WHICH TRIBE REEZUNS BETTER: Their tribe is nuts!

FRIDAY, MAY 11, 2012

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.

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.
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.

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.

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.
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.

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—

MOONEY AND/OR HAIDT (off-camera): Moderately!

HAYES: Moderately! That’s a good point. Moderately correlated with certain ideological dispositions...
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!

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.

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—
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.)

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.

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.
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.

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.

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 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.

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.


  1. “We live at a time of high tribalization.” - b. somerby

    >>> false premise. the problem is a big imbalance of social unification among the two parties. the less pro-status-quo party needs to have more unification.

    “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.” - b. somerby

    >>> a largely false premise. liars...not nuts. the grass roots right is at war with the non-'real americans' as they hate anyone who isnt them ethnically and religiously in their minds, and they will use any rhetoric, true or false, which will temporarily best advance their position and which wont expose any more than necessary of their true agenda.

    “Various leading pseudo-conservatives have been demonizing liberals for decades. During most of this period, the liberal world was asleep in the woods.” - b. somerby

    >>> and look at the positive effect such politicking has had for the the moneyed interests behind hate radio and fox. somerby would not have the non-moneyed interests emulate this success. hes too pure or too right wing.

    “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.”

    >>> thats the elan vital of the gop.

    “Their limbic brains aren’t working correctly.” - bob somerby says incredulously

    >>> false premise. not incorrectly but differently to some degree among a certain percentage. nature or nuture? i believe that most likely its the attitudes observed from birth and even before (hormonally) which have caused differences of physical brain development.

    in america the on-the-ground right lives in a world of fear, as did their fore-bearers many generations back; a fear of an ongoing invasion and usurpation of their country and culture by non-realamericans and before that native americans, people not of their tribe or gang, so to speak.

    1. "They" ARE different from us! They are!!!!

      It's their hormones, I think.

      They have different physical brain development than we do!

    2. You must be new here Every word you write proves Bob's point

  2. '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.'

    Such an analysis might be appropriate in a universe which had never seen cataclysmic war, persecution, administrative torture, concentration camps, state fascism, totalitarianism etc.

    Unless, of course, it's the view of Mr. Somerby that we Americans or no American political party, could EVER descend to such barbarism at the domestic level (our foreign policy leaves no doubt as to our capacity for viciousness and unrestrained self-interest), and therefore we must accord to all the same high esteem.

    Move the Somerby to template to other periods of history, and the results are appalling, indeed horrifying -- we'd all be counted, as it were, "good Germans", for wanting to engage a demented opposition in a discourse it has absolutely no interest in pursuing and will use for nothing else than gaining advantage.

    Does the contemporary Republican party meet this standard of heinous conduct, in the view of "our tribe" (as Somerby likes to frame the issue)? Could the opposition same the same of "our tribe" (whatever tribe that is; Mr. Somerby doesn't say).

    Well, whatever the other tribe might say it, we need only refer to international norms; most of "Our Tribe" is center or center right by international contemporary standards, and if we're talking about the Democratic party, far right on some issues.

    The Repubs, by contrast, are off all scales by contemporary standards and would appear to have no interest, none at all, in a constructive negotiation which gets anything less than all they want.

    What Mr. Somerby needs to do is detail what language he prefers, in such a case, given the varied interests of the "tribes" and their accessibility and readiness of compromise.

    Or are we all equivalent, simply because we don't agree?

  3. Yes, tribalism has run amok, and it's not a good thing. But look at that Richard Mourdock quote again:

    "I have a mind-set that says bipartisanship ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view."

    Well hey, that's great Dick; I have a mind-set that says bipartisanship ought to consist of Republicans coming to the Democratic point of view. How d'ya like them apples?

    I'm reminded of Lloyd George's complaint at the Versailles conference: "What am I to do between one man who thinks he is Jesus Christ and another who thinks he is Napoleon?"

    1. And of course, where does the Mourdock mindset get us, expressed by either the extreme left or right?

      Would we have had the Interstate Highway system if the Democrats in Congress were so invested in blocking anything Ike proposed that Al Gore Sr. told him to take a hike?

      Would we have had the Civil Rights Act if LBJ was unable to approach Everett Dirksen for help in breaking the Dixiecrat filibuster?

  4. You know, Bob should really take Digby's advice and go to more of those Thanksgiving, Christmas and Sunday dinners with a big family.

