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Volcanoes are erupting in The Philippines, but on-fire Australia received some welcome rain. The Iran war cries have been called off and The Donald’s military powers are about to be hamstrung by the Senate. Meanwhile, his impeachment trial is starting, and we’re all on Twitter for a front-row seat.

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What Could Go Right? The open mind movement

Depolarization thrives in (good-faith) discourse.

Brian Leli

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The open mind movement

The current cultural polarization in the United States and beyond is being driven in no small part by our failure to communicate in good faith across ideological divides. The further we move from a place of common ground, the more divisive our discourse gets. This provokes a doubling down on the fringes. The loudest and least tolerant voices get louder and less tolerant, amplifying the more extreme divisions that exist between the few, and elevating them to our elected leaders, where they risk being Frankensteined into objectionable legislation, born of backlash and almost perfectly designed to invite equal and opposite backlash. 

The good news is that the jig is up. Or at least that the jig appears to be shifting toward being up. Increasingly, the sensible voices of the many are rising above the fray of the few, hungry for the hard and nuanced conversations that can move us forward.

This shift was highlighted in a recent conversation between The Progress Network (TPN) Members Manu Meel and John Wood Jr. The pair spoke about the community forming around the efforts of their respective organizations—BridgeUSA, a youth-led nonprofit focused on creating open discourse among students, and Braver Angels, an organization dedicated to depolarizing politics. Meel had this to say about the defining characteristics of the “bridge-building” movement.

It is not about Trump-Biden. It is not about Democrat-Republican. It is not about liberal-conservative. It is about whether you’re open-minded or close-minded. It is whether you are empathetic or exclusive. It is whether you believe in creating spaces that allow everyone to speak up or creating spaces that shut people out. If you are on the side of empathy, open-mindedness, and understanding, this is the community for you. And that is most Americans.

Indeed, there are signs that a more open-minded and empathetic majority is talking, listening, and bringing much-needed balance to some of our more heated debates. But the proof is in the pudding. So join us as we take a brief look at two of the current cultural landmines that inched closer to being defused this week: speech on campus and gender identity.

#RealTalk from TPN Member Adam Grant.

Speech on campus
One common narrative told about Gen Z is that they are overly fragile and politically correct, intolerant of opposing views and quick to cancel dissenters. But look a little deeper, and a more conscientious and tolerant picture emerges.

In an article for Persuasion last week, recent grad Matt Major and professor Jacob L. Mackey detailed the student chapter of Persuasion they opened at Occidental College in Los Angeles last year. The club was started to create a space where students could have open and honest discussions on topics like restorative justice and hate speech. Rather than devolve into call-out chaos, the group has been a success. Among the lessons to be learned, the authors write, is that students are actually an ideologically diverse group, sometimes more so than the faculty themselves. 

Persuasion Founder and TPN Member Yascha Mounk echoed this sentiment in his recent Atlantic piece, pointing out that, while students are open to free debate, many of them feel that the climate on their campus prevents them from saying what they believe. “The findings of a growing number of surveys, based on interviews with thousands of students around the country, reflect this duality in the way students think and feel about the state of campus speech,” he writes. “According to one recent study by the Heterodox Academy, a nonprofit devoted to promoting viewpoint diversity, almost all students believe passionately in the need for an open culture of debate.”

Gender identity
“From the toxic debate playing out across social media you’d assume the country is split into trans activists and transphobes . . . But when you actually speak to ordinary people in communities across the country you realize that nothing could be further from the truth.”

That’s Luke Tryl, the UK director of More in Common, an organization dedicated to countering social division and polarization. He’s referring to the polling done as part of a new More In Common report, which looked at the British public’s views on gender identity and trans equality and found significant common ground. Here are a few of the report’s key takeaways:

  • Britons approach gender identity issues from a shared place of compassion that is “radically different in tone and substance from the angry and divisive debates of social media.”
  • Public opinion is driven by a desire to balance different interests, such as inclusion and fairness, leading to more support on some issues (including pronoun usage and children self-identifying) than others (including children making potentially permanent changes to their body and the inclusion of trans athletes in single-sex sports).
  • The public rejects “one-size-fits-all” approaches in favor of solutions that balance competing interests and concerns.

In other words, a nuanced and compassionate approach is crucial in navigating the issue and drawing a larger, fairer, and more inclusive circle. And despite the frustratingly dumbed-down and discordant tone on social media, much of the British public appears to already be united around such an approach.

There are signs that the conversation is improving in other countries as well. Kudos to Emily Bazelon for her refreshingly balanced New York Times piece on the highly complex issue of gender therapy in the US. And to Canadian parent Victoria G. for sharing her and her child’s gender care experience with The Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism (FAIR), an organization dedicated to promoting a culture of fairness, understanding, and humanity. 

We’re of course not here to tell you where to stand on these issues. We’re merely applauding the good-faith sensibility we see making its way into some of our more difficult conversations. Because we need to talk. But we also need to listen. And we need to speak in the ways that best invite others to listen to us. As TPN Founder Zachary Karabell said in our latest podcast episode, “If you don’t start from the right sensibility, everything that follows is going to be either compromised or broken.”

Before we go

Senators in the US voted to advance a bipartisan gun deal aimed at strengthening federal gun laws. The 64-to-34 test vote puts the legislation on track to be passed this month. While we wait for the next move on the bill, Substacker Rajiv Sethi has this look at the potential life-saving benefits of introducing a reporting requirement for the 380,000 guns that are lost or stolen annually.

There are zero incarcerated juvenile females in Hawaii’s prison system for the first time in its history.

And finally, word on the street in Thailand, where marijuana was recently decriminalized, is that cannabis-fed chickens may help cut farmers’ antibiotic use. “Scientists observed fewer cases of avian bronchitis and superior meat” after the chickens were given cannabis, The Guardian reports. While it’s not clear why the cannabis had positive effects, it’s possible that the plant’s bioactive compounds may have stimulated the chickens’ gut health and immunity, solving forever the mystery of why the chicken crossed the road. Clearly, it was to get some weed.

Below in the links section, lab-grown super coral, hovering 3D rabbit holograms, and more.


The rats’ “size, natural curiosity, and powerful sense of smell make them well-suited for the job,” New Scientist notes. They could start search-and-rescue missions as early as next year.

The New Space Race | S2 Ep. 13

Will space travel and exploration be left to the ‘billionaire boys club’? Executive Director of the Inter Astra group and 26-year Marine Corps veteran Ché Bolden shares with us his views on the future of space.

Listen to the full episode here. Read the full transcript here.

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TPN Member originals 🧠

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Department of Ideas 💡
(A staff recommendation guaranteed to give your brain some food for thought.)

Thoughts on free speech | The Red Hand Files
Australian singer-songwriter Nick Cave answers fan questions about free speech (and Jesus).

Why we picked it: Cave’s reverence for free speech—”a barometer of the health of our society”—is energizing and infectious. He reminds us that humans have a long history of thinking things that were only “terrifying and unconscionable and forbidden” until the day that they weren’t. —Brian Leli

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Congrats to DALL-E 2 on making its first magazine cover, a “wide-angle shot from below of a female astronaut with an athletic feminine body walking with swagger toward camera on Mars in an infinite universe, synthwave digital art.” 👇

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Brian Leli is The Progress Network’s editorial assistant. Originally from the American Midwest, he is currently living in northern Thailand.