Part 4—On that point, the tribes can agree: At a time of high tribalization, the warring tribes will agree on one point:
The problem is caused by the other tribe! Our tribe is being quite sensible!
We live at a time of high tribalization. As she started a segment on his MSNBC program last Saturday, Chris Hayes described the landscape, then introduced two guests:
HAYES (5/5/12): If our political institutions seem more dysfunctional than ever before, that’s probably because they’re more polarized than ever before, and we’re not just talking about our perpetually deadlocked Congress. Even among voters at large, the broad center seems to be rapidly diminishing.Have we all “inherited the same moral intuitions?” We’re not sure what that means. But Hayes gave a good account of the current polarization among regular voters.
One of the most insidious features of the kind of polarization we’re seeing in America now is it makes it difficult if not impossible to relate to people on the other end of the spectrum. They seem irrational, detached from reality, out-right crazy. There are two books out now that try to parse this phenomenon. They ask the question: If through evolution we’ve all inherited the same moral intuitions, then how do we end up so far apart on so many basic political issues? We have the authors of both of those books here with us today.
The authors he introduced were Chris Mooney and Jonathan Haidt.
Do voters in the rival tribe “seem irrational, detached from reality, out-right crazy?” At present, aggressive members of our two warring tribes are happy to encourage camp followers to see The Others that way.
Various leading pseudo-conservatives have been demonizing liberals for decades. During most of this period, the liberal world was asleep in the woods.
Now, a liberal world has begun to emerge—and leading players in that world are eager to tell us demon tales too. To wit:
Conservatives and Republicans are bigots and racists. Their limbic brains aren’t working correctly.
The others are “wired for homophobia.” Wonderfully, our people aren’t.
The liberals who want you to reason this way have a great deal in common with members of the pseudo-right. As he continued, Hayes describes his own evolving views on the problem caused by this warfare:
HAYES: So this I think is in some ways the most important single issue to figure out and discuss.Let’s state the obvious. We won’t be solving climate change; our dysfunction is too advanced, the situation is too far gone. But as a general matter, we tend to agree with Hayes’ view—the current level of polarization stands in the way of general progress.
Because I have personally evolved in my thinking about polarization, in that I used to be very pro-polarization. I used to think that people’s concerns about polarization were this bougie, establishment, elite concern and us, the vanguard of righteousness, needed to squash our foes. And I’ve now realized that to get change on the scale we need, particularly—my sort of preoccupation is on climate change—you just can’t get it under the current condition of polarization, you just cannot get it. So the question is, you have to solve that problem first before you solve the bigger problem.
Digby posted the tape of the discussion which ensued; to watch the full discussion, click here. For ourselves, we would offer a guide to that discussion.
First, please understand: Our tribe demonizes the other tribe and engages in “bad science” too! The tribal mind will always insist that the other tribe is causing the problem. But especially since the rise of Candidate Obama, our side has been eager to accept any and all “science” concerning the other side’s racism.
In the process, we have accepted some very dumb science—but we love to drop our bombs! As we pleasure ourselves in these ways,the polarization grows.
Does the liberal world tend to polarize too? Does it tend to promote bad science? Do we tend to promote false or overstated claims about the other tribe?
It’s always easy to see the flaws in the reasoning of the other tribe. To see your own tribe’s possible flaws, we’ll suggest that you look for these points as you watch that tape:
The tendency to overstate differences: In times of high polarization, members of the other tribe will always “seem irrational, detached from reality, out-right crazy.” Tribal warriors will encourage this way of seeing, overstating the differences which exist between the two tribes.
All this week, we’ve looked at Mooney’s recent piece in Salon, which ran beneath an aggressive headline: Republicans are “wired for homophobia,” the headline excitedly said. That headline seemed to announce a difference in kind: Their tribe is wired, our tribe isn't. But that is not what the science shows. It isn’t what Mooney describes in his piece, although we think he himself was careless in his claims.
At times of tribalization, tribal players will be inclined to overstate differences. Even as he complained about the effects of the tribalization, Hayes displayed this instinct at one point in Saturday’s discussion. You can see this exchange at the 11-minute mark of the tape:
HAYES (5/5/12): We’re talking about the ways in which people do their political and ideological reasoning, I think is the common topic here, the degree to which there are systematic personality psychological differences between the way liberals and conservatives think about the world, which there from the research and the literature appears to be in certain— Certain personality traits are highly correlative with certain ideological—As if by tribal instinct, Hayes overstated the degree of difference in personality traits between members of the two tribes. Off-camera, Mooney and/or Haidt instantly corrected him; Hayes quickly accepted correction. But here you see a basic instinct acted out by the very person who says we have too much of this!
MOONEY AND/OR HAIDT (off-camera): Moderately!
HAYES: Moderately! That’s a good point. Moderately correlated with certain ideological dispositions...
