Saturday, October 20, 2007

Is politics just tribalism?

Sorry to have not written anything in a while. I've just been swamped and for most of the past week my internet connection has been unpredictably up and down. Now that I've got a shiny new cable modem things should get better.

One of the things I've wanted to write about for a while is whether or not politics and our public discourse in general is just tribalism. By that I mean that people associate themselves with either Republicans or Democrats and have an emotional stake in that decision. After a while, it becomes about maintaining that identity and keeping power away from the other side, rather than thinking about the issues and trying to come up to the best solution to a problem.

Of course, as soon as I started thinking of this post, Dispatches from the Culture Wars said it better than I ever could. Here he's talking about a blog getting tagged as left or right:

...down with dualism. The whole point of such dichotomies is to avoid having to think. If you can just put that "liberal" or "conservative" label on someone, you can know whether to dismiss them or not. If you're intellectually lazy, that is. If you're capable of rational thinking, you know that labeling an argument does not defeat the argument and that you actually have to examine the logic of the argument and whether it explains the evidence or not.

And a couple of months ago:

I think that is the emotional root of why people respond so virulently to such [separation of church and state] cases, because in their mind religion is primarily a form of tribalism - those who agree with you are "Us" and those who don't are "Them." The moment you buck the majority, you are immediately placed in the "Them" category and the basic tribalism instinct kicks in; they truly do see themselves as protecting the in-group from the barbarian hordes at the door.

I've noticed this while hanging out over at Illinipundit. Commenters there are quick to start ridiculing their opponents as traitors, Marxists, socialists, anti-troop, illiterate, stupid (I'm looking at you, JB), and so forth. It quickly stops being about analyzing the issue or even trying to have a discussion, and becomes about attacking the ideological enemy.

In one of the debates, every single Republican Presidential candidate said that evolution was wrong. I really have a hard time believing that these presumably well-educated and reasonably smart guys, every one, thinks that biologists, cosmologists, and astrophysicists are wrong about their own field of study. It's the same thing when Bush said he would never appoint anyone to the Supreme Court that could approve of the Dred Scott decision. Come on, does he really think that there are a lot of Supreme-Court-quality lawyers that support slavery? No, this was a coded message about Roe. Both of these things were a way for the candidate to say to his followers, "Here I am. I'm one of you. I'm one of the tribe. Trust me."


Vogue said...

Obviously, I don't really follow politics, but that is a very interesting and thought provoking point. What I do hear about politics always sounds like a very "us vs. them" mentality. It's all about "you're with us or against us". You're too smart for your own good. :)

prairie biker said...

I wholeheartedly agree with you. Maslow (and Freud) had a lot to say about it as well.

I think I often get to play the role of nomadic hunter at IP, attacking conservatives and liberals alike.

prairie biker said...

As an addition: we humans, despite thinking of ourselves as "sentient" and exhibiting "freewill", often practice instinctive (genetic) behaviors that are hard-wired into our systems. We use our linguistic abilities to gloss them over, but at their core they all come down to obtaining sustenance, providing shelter and security, procreation, and then beautification.

Jonathan said...

I agree.

People like to latch onto groups and then quickly assigning "us vs "them". It's timeless human behavior.

Politics, sports, etc. You see it in a lot of human behaviors.

Tribalism in politics though is a refuge for the mentally deficient. It gives them an excuse not to think.

moon_grrl said...

Speak for yourself, PB, 'cause my bank account says that beautification comes before procreation. :-)

Thought provoking post, narc. I don't think you'd get many complaints, even from the "tribe", if JB got put out on an ice floe.

Narc said...

Thank you all for your comments.

Jonathan: Your mention of sports is quite apt. I don't have the sports gene, so I've never really understood people getting excited about which football team wins the World Series. It makes more sense in this context.

moon_grrl: Know where I can find an ice floe?

PB: I agree and disagree with you over at IP in about equal measure. But I kinda have to say that your recent comments over there calling a commenter a "socialist stooge" because he agreed with Hillary Clinton are rather an example of what I was talking about in this post.

prairie biker said...


I know they are, and you are spot on. One thing that makes my blood boil is unabashed socialism/communism. That commenter is just another in a long line of trolls that visit there, and I didn't say anything to him that I wouldn't have said to his face. The little fellow jumped in to a conversation telling us all how wonderful communism is and for that, he deserved to be slapped.

Narc said...

PB: I was trying to say that I thought you were the one out of line. Boon mentioned he liked a speech of Hillary's, and you started calling him a "socialist stooge" out of nowhere and Hillary a "communist loser." I'm not a particularly big fan of Clinton's, but saying she's equivalent to Mao or Castro is, I think, unconstructive hyperbole.

prairie biker said...

I am aware of what you were saying and I agreed with you.

However, Boon, through his own admission is a socialist, and Hillary, through her politics, is also easily identified as such. And I do believe that given the chance, Hillary would make herself just as onerous as Mao or Castro.

Narc said...

Oh, come on, that's just ridiculous. It's one thing to disagree with her policies or just not like her. The most radical proposal I've heard from her is her health care idea, and instituting that would put us about on par with Canada, not the Soviet Union. It's one thing to say she'd raise taxes, but it's another thing entirely to say she'd eliminate all private ownership of property. What you're suggesting is analogous to the right-wingers over at IP that claim the UN is plotting to take over the country and outlaw Christianity.

David said...

Okay, word usage like "onerous, stooge, loser, mentally deficient, ridiculous" ... can someone explain how they elevate the discourse higher than the original "us vs. them" debate?