We’re all tribals now

Something you figure out very quickly about politics is that you’re expected to treat it as a team sport. Once you pick your team, any disloyalty, perceived or actual, is treated very harshly by your teammates. This is a phenomenon not particular to any political party or ideology either. Over time, I’m come to realize that it manifests itself in ways far less obvious than blatant partisanship. Here’s a few of the behaviors I’ve seen emerge.

We're all tribals now
By Jesse Harris
The other team can do no right.

This mindset is one of rarely defending or promoting your own team, but rather ruthlessly attacking everything the other team does. Most of the people who employ this like to pretend they have some kind of veneer of principled stand, but you don’t see them going after people on their own side who do Bad Things(TM) or pick Wrong Positions(TM). They often retreat into the “I never said my side was perfect” cop-out for it. They often end up in the uncomfortable position of having someone on The Other Side taking their side on an issue and trying to find some way, any way, to continue to attack them. It’s never about ideas and always about othering groups of people.

Selective mutism.

The surest way to pick these folks out of a crowd is to see how they react to the same statement or position coming from people on opposite sides of the spectrum. A good example is how the rabidly anti-war left during Bush’s administration has been deafeningly silent as Obama has greatly escalated drone warfare and domestic spying. Deficit hawks are no better, lacking their voices as a GOP Congress spent with abandon and suddenly only caring when the party on the door is swapped.

Living in an alternate reality.

The Internet is great at spreading information. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really care if it’s true, false, good, or bad. You’re also empowered to make sure that you’re mostly presented with information you like. I’ve watched a lot of people in politics retreat from the tumultuous discussions of Twitter and blogs, places where you are likely to be confronted with things that contradict your views, and into the “safe spaces” of Facebook where you create an echo chamber populated with groupthink. You can only be in that kind of environment for so long before you start to falsely believe that your way of thinking is more mainstream than you think.

What this all has in common is some kind of compulsion to belong to a tribe, usually partisan, that focuses attacks on those not in it to the exclusion of any serious self-examination. Those of you who indulge in these behaviors are likely to be in denial about it. You’ll be nodding your head along in agreement at what I’ve written while muttering under your voice “this is exactly what those other guys do”, obvious to your own culpability. Politics is an easier game to play with pre-formed narratives that dehumanize opponents. Most of us would rather have those easy answers than any kind of uncomfortable independent inquiry.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why we’re all tribals now.


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