Tribal players will be inclined to overstate differences between the two tribes. As Hayes describes, this leads us to imagine a very wide gap between the two tribes.
The tendency to reject criticism of one’s own tribe: At times of tribalization, tribal member will tend to reject criticism of their own tribe. For our money, you can see liberal reactions that look like this at several points on this tape.
Early on, Haidt tries to offer what he describes as his key point. In his prior writing, Mooney has said that conservatives are inclined to reject the findings of science somewhat more than liberals. At one point, Haidt seems to agree with Mooney about this. But early on, around the 4:30 mark, he tries to say that liberals will sometimes reject science too.
Both teams do it, Haidt asserts. Then, he gives an example:
HAIDT: The one point that I really want to make is that morality binds and blinds. It binds people into teams and then, on those teams, they look for evidence to support what they want—both sides do it. And the key thing that I want to introduce here is, we all do it around our sacred values.According to Haidt, the left engaged in denial of science in the fairly recent past. Mooney seems to be nodding agreement at this point, although we may be misreading his reactions. (We’d say that Haidt and Mooney agreed more than they disagreed during this lengthy discussion.)
So if we go back twenty years, I would have an easier time finding denial of science on the left than on the right but you can’t see it if you’re on the left. But in my own field, in psychology, because the left really sacralizes all these issues about race differences, gender differences, those are so scary, that on the left there’s thirty or forty years of, more than ambivalence, denial—of heritability, IQ, innate sex differences—
But now, John McWhorter interrupted, offering an example. And uh-oh! As Haidt criticizes a famous bit of conduct by some on the left, Hayes and one or two liberal panelists quickly voice heated objection. What he's saying ain't true!
MCWHORTER (continuing directly): So, what Larry Summers ran up against in his comments about women and science.Was liberal reaction “bizarre” in this instance? We wouldn’t be inclined to describe it so strongly ourselves. But we were struck by the instant way the liberal members of the panel rose to reject Haidt’s claim. And no, Hayes didn’t explain why liberal reaction wasn’t bizarre when they came back from that break.
HAIDT: Exactly! That’s right. That’s right. I would really urge people, if you just Google “Larry Summers women and science,” if people would read the transcript, it is as nuanced and careful as a person can be especially when talking about a field that’s not their own. And it’s bizarre that the left reacted so strongly to it. But—
HAYES: It’s not bizarre. It’s not bizarre actually! I want to explain why it’s not bizarre right after we take a very quick break.
We’ll only say this—at times of high tribalization, tribal members will always reject the claim that their own tribe has reezuned poorly or engaged in bad science. Specific examples can always be debated, but you see a similar reaction later on, when Mooney and Haidt agree that, in the current climate, European liberals are more likely to reject good science than European conservatives.
Interesting! In Europe, liberals are more likely to reject good science at this point! But uh-oh! Michelle Goldberg quickly asserts that this liberal behavior is different from the behavior of modern American conservatives. And so it may be, but every time Haidt and/or Mooney allege liberal error during this long conversation, Goldberg quickly objects.
This is precisely the way tribes enter deep polarization.
Tribal players love to hate; they love to extend the polarization. Compare Hayes’ description of his former view with the recently stated view of Richard Mourdock, the hard-right Indiana Republican who just took out Richard Lugar:
HAYES: I used to think that...us, the vanguard of righteousness, needed to squash our foes.Tribal players will always say there is no way to work with “those people.” Indeed, to see a liberal who tends toward that vew, just read Digby’s remarks about this part of Hayes’ program.
MOURDOCK: This is a historic time, and the most powerful people in both parties are so opposed to one another that one side simply has to win out over the other...I have a mind-set that says bipartisanship ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view.
Tribal players will always say that there is no way to work with “those people.” Digby knows it can’t be done because of her Thanksgiving dinners:
DIGBY (5/5/12): I just read Jonathan Haidt's book and am still not persuaded. And my "intuition", however flawed, useless and unenlightened, tells me that newly minted "centrist" Jonathan Haidt is more than a little supercilious and I was glad to see Hayes push him a little bit. I found it somewhat poignant that he suggests the answer is for people to have dinner parties with both liberals and conservatives so they can share food and talk about all this together. He seems to think this is highly unusual when in fact it happens at Thanksgivings and Christmases and Sunday dinners across the country. Indeed, many of us have been living this "experiment" our whole lives. Let's just say the old fashioned elite Tip 'n Ronnie, bipartisan Georgetown dinners aren't exactly the prototype for most of us.The snark is general; so is the fatuity. Haidt wasn’t discussing family dinners. But tribal players will always be inclined to say there is no cure for The Hate—for the hatred and demonization which come from the other tribe.
Our situation is very far gone—but our tribe is playing the Tribal Game too. Does no one but us get MSNBC on their TV machine thingy?
During the Clinton years, we liberals napped in the woods. But now that our tribe has emerged from the woods, we reezun a great deal like they do.