Intellectuals tend to think in terms of ideas. Looking out at the world, we see grand clashes between ideologies. Populists of the left and right doing battle with neoliberal centrists. The political system buckling in response to polarization. Cultural revolutions bringing justice or terror to the workplace. White supremacy surging or ebbing. Libertarian moments dawning and receding. Socialism promising to redeem or threatening to destroy us.
Those who think and write about our public life for a living aren’t hallucinating when they talk this way. The ideas describe something real. But what if the ideas conceal as much as they reveal? What if underneath the colliding of these great ideological ice floes lies a more fundamental reality rooted in psychology — more specifically, in the way Americans process and react to anxiety?
I have a hunch this is precisely what’s going on for many of us — and that the thing triggering this anxiety is the perception of dramatic, destabilizing change.