MONDAY, DECEMBER 19, 2022
Belief in our own tribe's assertions: The front page of today's New York Times features two poles of an ongoing cultural dislocation.
Over There, within the red tribe, a newly elected congressman doesn't seem to be the person he says he is.
Over Here, within our blue tribe, a cultural revolution is being played out, concerning "NASA’s decision to name its deep-space telescope after James E. Webb."
("Say you want a revolution," the Beatles once thoughtfully said.)
She says that, within our blue tribe, a certain type of "fever" is finally starting to break. She describes it as a "self-sabotaging impulse," an impulse which has sometimes "paralyzed progressive outfits."
In our assessment, Goldberg hails from the slightly more than left-of-center branch of the "center left." Her column was the featured essay in yesterday's Sunday Review—and the headline on it said this:
The Left’s Fever Is Breaking
Say what? Has there been some sort of a fever somewhere on the left?
That, of course, is a matter of judgment, but Goldberg thinks the answer is yes. Early on, she introduces her lead witness:
GOLDBERG (12/18/22): That’s why the decision by Maurice Mitchell, the national director of the progressive Working Families Party, to speak out about the left’s self-sabotaging impulse is so significant. Mitchell, who has roots in the Black Lives Matter movement, has a great deal of credibility; he can’t be dismissed as a dinosaur threatened by identity politics. But as the head of an organization with a very practical devotion to building electoral power, he has a sharp critique of the way some on the left deploy identity as a trump card. “Identity and position are misused to create a doom loop that can lead to unnecessary ruptures of our political vehicles and the shuttering of vital movement spaces,” he wrote last month in a 6,000-word examination of the fallacies and rhetorical traps plaguing activist culture.
Maurice Mitchell can't be dismissed as a tired old dinosaur, or as an angry white male. But, at least according to Goldberg, Mitchell believes that some on the left have been in the grip of a "self-sabotaging impulse."
In Goldberg's rendering, Mitchell ties this impulse to "the way some on the left deploy identity as a trump card" (presumably, no pun intended).
We tend to agree that "some on the left" have been inclined to display an unhelpful impulse of that general type.
We've tended to describe that tribal impulse as "the demographication of everything." In Goldberg's assessment, this impulse has been a recurrent feature on the left for a very long time:
GOLDBERG: Mitchell’s piece systematically lays out some of the assertions and assumptions that have paralyzed progressive outfits. Among them are maximalism, or “considering anything less than the most idealistic position” a betrayal; a refusal to distinguish between discomfort and oppression; and reflexive hostility to hierarchy. He criticizes the insistence “that change on an interpersonal or organizational level must occur before it is sought or practiced on a larger scale,” an approach that keeps activists turned inward, along with the idea that progressive organizations should be places of therapeutic healing.
All the problems Mitchell elucidates have been endemic to the left for a long time. Destructive left-wing purity spirals are at least as old as the French Revolution. Jo Freeman’s classic essay “The Tyranny of Structurelessness,” about how resistance to formal leadership in second-wave feminism led to passive-aggressive power struggles, has remained relevant since it was published in the early 1970s. It’s not surprising that such counterproductive tendencies became particularly acute during the pandemic, when people were terrified, isolated and, crucially, very online.
In Goldberg's assessment, "destructive left-wing purity spirals" date back a long, long time. In Mitchell's assessment, the rise of at least one new medium hasn't exactly helped:
GOLDBERG: “On balance, I think social media has been bad for democracy,” Mitchell told me. It’s a striking statement, given the organizing work he did in the wake of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Mo., where social media played a major role in galvanizing protest. But as Mitchell wrote in his essay, social media platforms reward shallow polemics, “self-aggrandizement, competition and conflict.” These platforms can give power to the powerless, but they also bestow it on the most disruptive and self-interested people in any group...The gamification of discourse through likes and retweets, he said, “flies in the face of building solidarity, of being serious about difference, of engaging in meaningful debate and struggle around complex ideas.”
According to Mitchell, the rise of social media hasn't exactly helped. Meanwhile, a certain question popped into our heads as we read that passage:
"Meaningful debate around complex ideas?" Who ever heard of behavior like that, going way, way back?
According to major anthropologists, Goldberg and Mitchell are simply describing one of the sins flesh is heir to—one of the imperfect ways the human brain is wired. We tend to agree that these impulses have been on display in our own blue tribe, even as many people within the red tribe have been voicing belief in The Crazy.
While The Others have fallen in line with The Crazy, what's been happening Over Here? Is it possible that we blue tribe members keep falling in line with false beliefs which emerge from something resembling a "fever dream" within our own imperfect tribe?
As tribal warfare has broken out, our own blue tribe has increasingly organized its tribal identity around issues of gender and race. Given the understandable passions involved in these topics, should we believe the various things we're told by the highest authorities within our own blue tribe?
We'll examine that question all this week. In Saturday's award-winning report, we cited one particular recurrent claim, a claim we'll discuss in detail.
As with a million other such claims, we blue tribe members may be strongly inclined to believe that particular claim. But is that pleasing claim accurate? Should we believe that claim?
Should blue tribe members automatically believe the things we're told by our tribe's highest-ranking academics and journalists? Or is it possible that, even as The Crazy invades The Others, we may perhaps be inclined to tend toward inaccurate "true belief" too?
Tomorrow: What Michele Norris said