To read about F's and my London trip, start here and click "newer post" to continue the story.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tribalism. It's what happens when people turn their brains off. That's my opinion, anyway.

I find that I baffle people from time to time when I don't fit myself into a pigeonhole. Several months ago somebody turned up on the Volokh Conspiracy and left a comment that included the word "Oduma". I remarked that when I ran across that word I put everything else that person said on automatic scroll-by, and he subsequently referred to me as a liberal. Whereupon one of the regulars with whom I'd butted heads a few times said, "if Laura is a liberal, then, geez, I must be somewhere to the left of a hippie in a Che t-shirt playing hacky sack at a 'save the whales' rally."

But I can't find a pigeonhole I'm comfortable with. I'd be a libertarian, except that the way that plays out, it seems that the strong and powerful people are able to bully everybody else, and they reject thought-experiments in which government intervention is ever needed to keep other people from being run right over. Privilege is one thing, I guess, and total disregard for the fact that one is privileged in ways that others aren't is something else again. It's either a lack of respect for people not like them, or a lack of imagination -> lack of empathy, or both.

OTOH, I don't trust the government to do any more micro-managing than absolutely necessary. I think we need regulating bodies like OSHA and FDA and EPA. We don't need paternalistic meddling that leads to learned helplessness. One problem I see with the point of view I'll call left-wing, for lack of a better word, is that as long as one's motives are pure, the outcome must be good. It's a heart-over-head approach and it can lead to tragedy. See, for instance, this awful story; or closer to home, the war on poverty's no-man-in-the-home rule that probably contributed substantially to the breakdown of the family. There is most definitely something to be said for "first do no harm".

Anyway, one of the problems with tribalism is that it causes people to excuse things on their own side that they'd never tolerate in the other. And that interferes with those people being held accountable. It also causes people to be overly optimistic about politicians on their side. I read about people expressing frustration about President Obama not ending DADT, and I understand their distress. But there are those who are disappointed that he hasn't done anything about same-sex marriage, totally ignoring the fact that he specifically said he favored a one-man-one-woman definition of marriage; or stating that they assumed, when he said that, he was only placating the troglodytes. It's the same kind of confirmation bias that has led the climate "scientists" into the sloppy habits and wrong conclusions that are now coming to light.

Another problem with tribalism is that people are hypercritical of those they perceive as being on the other side. I think it's counterproductive to be so polarized that we reject allies on issue A b/c we differ with those same people on issues P and Q. It doesn't promote the kind of unity I think most of us would like to have - where we have diversity of thought and ideology (so that we don't go over a cliff on left or right) but we also have common goals and can work toward them together, generally wish each other well, and have an atmosphere of civility and respect.

I wrote here about different kinds of political moderation, and here about a deliberate attempt I made to set aside my bias when I read the text of one of President Obama's speeches. I think it's also important to be aware of the bias of people who report that public figure X said this or that. To look for transcripts of speeches instead of relying on second-hand reports, summaries, or characterizations, especially when the speaker is a person we are predisposed to disapprove of. I actually avoid reading some news sites that I think are biased the way I already think because I don't want to be confirmed in my own biases.

And bias shouldn't be another word for conviction. I've written before, a few times, about how I came to be pro-life. That is a conviction I came to after thinking about the issue of abortion, and that I've confirmed for myself by revisiting my thought processes a few times over the years and finding them still valid. There are pro-lifers among the Democrats, of course, and pro-choicers among the Republicans, and I assume that these are people who also thought through the issue and came to their own conclusion. But I fear that there are people who pick their opinions like the old-fashioned voting booths set up for illiterate people, where you could just select the donkey or the elephant at the top of the list of candidates, and go on. Brain turned off.


John Moore said...

Since you appeared on Volokh, I have enjoyed your commentary, except for the one time you attacked me for reasons I never understood (oh well, that's life in the blog world).

I confess that I also cannot put you into an ideological box, other than reality based, which puts you (IMHO) towards the conservative, common sense side of things.

I would suggest that it's a waste of time to engage Orca (just as I normally ignore Zuch and another whose handle I don't remember). On the other hand, if you enjoy it, go for it.

Laura(southernxyl) said...

I don't remember attacking you, John! Probably you didn't deserve it.

Orca strikes me as very, very young. Perhaps there's hope for him. I keep trying to remember to scroll on past Zuch, though, especially after he slipped up and told me I was an easy troll.

Thanks for the comment.

StormCchaser said...

Laura, commenting in blog land is fraught with peril :-)

Anyway, stick around Volokh. I find it a great place, and enjoy your contributions.