    We are planning such a mass gathering for the Memorial Day weekend, and let me assure you that this batch of some 50 or so extended family members will cut across pretty much all political ideologies.

    So Bob can continue to sit at his computer and the basement and convince himself that we are all gathering into nice, neat little, polarized ideological tribes that look down their noses at the other nice, neat, little ideological tribes.

    But unfortunately, as Digby correctly notes, real life doesn't work that way. You meet, are related to, work with, all sorts of people every day.

  5. Hi, all!

    I do hope you try reading Jonathan Haidt's "The Righteous Mind." It's really well-written. And really disturbing if you like to think that people are capable of reasoning their way to good behavior. (And I have nothing to gain here...no financial stakes, no whatever. I just found it fascinating.)

  6. Is this the same Daily Howler who went NUTS when O'Donnell gave a small, polite on air complement to the late Tony Bankley? Look it up.
    I know we ALL think we are above it all... but some days we here we are reading a tribe of one.

  7. It is mistaken reasoning to take controversies, such as the heritability of intelligence or innate sex differences and assume that anyone who objects to a particular conclusion must be doing so because of opposition to science. These are not settled issues. Larry Summers was not criticized because he broke liberal taboos but because he made statements showing that he was unaware of findings he should have known more about. As the head of Harvard University, he should have understood that you cannot state that women do not wish to engage in the same academic pursuits as men and use that to justify inequalities in resources and opportunities on campus (and in the sciences more generally), especially when there are women seeking those positions. The opposition he received from women to his statements is evidence enough against his assertions. Claiming that science is settled when it supports one's own beliefs is mistaken reasoning. Further claiming that opposition to that then constitutes outrage at a broken taboo, not real disagreement on a controversial issue, is grossly unfair.

    You are ignoring the fact that outrage arises when statements are used to justify actions against certain groups in a particular context -- discrimination against women, dismantling of headstart (for Herrnstein & Murray). Co-opting these legitimate protests to support your point that opposition to "science" occurs on both sides doesn't work here because there is no agreement about the science (in fact considerable disagreement about it) and because there is opposition to the policies urged based on that science, not simply the science itself.

  8. 'Highly' vs. 'Moderately'

    A slip! Bob has found his slip and that tells bob how deeply tribalism has sunk into poor Hayes's soul.

    Reminds me of something I saw in MPs Holy Grail years ago.

    Hayes: Bloody highly correlated peasant!

    Bob: What a giveaway! Did you hear that? That's what I an going on about. Did you see Hayes being tribal? You saw it didn't you?

  9. Aren't we missing the main point? Digby is right that there are conservative jerkwads who will never be convinced of being wrong on a dearly-held belief no matter what the evidence shows just as there are left-wing jerkwads (As usual, I'm looking especially at you, feminists) who will never drop dearly-held beliefs no matter what the evidence shows either. (Studies, BTW, seem to reveal that while men and women enjoy, if you want to use an overly optimistic term, the same average intelligence, there is, nevertheless a distinctly greater deviation among men. What that means, my lovelies, is that the dumbest men are generally stupider than the stupidest women while the reverse is also true. Therefore, there is an excellent chance that Summers was right, which is, of course, exactly the reason he had to go because, after all, how can feminists speak truth to power if people insist on pointing out when their factually incorrect?)

    The situation would be intolerable were it not for all those voters in the middle who don't feel they have to damn or support one side over the other in order to feel good about themselves. The biggest problem with tribalism for us is that it's a distraction from the real task at hand which is to explain to non-crazy, non-right-wing Americans (who, along with good liberals plus the vast hoard of lefty a-holes I don't like, add up to a solid governing coalition) just how badly they're being screwed by the powers that be.

    Republicans may be corrosive zealots who are destroying the country but, unlike us, they are constantly trying to show mainstream Americans that they're the ones on their side, something the bastids do exceedingly well lacking as they do any apparent scruples about lying. Out side, OTOH, can never seem to satisfy its bodacious enthusiasm for calling people racists, misogynists, homophobes, Islamophobes, etc. and lamenting how stupid everyone else is, especially if they're white and, even better, male.

    I have no idea why liberals get so upset with conservatives for exploiting wedge issues. All too often they're just completing the work our side originally began.

  10. "As if by tribal instinct, Hayes overstated the degree of difference in personality traits between members of the two tribes."

    Is it tribal instinct or the American tendency towards hyperbole? Americans always -- errr often -- make the absolute statement. Still, a journalist should be more guarded against it.