Flying in over the Twitter transom over the last few days came various bits of sad, bad, or maddening news: A third of Republicans assent to parts of the QAnon conspiracy theory. Sizable groups of both Democrat and Republican partisans believe the country would be better off if large numbers of the opposing party were dead. Around one in six Americans stopped talking to a close friend or relative because of the election.
Each hour seems to bring new confirmation of our angry, addled, and alienated state. We are so focused on the darkness in others we can no longer see clearly. The irony is that while partisans are busy asserting that their opponents are evil and stupid, the very act of doing so—widely replicated as it is, and provoking a corresponding vitriol from the other side—renders our public discourse and character as a whole ever more callous, clueless, and cruel. We are becoming what we denounce.
How to disrupt this vicious cycle? A society of diminishing public trust in both institutions and each other—riven by difference we seem unable to bridge, and marked by malice and misinformation—calls for creative means of rebuilding a shared sense of the common good. Vital to such renewal will be the reinvigoration of what might seem a modest practice: the extension of intellectual hospitality.