Steve Rattner, on why they’re “asteroids”

“To me being a climate change denier is the same as being a debt denier. We’re putting millions of tons of carbon into our atmosphere every day that we’re going to have to deal with and we’re incurring billions of dollars of debt that we’re going to have to deal with. Sure, they’re different problems – but it’s the same issue: Do you recognize the problems now and deal with them or do you simply let them sit and fester until something bad happens?”

— Steve Rattner, Morning Joe’s economic analyst

(Watch Jonathan Haidt’s TED talk “How common threats can make common (political) ground” by clicking here.)

On conspiracy theories

“People on both sides tend to believe that there is a conspiracy, that there is a stolen election because they dont know anyone who votes for the other party. Both sides are pretty homogeneous. Democrats tend to congregate with Democrats; Republicans with Republicans. We dont know anyone who voted for the other guy. And as a result we dont know how this possibly could have happened.”

–Dan Cassino of Fairleigh Dickinson University, on MSNBCs Hardball

Asteroid: America’s diminishing leadership role in the world

From Sunday’s Meet the Press, a disturbing notion from an experienced voice that authoritarianism could be gaining credibility while our American model is losing it:

NBC War Correspondent Richard Engel: [America’s ability to have influence in the rest of the world is] greatly diminished. I think the Chinese model is one that appeals more and more in the developing world. People see that an authoritarian state can hold onto power, can hold on to stability and can drive the economy forward. When you look at– when you talk to people in– in– in Africa and across the Middle East, they’re not satisfied with the way things are going. Sure this idea of democracy was injected into the region, but it has brought mostly chaos. So, I think the U.S. role, the U.S. example, is not the one that is on the– on the mind of the youth internationally. People are looking more to — to different kinds of models.

President Obama’s inaugural address transcript

Read the entire transcript here.

“For now decisions are upon us, and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that todays victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years, and forty years, and four hundred years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.”

Morality binds and blinds

cubeIt’s pretty obvious that America’s political landscape is deeply “tribal” right now. So great is the animus between elected leaders, they can barely muster the immature level of cooperation that exists on the average kindergarten playground, even when the America’s future rests on it. And it’s not just elected leadership, this tribalism is increasingly evident among average Americans too, as journalist Bill Bishop stumbled on accidentally when doing demographic research. He documents the trend in his book The Big Sort: How the Clustering of Likeminded America is Tearing Us Apart.

Inside each tribe, we consider ourselves the moral actors – the ones doing the right thing in the match-up between good and evil. Our moral compasses bind us to the people in our tribe we trust, rely on and find common cause with. Aside from Dr. Evil, few of us side with “bad” things done in the world. Surely that’s a start?

But the rub is this human quality of groupishness can really distort our accuracy in assessing reality – and thus can veer us off-course in taking moral action. Studies show that inside the “teams,” extremism thrives even to the point of believing things that are factually untrue. Just look at the other tribe to see the dynamic in action (it’s hard to see in your own). Yes… MORALITY BLINDS. It blinds us to seeing things our team doesn’t see. It’s like the mass delusion in the movie “The Matrix.” It’s what makes it so an “asteroid” can be barreling toward earth and about half of us just don’t see it coming.

What you may not know is that the human tendency to be tribal can also be credited with the incredible accomplishments of mankind – we are unique among animals in our ability to work in cooperation with others beyond our kinship ties. Jonathan Haidt writes in The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics & Religion:

Our tribal minds make it easy to divide us, but without our long period of tribal living there‘d be nothing to divide in the first place. There‘d be only small families of foragers—not nearly as sociable as today‘s hunter-gatherers—eking out a living and losing most of their members to starvation during every prolonged drought. The coevolution of tribal minds and tribal cultures didn‘t just prepare us for war; it also prepared us for far more peaceful coexistence within our groups, and, in modern times, for cooperation on a vast scale as well.

MORALITY ALSO BINDS. Our tribes serve a function, even in politics. Our founders understood our allegiances carried authority with them and built a system of governance around the checks, balances & and pressure of opposing forces and ideas. They considered what James Madison called “the constant clashing of opinion” healthy – and a critical protection against tyranny. But they expected that these groups of people would engage – they’d fight the good fight, and cooperate uneasily as a part of how America works.

Perhaps understanding our basic tribal nature – and that morality both binds us together and can blind us to reality – is the key to understanding how we have to work inside our human contraints. When we’re looking up at the sky – at our future – we’ve got to realize that some people might see “asteroids” better than we do. And we’ve got to find a way to see others as legitimate partners in protecting our future. You know, as members of the same Asteroids Club.


asteroid smallParticipate in an Online TownHall about identifying incoming “asteroids” here. Or feel free to simply comment in the thread below.

We’ve had a few conversations about what constitutes an asteroid – beyond our big first four (climate change, entitlement spending, rising inequality and decrease in marriage rates/dissolution of the family).

An asteroid is something that – if not addressed – inevitably will get worse/closer/bigger/more dangerous. For example, as someone who has formed an organization to combat the deepening partisan divide, I consider growing partisanship and political tribalism an asteroid. In fact, it might be such a big one that it keeps us from deflecting the other incoming ones.asteroid small r to l

We think we’ll add “Chemical & Corporations” to address the concern among liberals that the growing influence of the food industrial complex over our food supply may have inevitable and severe consequences for our longterm health. And we also think that conservatives might be onto something as they worry about the decline of American greatness. The role of America as world leader can hardly be underestimated in the events of the last century. What happens in the world – or in America – without that leadership?

But, enough about our asteroids. We want to hear about your asteroids. Please post in the comment thread to suggest asteroids or participate in the Online Townhall. We might just add your asteroid, along with a little asteroid-deflecting research, to our official asteroids-coming-straight-at-us priority list.

The Cycle on MSNBC: Watch Jonathan Haidt on the Asteroids Club

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy Jonathan Haidt’s “How common threats can make common (political) ground” Jonathan Haidt “How common threats can make common ground”

Host one of the first ten Asteroids Club meetings, we’ll chip in (cold. hard. cash.)

We’re so excited about having the first Asteroids Club meetings, we’re chipping in toward expenses for the first 10 events. All you have to do is host a meeting with at least 8 or 10 people in attendance, take pictures, save your receipts and write a blog post about the experience. You get all the fun of an Asteroids Club meeting and real money, up to $100. As if that weren’t incentive enough, we’ll also mail you (for the two co-hosts) two autographed copies of Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. CLICK HERE to give us the scoop about your meeting. Okay, GO!