As human beings, we are profoundly interdependent. We always have been — since we first roamed the planet, hunting and foraging for food.

Tribalism is in our DNA. Tribalism, it must be understood, is both a source of unity and division. We find unity within our tribes, and division, in the competition between our tribes.

Today, America is divided into two tribes. Liberals and conservatives. And this division has become institutionalized by our political parties — Republicans and Democrats — and by a media that now produces highly targeted programming, that is specifically designed to appeal to the confirmation biases of their respective audiences.

The net result, is that our confirmation biases, which are continuously being reinforced by the media we consume, have become hardened and increasingly less susceptible to compromise or revision.

These thought silos, which we occupy with others who share our world view, offer a comforting source of validation and a false sense of security. What we see as a strength (party affiliation) is, in reality, a structure that guarantees both our division and our eventual demise.

All of this, together with the malleability of the human brain, and new technologies designed to surgically target and weaponize disinformation, places us in uncharted waters and unprecedented peril.

True security derives not from segregated or fractured tribalism, but from inclusive and expansive tribalism and from critical thinking.

In other words, we need to stop thinking of ourselves as blacks and whites, as Christians, Muslims, and Jews, as men or as women, or as conservatives and liberals.

We need to start thinking of ourselves in a broader context, as Americans and as co-custodians of the planet we all share.

This broader, more inclusive and empathetic mindset is not merely advisable. It’s essential if we are to preserve the greatest experiment in democracy the world has ever known.

So, at this point, some of you are thinking I get it. We need unity. How do we get there?

It won’t be easy. In fact, it will be very difficult, but it is possible and we have no choice. The alternative is lost opportunity and ruin.

A Path Forward

We do it by recognizing that it is in our self-interest to do it.

We do it by understanding that core values like empathy, tolerance, collaboration, and compassion are not optional — they are the key to our mutual survival.

We do it by acknowledging how little we actually know.

We do it by accepting the harsh reality that our minds, all minds, are filled with significant amounts of misinformation — that we mistakenly regard as truth.

We do it by opening our minds and by recognizing that our thoughts are nothing more than our individual perspectives — the product of limited information.

We do it by learning and understanding that our brains function not only as seekers of truth but also as advocates for that which we already believe.

We do it by recognizing how our own biases cloud our perspectives.

We do it by seeing those with alternative perspectives as a resource, rather than a threat.

We do it by engaging in critical thinking, and by seeking the truth rather than validation.

We do it by recognizing that we are only one voice out of 340 million Americans and 7.5 billion fellow travelers. What we think, whether right or wrong, is only one view among many.

We do it by placing the interests of humanity, and the society that we hope to create, above our individual interests and the politics with which we identify.

We do it with love, empathy, magnanimity, selflessness, and forgiveness.

We do by following the right path, a path of critical thinking, inclusiveness, tolerance, collaboration, and compassion, and by empowering others to do the same.

We do it by taking money and special interest influence out of politics.

We do it by demanding an end to the dysfunction and division of both political parties.

And if that fails, we do it by rejecting both political parties, registering as non-partisan, and stripping them of their power.

We do it by recognizing that we have immense power — especially if we are united.

We do it by recognizing that the best ideas are not our always our ideas, they are more often the ideas that are most widely shared.

We do it by believing in ourselves and our collective future and by embracing each other.