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 climate change asteroid needs a language makeover for conservatives

A University of California at Berkley study, published in the Journal of Psychological Science, showed that conservatives were far more motivated on environmental issues – including climate change – when it was explained with particular language.

“When it comes to climate change, deforestation and toxic waste, the assumption has been that conservative views on these topics are intractable. But new research from the University of California, Berkeley, suggests that such viewpoints can be changed after all, when the messages about the need to be better stewards of the land are couched in terms of fending off threats to the “purity” and “sanctity” of Earth and our bodies…”

Read the entire article online here.

The study supports the body of work on moral reasoning that shows conservatives consider purity and sanctity one of the “channels” of morality, where this basis for moral decision-making is simply lacking in liberal moral reasoning. According to the lead author of the study, “when individuals view protecting the environment as a moral issue, they are more likely to recycle and support government legislation to curb carbon emissions.” This is more support for the case made by Jonathan Haidt in The Righteous Mind and the central premise of the Asteroids Club – “fending off threats” is a strong foundation for us to build from.

So if liberals want conservatives to see the climate change “asteroid,” perhaps they might want to shake-up their word choice. Beats angry yelling as a strategy hands down.

Why the Village Square will be hosting an “Asteroids Club”

Since the beginning of our organization six years ago, we have been in endless pursuit of the best ways to draw people together in meaningful, real and civil conversation. We’ve had great success. Our Dinner at the Square series is almost always sold out, drawing about 175 people every time. Take-out Tuesday programs, including our hyperlocal forum Our Town have been standing-room only. And Faith, Food, Friday has been a unique (and we think profound) addition to our community fabric that we’re really proud to be associated with.

But there has always been something missing – a forum that grabs a hold of intractable challenging issues that are the source of enduring divisiveness and makes real progress on the issue. That challenge has truly flummoxed us. It’s a hard thing to do without making civility a casualty of the effort. Enter The Asteroids Club, a concept I first heard of after Jon Haidt and Steve Seibert were in the same car together for six hours (imagine a brew of deep and out-of-the-box thinking that gets so electric that it’s virtually pinging off the car doors).

The Asteroids Club has all the trappings of the things we know already works: People engaging who are politically diverse but have an existing and enduring relationships, a few rules that keep the forum safe for disagreement, breaking bread together and a commitment to not taking things too seriously – to laugh whenever possible.

But it adds critical concepts that we have since learned, largely through our study of Jon’s work (oh ok, our groupie-like devotion to his work) confirmed 100% by the direct experiences with the challenges we’ve faced. The Asteroids Club speaks to the intuitive “elephant” that is the source of the vast majority of human decision-making rather than the rational “rider” who functions more like the elephant’s press secretary, offering post-hoc rationalizations rather than true objective reasoning. Almost every forum that ever existed invites riders, not elephants. The Asteroids Club makes its central theme the reciprocity that is one of the lovely aspects of basic human nature – “I’ll help you deflect your asteroid, if you help me deflect mine.” Finally, the concept clearly expresses that ultimately it is common threat more than common ground that really brings human beings together. And boy do we have real common threats.

We’re so excited about the Asteroids Club, we told Jon we’d help it come to fruition. You can find our first Asteroids Club event online here. You can even use our user-editable We the Wiki website to easily create a webpage for your own public Asteroids Club event. Find directions for creating your event page at the bottom of this page. Feel free to call us and we’ll help you set up your page inside 15 minutes! Find us at (850) 264-8785 or

Common Threats? We have them.

It’s really a curious state of affairs that we seem to be so incapable of finding common ground in today’s divisive political slugfest. The uber-partisans remind me a lot of two toddlers fighting intensely over possession of a plastic toy as their tussling moves them ever closer to a busy roadway. No matter how oblivious they are to it, that busy roadway exists and the cars are whizzing by. The toddlers are not really attending to the higher priority problem because of how intent they are about the toy. And these two young lads (let’s face it, they’re probably boys) factually have incredible common ground, their fate is likely the same and may even rest in each others’ hands. Ironic since they haven’t the vaguest idea this is true, trapped as they are in their zero sum game of winning that darn toy. And their failure to see it may well seal their fate.

I make the comparison not just because after spending six years trying to heal the partisan divide, it makes me feel good to call partisan leadership children (and it does make me feel really good). The comparison works because boy do we have real problems, enduring problems, problems that are growing bigger by the day, problems we are applying precious little sustained effort to solve. Like the poor unsuspecting kiddos near the highway, we’re too busy attending to the transient and intense squabble.

The other dynamic is that we’re spending all our time talking – at an ever-increasing decibel level – about the common threat that we see, while threat warnings that come from the opposite side of the aisle barely register as a blip. It’s time to harness “the power of and” – a concept we broke out early on when we noticed the either-or thinking run amok. Both threats can be – and probably are – true. When about 50% of a society it deeply concerned about a coming threat, isn’t it worth our time to at least really listen?

Enter The Asteroid Club, a concept we’re finding genius. America’s looming problems may as well be asteroids, as they are hurtling at us through time, heading straight toward an impact that looks certain to about half of us on planet earth. Pick your asteroid, whether it’s climate change, entitlement spending affecting the deficit and financial stability, the growing divide between rich and poor, or the dissolution of the family. There is substantial data to suggest that each (probably among others) is a legitimate asteroid and they’re heading our way.

Our common threats IS our common ground. And we’d better get busy noticing the asteroids. At the Village Square, we’re going to.

– Liz Joyner

Jonathan Haidt wows FSU: Professor Jonathan Haidt speaks about morality to a full house at the Student Life Cinema on Sept. 11

Written by Elena Novak, Contributing Writer

Imagine there’s an asteroid hurtling toward Earth. At its present rate, it will make impact in the year 2022. The human race is doomed; however, there is one controversial solution: raise taxes and cut spending. This would fund a project designed to divert the asteroid’s path.

The harrowing scenario began New York University Stern School of Business professor Jonathan Haidt’s speech addressing FSU students and the Tallahassee public on Sept. 11. His speech, entitled “The Righteous Mind: How morality binds us together and tears us apart,” was delivered to a filled-to-capacity Student Life Cinema on Tuesday evening.

Those who came late to the event were directed to an overflow room, where the lecture could be viewed on a projector screen.

There is no known asteroid bent toward destroying mankind; Haidt made it up as an experiment to gauge the audience’s willingness to implement measures that might go against their political views if it meant saving the world. The majority said they would. (Read the whole article online at FSView.)