The MWS Podcast 125: Arie Kruglanski on Close-Mindedness and the Middle Way

Our guest today is Arie Kruglanski. Arie is a Distinguished University Professor of Psychology at the University of Maryland College Park, and has been at the forefront of research into closed-mindedness-or, the “need for closure”— in particular its relationship to fundamentalist belief systems and violent extremism.
He is is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and has edited a variety of prominent journals, including the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Attitudes and Social Cognition. During his long career he has received numerous awards, including the Donald Campbell Award for Outstanding Contributions to Social Psychology.
His work in the domains of human judgment and belief formation has been disseminated in over 300 articles. He’s the author of six books including the psychology of close-mindedness and the psychology of terrorism and the themes explored in these books will be the topic of our discussion today

MWS Podcast 125: Arie Kruglanski as audio only:

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About Barry Daniel

I live in the Lake District in the UK where I run a guesthouse with my partner Kate and my cat Manuel. I enjoy painting, hillwalking, reading, visiting and entertaining friends, T’ai Chi and playing the guitar. I’m engaged to a certain degree in the local community, as a volunteer with Samaritans and I’m a fairly active member of the local Green party. I’ve had a relatively intuitive sense of the Middle Way most of my adult life but it found a greater articulation and a practical direction through joining the society. It’s also been interesting and great fun engaging with other people with a similar outlook. My main contribution to the society is conducting the podcast interviews, something that gives me a lot of satisfaction and that I’ve learnt a lot from.

One thought on “The MWS Podcast 125: Arie Kruglanski on Close-Mindedness and the Middle Way

  1. I thought this was a great podcast. Kruglanski’s work is entirely new to me, and it’s good to find such an established academic very clearly supporting Middle Way approaches without reservation. There are a number of interesting points I wanted to pick up.

    The first was one about people who are afraid of closure and cling to a non-committal situation. What Arie didn’t point out, but I think is very germane here, is that this is also a position of premature closure – but in relation to the belief that we should avoid closure. An important example of this is in ethics, where the relativist or nihilist says there is no moral answer, and thus no closure to moral disputation, but this is also clinging to closure at a different (more complex) level of abstraction. So for me the Middle Way isn’t just about striking a balance between openness and closedness, but rather about finding a more adequate position between two opposed dogmas, one or both of which may think of itself as open but in practice isn’t. I’d be very interested to hear if Arie agrees with that point.

    Another interesting issue was that of the relationship between different types of practice. Arie was very strong on the primacy of desire, which made me wonder if he assumes the position of Hume, that “reason is the slave of the passions”. I do agree with him that critical thinking may not help, if it just gives us more resources for defending our entrenched positions, but critical thinking properly speaking involves increased awareness, through analysis, of our assumptions as such. Other practices, such as mindfulness, may do better in helping us synthesise so that we can adopt a wider perspective to begin with, but it’s not as though critical thinking is of no use: rather there are various directions from which we can stimulate a process of integration, and the cognitive can do so by testing its own limits.

    I was also interested in Arie’s conclusion that those with a strong need for closure are happier if they get it, but I wondered about the definition of happiness it is based on – perhaps just a self-reported release of tension in this case? If someone’s tendency to premature closure makes them rigid in their response to their environment, it also seems likely that they will have a ready source of unhappiness in their frequent collisions with aspects of that environment that don’t fit their world view. For example, imagine a US white racist who reacted negatively every time they saw a black person. At the same time, people can only achieve advances in happiness (or satisfaction of desires) from the position they start with. So surely a rigid person is likely to be happiest if they follow the Middle Way, defined here as reducing and holding off on their need for closure as far as practicable, but no further? I think of Kathryn Schulz’s story about the white racist who changed his attitudes after being obliged to encounter and talk to a black woman, or indeed Arno Michaelis’s personal story in a previous podcast. Surely these people are happier now, for having loosened their need for closure in the past?

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