MONDAY, MARCH 8, 2021
It appeared in the Washington Post: Major anthropologists with whom we consult continue to make several points.
The highly-credentialed, award-winning experts persist in making these claims:
They continue to say that human populations are strongly inclined to split into "tribes" at times of social conflict. And not only that:
Once these tribes have been formed, ideological war will typically follow, fueled by warring dogmas.
According to these world-renowned scholars, few "rational" standards will interfere with the expression of these dogmas. Within each tribe, adherence to dogma may even seem to resemble certain types of religious belief.
These anthropologists make one additional point—and they say it's very important:
They say we humans can always see the irrational conduct being performed by the other tribe. They say we have a much harder time seeing the irrational conduct being performed by our own dogma-fueled group.
Most outrageously, these experts say that these basic points obtain in our current circumstance, right here in the U.S. This brings us to Charles Blow's column in today's New York Times—but also to a remarkable column which was published in last Friday's Washington Post.
As always, Blow is outraged today—nor is he fastidious about the way he expresses his outrage.
Blow's column is geared to an important event—the start of Derek Chauvin's trial in Minneapolis. In the trial, Chauvin will stand charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd.
(According to the Washington Post, the judge may permit "the last-minute addition of a third-degree murder charge." No one reading this morning's Post is likely to have any idea what these technical terms actually mean.)
It's hard to believe that Chauvin will be able to justify his conduct in this matter, but he'll be given the chance. As usual, though, Blow is outraged—and he isn't especially delicate in the way he expresses this feeling.
For better or worse, his column starts like this:
BLOW (3/8/21): Something happened this [past] summer in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, and maybe only history will be able to fully explain what it was.
Millions of Americans—many of them white—poured into the streets to demand justice and assert that Black Lives Matter. It’s clear now that the summer protests, which took place during a pandemic during which congregation was discouraged, were for some participants less a sincere demand for justice than they were a social outlet.
As some semblance of normal life began to inch back, enthusiasm for the cause among whites quickly grew soft, like a rotting spot on a piece of fruit.
These Whites Today, the ones who poured into the streets! Blow seems to say that, for some of these whites, their demand for justice wasn't all that sincere.
Somewhat indelicately, he compares the current attitudes of these performative whites to "a rotting spot on a piece of fruit." For better or worse, the leading newspaper in Our Town apparently thought that this was an appropriate way to express this morning's key idea.
For the record, nothing Blow describes in his column supports any claim about anyone who took part in last summer's protests. As usual, Blow's sense of outrage has overwhelmed his (substantial) ability to deal with facts—a process we constantly hear described by despondent scholars and experts.
Along the way, Blow discusses the results of an ongoing survey conducted by USA Today and Ipsos—a survey which is quite ham-handed in the possible choices it offers to respondents. Blow hurtles past an obvious point—the changes in attitude which have occurred since the survey was first conducted last June are observed among respondents who are black as well as among those who are white.
On the several matters under review, there is much more agreement than disagreement among black and white respondents. This seems to suggest that a significant number of black respondents could also be compared to rotting pieces of fruit!
That Ipsos poll is absurdly ham-handed, but so it tends to go with our highly imperfect species. In our view, Blow's outrage may have outrun his (substantial) rationality—but that is precisely the effect top experts have long described.
These experts say that, at times like these, dogma will flourish in all our towns. They also tell us this:
Here in Our Town, the dogmas around which we tend to form tribal unity tend to involve matters of gender and race.
Here in Our Town, we all can see the crazy ideas which have hardened into dogma for those in The Other Towns:
Obamacare would feature "death panels!" Barack Obama was born in Kenya! The Capitol was invaded by a bunch of left-wingers posing as Trump supporters! November's election was stolen!
No claim is so absurd that it won't be widely believed in Their Towns. But how about the ways we tend to behave Over Here?
This week, we're going to focus on the remarkable column which appeared in the Washington Post. It deals with a very important topic—the shooting deaths of (black) citizens at the hands of police officers.
In our view, it's amazing to think that the Washington Post was willing to publish the column in question. Commenters quickly spotted the column's remarkable flaws. Perhaps because they were blinded by dogma, editors at the Post did not.
Over There, people have been strongly inclined to believe whatever crazy thing Donald J. Trump just said. Over Here, we tend to believe any claim in which members of Our Town accuse Others of racist or sexist behavior.
We'll agree with Blow on one key point—a whole lot of performative conduct seems to be taking place in matters of this general type. This morning, we think he does a poor job explaining where that conduct can be found.
Here in Our Town, we tend to believe the things we read in the Times and the Post. This raises a key anthropological question:
To what extent are the things we read based on irrational adherence to certain types of dogma—to pre-approved Storyline? Starting tomorrow, we'll examine that question all week.
Tomorrow: As seen in the Washington Post