THURSDAY, MAY 5, 2022
The posture of tribal war: It's a famous question from the Old Testament:
Am I my brother's keeper?
That particular story didn't end well; the story starred Cain and Abel. Today, we ask a set of related questions. Some of those questions are these:
Am I even my brother's brother? Am I my sister's sister?
Am I my sibling's sibling? My fellow citizen's fellow citizen? Am I my fellow citizen's neighbor, associate, friend?
More generally, am I required to respect such Others as may be found within my native land? Must I respect those in The Others' tribe, or am I free to loathe them?
The spreading debate about Roe v. Wade is the perfect test of these questions. And remember:
At this site, it's all anthropology now! Experts have told us, for the past several years, that the center isn't going to hold. According to those leading experts, it's all over but the explaining, with a whole lot of shouting thrown in.
The abortion debate offers us a perfect display of instinctive tribal messaging. It offers us a front-row look at budding tribal war.
The two tribes don't even agree on what is at stake in this debate. To our own blue tribe, what is at stake is the autonomy of a woman's body. To the red tribe, something different is at stake—the life of an "unborn child."
Building out from that distinction, the two tribes speak different languages about this societal question. If I am my sibling's keeper, am I required to respect the fact that my siblings may see the world in a way that I do not?
Our blue tribe tends to eschew this idea. Here's Roxanne Gay, understandably upset, in today's New York Times:
GAY (5/5/22): I do not know where this retraction of civil rights will end, but I do know it will go down as a milestone in a decades-long conservative campaign to force a country of 330 million people to abide by a bigoted set of ideologies.
Like all human tribes, our tribe tends to turn to name-calling at times of deep tribal dispute. Similarly, here is the initial comment to a recent, informative post by Kevin Drum:
COMMENTER: It's amazing how all maps of this sort, showing states by population % aligning Republican values, is also a map of the shittiest places in the country by pretty much every metric.
To the commenter, it's amazing but true. The places where The Others live are "the shittiest places in the country by pretty much every metric." It turns out that way every time!
We said that Gay is understandably upset. You can read her column to see why we say that.
That said, her analysis of the current situation runs like this:
GAY: [W]e should defend abortion access not only in cases of sexual violence. All those who want an abortion should be able to avail themselves of that medical procedure. Their reasons are no one’s business.
That's perfectly true, according to Us. But, according to The Others, a person's ability to avail herself of that procedure is also the business of an "unborn child."
Gay doesn't bother addressing this point. She proceeds on our own tribe's language track, as The Others routinely do with theirs.
We lost a lot of time today; we'll be losing even more time tomorrow. But am I required to respect the fact of perceptual difference among my millions of siblings?
Am I required to respect the fact that Others may not see things the same way I do? In a word, am I The Other's keeper?
Experts say we aren't wired that way. We're wired to align ourselves a tribe and to demonize The Others.
Tomorrow, we hope to find the time to discuss Caitlin Flanagan's Atlantic essay from December 2019. In her essay, Flanagan presented the strongest element of the "pro-choice" view, along with the strongest element of the "pro-life" view. Her headlines offered this:
THE DISHONESTY OF THE ABORTION DEBATE
Why we need to face the best arguments from the other side
Flanagan said that a genuine discussion must acknowledge each of those rival perceptions. But am I really The Other's keeper? In the end, by all that's good and holy, must a moral giant like me really acknowledge the bigoted views of disordered cretins like Them?
Experts say we aren't wired for that. These experts seem to be right.