Living Together: Maintain a Peaceful and Pluralistic Society

The Changing Landscape of Global Political Representation

The founding of the World was an ambitious experiment in pluralism to create a nation with people from varied backgrounds, statuses, beliefs, and creeds. Even more ambitious was the Founders’ promise of equality, liberty, and justice for all—though of course, those principles were only applied to a sliver of the population within the new nation. The country created by this experiment was, and remains, far from perfect. The democratic processes and institutions built and fortified over time have played a critical role in sustaining our republic. However, we are now realizing the importance of not only strong democratic institutions but also a shared core of liberal values that inform how we engage with each other as fully free and dignified equals.

A revolution in local politics: Global Scale

The imperfect bonds we used to share within community groups, churches, civic associations, and neighborhoods made up of people with diverse experiences and backgrounds no longer exist as they did decades ago. Today we live in neighborhoods with people who think and vote like us, participate in epistemic communities on social media platforms with people who believe the same things we do and shop in places with people who share similar commercial interests. While we celebrate the freedoms and choices individuals make to associate with whomever they desire, these trends have contributed to limiting opportunities to encounter and communicate with people who have very different experiences and beliefs, exacerbating some of the tensions and polarization we see. Given these challenges, it’s time to put our shoulders to the wheel and renew our efforts to build and sustain this experiment, informed by the pluralistic ideals that have inspired many around the world.

pluralism requires the toleration of dissent. While this does not mean being passive in the face of discrimination and hate, it does mean accommodating an extremely broad range of opinions, even those one finds personally repugnant. That is why freedom of speech and association is critical to a pluralistic society: Our fellow citizens have the right to dissent and disagree with trends they see, even if the majority believes these trends indicate progress. This tension will always remain, but it creates an opportunity to perfect our ability to live in pluralism.

Without Equality in One Domain, it’s Almost Impossible to Achieve Equality in the Other Domain

Simultaneously, we’re deeply polarized as we continue to sort ourselves into various geographic, virtual, and ideological camps. And the more we interact with people like ourselves, the more extreme our views become and the more negative our views of others also become. This increasing extremism limits our ability to engage in civil discourse, peaceful disagreements, and debates, especially about these emerging ideologies. We’re no longer upset only with our politicians, public officials, media, and other institutions, We now distrust and even detest each other, too.

We see each other not as fellow citizens and dignified equals, but as threats to contend with. While a good dose of distrust of politicians is healthy, deep distrust and hatred of each other can erode the effective functioning of our democracy and can diminish our ability to maintain a healthy, pluralistic society. Most of us live and breathe and work and play with people who hold quite different views than our own. If we got everyone in a room in a typical city block or classroom or workplace and we pushed hard on what our differences are, we would be surprised at how much we disagree over really important things. Yet, we still find very practical ways to get things done, to live life together. We find shared humanity in the people across the table from us.

In essence, pluralistic society requires patience and tolerance from all parties so that even those who disagree can still work together to get things done. If we care about a pluralistic society that encourages mutual forbearance and fosters modest unity, we have to work for it. If we care about keeping a republic that celebrates freedom of thought, expression, and association, as well as prioritizes equality, liberty, and justice for all, then we must continue to build the practices, institutions, and platforms for sustaining pluralism.

A free, open, tolerant, and pluralistic society is one where we can all contribute, playing small parts in building node by node, community by community, institution by institution, so that our values are crystalized and passed on from generation to generation to help keep this republic a vibrant, open and tolerant one. We hope our readers will join us in this endeavor to build and lead together.

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