Should Democrats go to more NASCAR races? How can we connect with others who don’t share our political views in non-political settings? This question is explored toward the very end of this conversation between EconTalk host Russ Roberts and University of Maryland political scientist Lilliana Mason. Mason’s new book, Uncivil Agreement, was the episode’s focus, which dovetailed nicely with other recent episodes, such as Kling on Morality, Culture, and Tribalism; McArdle on Internet Shaming and Online Mobs; and Roberts’s monologue, The Information Revolution, Politics, Yeats, and Yelling.

Mason and Roberts agree that we seem hard-wired to form and identify with our social groups, but both note a shift in the way such groups are composed in America today, particularly in relation to political parties. Both fear the “darker side” of our group affinities and our tendency to look down on “The Other.” Mason asserts that social groups do not create conflict, only preferences. That is, while we always tend to think our group is the best, once conflict arises it becomes more important to dislike the other group(s).

Use the prompts below in the best way you see fit… As an assignment for your students, a dinner conversation with your kids, or better yet- at that yoga class or NASCAR race you’ve been meaning to get to.

1- Mason describes the landscape today as characterized by less polarization on particular issues and increased partisan animosity. How has this come to be the case, and how does this differ from earlier parts of American political history? (Note that both agree the last time there was as much animosity in the air was in the 1960s…)

2- Mason (and Roberts) bemoan the changing nature of elections in becoming more like a sporting event. Mason says, “there is a disconnect between what the people actually want government to do, and what they are willing to allow government to do in order to protect their sense of victory.” What does she mean by this? To what extent do you think the rise of tribalism has affected the actual process of legislation?

3- In discussing those who pay the most attention to politics, Mason’s work gives Roberts a surprise. He says, “it flips on its head the idea that, you know, people who are uninformed, you kind of hope they don’t vote much. But, maybe they are the ones who are the less vulnerable to this.” What does Roberts mean here, and can it possibly be true? Should we prefer less to more informed voters in our elections? Why or why not? (Bonus question: What would Bryan Caplan say???)

4- Mason suggests, as noted above, that the best way to combat partisan hostility is to find a way to connect with your political “opponents” socially (and not discuss politics!). She also notes that those who would benefit most from such a practice are the least likely to try it. She goes so far as to suggest, “maybe we should just enforce it somehow on a national level, like have some kind of some kind of national service.” What are your thoughts on this suggestion? Can you offer an alternative? What effort(s) have you made to reach out to other who are different from you? What has been the effect on you? What recommendations might you offer to others who desire to do the same?

5- As seems to have become his habit, Roberts saves his zinger question until the end. How would you answer it” Do you think [given the current level of partisan animosity] that America is at risk of a civil war? Explain.

6- Regular Econlib columnist Arnold Kling reviewed Mason’s book in our August edition. Kling suggests that Mason misses many of the implications of her provocative work. (He lists these at the end of his column.) After listening to her conversation with Roberts, which (if any) of these implications do you think were addressed? To what extent do you think Kling would find himself in agreement with Mason, and why?