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There are a lot of reasons behind thepolitical polarization of the country and the deterioration of civic discourse.


I wonder if a lack of humility is one ofthem.


In his recent book, “The Death ofExpertise,” national security expert Tom Nichols described a type of person eachof us probably knows:

在國安專家湯姆·尼克爾斯的新書《TheDeath of Expertise(專業知識之死)》中,描述了我們可能都認識的一種人:

Your traits determine who you are


Seeing someone’s personality as aconstellation of traits goes all the way back to ancient Greece and Rome.Today, it’s widely accepted that personality traits have a strong biologicaland genetic basis that can be amplified or muted somewhat by experience.


Dozens of different traits have beenstudied by psychologists over the past 70 years. The relationships among thesemany traits are often distilled into five dimensions that have come to be knownas the “big five” – “extraversion,” “agreeableness,” “openness to experience,”“conscientiousness” and “neuroticism.”


Where an individual falls along each ofthese dimensions provides the skeleton for a personality, which can then befleshed out with a plethora of other, more nuanced traits, like self-monitoringand locus of control.


However, Duke University psychologist MarkLeary quickly recognized the potential relevance of this trait to a wide rangeof political and social issues and ended up conducting a series of influentialstudies to explore how the trait predicts our reactions to people and ideasthat we disagree with.


Leary found that individuals who score onthe high end of intellectual humility process information differently fromthose who score on the low end. For example, they’re more tolerant of ambiguityand they realize that not every problem has a single, definitive answer oroutcome. When they hear a claim, they are more likely to seek out evidence andprefer two-sided, balanced arguments.


Unfortunately, most people do not scorehigh on intellectual humility.


Receiving daily affirmation of our opinionsand intuition from TV and the internet naturally coaxes us into seeingourselves as being pretty darned smart. This can be especially toxic when fusedwith a lack of respect for expertise.


What this means for our politics


According to Leary, your political party orreligion doesn’t correlate with higher or lower intellectual humility.


However, those with more extreme religiousand political views do tend to score lower in intellectual humility. It is notyet clear if the average voter’s political views are becoming more extreme, butthere is evidence that this may be true for those who are most engaged in thepolitical process.


Furthermore, many voters seem to preferleaders who are confident, decisive – and who do not change their positions onissues – the very qualities that can readily be found in those who lackintellectual humility.


In fact, studies have found thatRepublicans – but not Democrats – who are low in intellectual humility reportbeing much less likely to vote for a politician who has changed his or herstand on an issue over time. So, woe be to the Republican office seeker who haschanged a position on an issue in light of new evidence, as the dreaded labelof “flip-flopper” is all but certain to be applied.


The New York Times’ Jeremy Peters bemoanedthat political anger and moral outrage are the only things that Americansreally have in common anymore. Understanding the positions of our opponents, henoted, has become a lost art. A lack of intellectual humility is clearly one ofthe factors that handicaps our ability to engage in civil discourse.


And while there has probably never been anexcess of intellectual humility in Washington, D.C., it’s rarely been asnakedly apparent as it is today.