This is my first column after about a five-year break, and it's sobering to be back. Sobering because our country is being pulled apart by intractable differences, many if not most invented and sustained by paid media talking heads making millions in the process. These intractable differences are contained in two conflicting national narratives: progressive and conservative.
As the Atlantic writer George Packer points out, "democracy depends on a baseline of shared reality -- when facts become fungible, we're lost." And it is my contention that we are there -- lost somewhere between the two conflicting narratives. But we can recover, and it starts with each and everyone of us.
For a society to linger in this condition requires people to remain in a state called na´ve realism -- the belief that we see the world precisely as it is. People in this state don't need to question their beliefs, dig deeper for the truth or consider other opinions. Instead, they live in the narrative that feels right to them, and remember, "the most durable narratives … address our deepest needs and desires."
Being in a state of na´ve realism and living in an information echo chamber or narrative is a short step to a firm conviction that our causes are justified. It is frightening to see how far people will go when they feel justified. Think of all the genocides humanity has committed, convinced our causes were just.
While the media and government exploit this situation, they don't cause it. Instead, they reflect our society's attitude. They promote loyalty by appealing to their designated demographics. But their power is granted to them by us, their loyal followers, in exchange for hearing our biases confirmed. We love thinking we're right!
As an example of the practical effects, think of the Capitol incident on Jan. 6. Those who participated were convinced their cause was justified by how their narrative explained the current situation in the United States. Now, more than 530 of them are being arraigned for committing an act they thought justified by their interpretation of their circumstances based on the "facts" in their echo chamber narrative.
The first step to a cure starts with us. It is learning to stop our reflexive responses and "Think Again" about our conclusions -- to ask ourselves why we believe what we believe, how do we know what we think we know? Until then, we can justify almost any act because we believe our answers are correct and our causes are just.
The insurrectionist participants on Jan. 6 are a microcosm of the problems in our society -- a small sampling of "us." Sure, the rest of us didn't show up at the Capitol that day, but we are all prone to thinking our causes are just, and we see the world precisely as it is.
As long as that's our prevailing attitude, we will suffer the division and paralysis we currently endure in our society. Until we can have an "internal" civil dialog with ourselves about justifying why we believe what we believe, society will remain in what's called a vicious cycle -- a downward trend toward dysfunction that will define this era in our history as one of malignant stagnation.
This column will be devoted to offering critical thinking skills, not a partisan agenda. I will address current events that may have a partisan flavor but only as examples of how critical thinking skills might allow us to see more possibilities for reconciliation and resolution.
Starting on Aug. 4 and every Wednesday morning after, I will be discussing the previous column's content on a weekly talk show from 8 to 9 a.m. on WDBX 91.1 FM.
I invite you to participate by submitting questions, comments or disagreements to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or the editor at email@example.com. I will choose two or three responders each week and tape an interview with those selected. The tape will be played on my show the following week.
Please join me in making our society healthier, safer and saner by learning to evaluate what and how you think. Together, we can bring ourselves back from the brink.
• Robert De Filippis has been a frequent contributor to the Carbondale Times and other local newspapers. His published books include "Loosing Your Mind: Liberating Your Intellect for Critical Thinking." Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit his website at robertdefilippis.com.