MONDAY, MARCH 22, 2021
Prehistory, brain wiring win: According to anthropologists, we humans are inclined to behave in remarkable ways at times of tribal conflict.
This morning, the Washington Post's editorial board describes one current example of this hard-wired inclination.
The board describes an ongoing bit of conduct by certain elected officials in Arizona. These humans refuse to accept a basic fact:
Donald J. Trump lost the state in last November's election.
As the editorial explains, the validity of the Arizona vote count has already been validated by the appropriate officials, who happen to be Republicans.
That hasn't been good enough for major Republican officials. Hard-copy headline included, the editorial starts like this:
WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL (3/22/21): For some, the 2020 race isn't over
You might have thought that the 2020 elections were over. Not in the minds of Arizona Republicans, who are still upset about President Biden’s narrow win in their state last November. Arizona Senate President Karen Fann (R) said Thursday that the [state] Senate will conduct its own hand recount of 2.1 million ballots in Maricopa County, the state’s most populous jurisdiction. Republicans claim they want to restore confidence in the voting process. In fact, they are only encouraging people to believe the lie that the election was stolen.
The sheer stupidity of Fann's action will become clear if you read the whole editorial. But this is the way we humans are inclined to behave at times like these, an array of top experts have told us.
As we first noted several years back, "it's all anthropology now." There is no longer any reason to think that our nation's warring tribes will be able to resolve current disputes in ways which are even vaguely "rational."
It's the oldest false story in the book, these despondent experts have said. In our essence, we humans aren't "the rational animal," and we never have been!
We humans are really a tribal animal, these despairing scholars claim. At times of polarization, we're strongly inclined to abandon rational conduct.
Instead, we find ways to align ourselves with the claims, and with the preferred Storylines, of our own sacred tribes.
For people like Fann, one such sacred Storyline says that Trump couldn't have lost. For an example from here in Our Town, we cite a new post by our own favorite blogger:
As the blogger begins, he asks the question on everyone's mind here in the streets of Our Town. Was Robert Long motivated by racism when he killed eight people last week?
Here in Our Town, we desperately want the answer to be yes. Agreement on such high-minded claims has become the one key way we form our tribal alliance.
Was Long motivated by racism? As he starts, the blogger suggests that the answer is no—but he seems to suggest that, in a pinch, misogyny will do. Headline included:
DRUM (3/21/21): Were the Atlanta Killings Motivated By Racism?
Was Robert Aaron Long motivated by anti-Asian racism when he went on his killing rampage in Atlanta last week? Six of his eight victims were Asian massage parlor workers, so at first the answer seemed pretty obvious: Of course he was.
But then things got more complicated. Racist mass shooters are usually proud to acknowledge their racism, but Long said he didn't care about race. Others who knew him confirmed this. And unlike most racist attackers, he didn't have a Facebook page full of racial fulminations or a Twitter feed that retweeted anti-Asian hate speech. At a conscious level, at least, Long really did seem to be motivated mostly by misogyny and sex obsessions.
Long has no apparent history of racial hatred. This means that, "at a conscious level," he was motivated primarily by misogyny, we're provisionally told.
But was Long motivated by misogyny at all, consciously or otherwise? No effort is made to argue for this second preferred claim. It's taken as a given—and as the blogger proceeds, his comments become even stranger.
Believe it or not, here's what he said next. Anthropologists shouted "Eureka:"
DRUM (continuing directly): And yet, there's still the blunt fact that six of his eight victims were Asian, and Long carried out his rampage at a time when anti-Asian hate crimes had been all over the news. Is it really plausible that this was just a coincidence?
That's debatable, but the bare facts nonetheless suggest that anti-Asian racism really wasn't a major factor in the shootings. I accept this, more or less, and yet I've come to realize that I don't care. Since I'm normally committed to facts above all else, what explains this?
According to our favorite blogger, "the bare facts suggest that anti-Asian racism really wasn't a major factor in the shootings." (Truthfully, he hasn't argued that racism was a factor at all.)
"The bare facts suggest that anti-Asian racism really wasn't a major factor." The blogger says he accepts this (more or less), and yet he doesn't care!
Last week, Our Town spilled with praise for one of the dumbest journalistic performances of the modern era—for Oprah Winfrey's fawning, boot-licking behavior around a pair of multimillionaire royals.
Children were drowning in the sea, but Oprah cared about this. We loved it because it let the clowns in the clown car perform our current favorite story:
Some unnamed person, on some one occasion, had (allegedly) made some unrecorded racist remark! Also, it was sheer luck that the royals could afford to buy their $15 million house. Let's not forget about that!
This week, Our Town is obsessed with the question the blogger is exploring. We very strongly want to say that the killer is a racist. The blogger says the facts don't hugely support this claim, and yet he doesn't care.
The blogger goes on to offer two reasons why he doesn't care. You can peruse his reasons if you wish. Also, you can peruse the comments to his post, in which commenters struggle for ways to keep telling the story Our Town prefers
Remember, this is an anthropological story as it's being told here. We're discussing the way our species is wired to function at tribalized times such as these.
This wiring dates to prehistory, back to the time when we first crawled up on the land. Or so major scholars have said, even as Vladimir Putin gets tired of all the winning.
In our efforts to tell this anthropological story, we're suggesting that the time has come for you to abandon a false picture of our species. "A picture held us captive," Wittgenstein once wrote, speaking about something else.
Over the weekend, we read (journalistic) garbage by the boatload about the Atlanta killings. This is the best we humans can do, an array of top experts have said.
Starting tomorrow: Examples of the very best which can be expected
Tracking that quote: "A picture held us captive. And we could not get outside it, for it lay in our language and language seemed to repeat it to us inexorably."
Click here, search on "captive." You'll be taken to paragraph 115.