Liberals and Conservatives

I strongly recommend listening to Jonathan Haidt’s TED talk, titled, “The Moral Roots of Liberals and Conservatives.” I also strongly recommend reading Sebastian Junger’s book Tribe, which I’ve (perhaps) been overly-referencing, but is one of those books which, once read, you begin to see its arguments played out everywhere.

I think its a good idea not to see the other party as a caricature of who they really are, or to reduce ourselves by taking cheap shots at their least nuanced members. It doesn’t help us as a nation, and it actually turns us into the caricature (there’s no way to mock a clown without looking like a clown). For the record, I identify as libertarian (adj) – I once thought we peace-loving, free-market types were above all of that nonsense, but you libertarians screeching statist! at anyone who suggests a park or a library might be nice is ruining the high ground for the rest of us.

Where people fall on the political spectrum correlates with where they fall on the spectrum of certain personality traits. Liberals are people who are open to new people and ideas, and who value connecting with others. Conservatives prefer traditional modes of being (it worked before, it’ll work again), with an emphasis on “national” (i.e. tribal) defense. In a tribal society of less than 250 people, it’s fairly obvious that a good mix of these types of people would be advantageous to the tribe as a whole. In a tribe, members all know each other and all depend on each other, and so all trust each other. There would be some scenarios when innovation, trade, and inter-tribal alliances would be necessary, and other scenarios where tried-and-true methods as well as a healthy distrust of encroaching tribes would be prudent.

Haidt made a really good point when he showed the picture of the sports fan, and claimed that we all have a natural urge to connect with our tribe. What he undersold, I believe, is the fact that when a tribe is attacked by another tribe (whether reality or perception), 100% of the attacked tribe prioritizes defense. Perfect examples are directly following Pearl Harbor or 9/11. Nobody, conservative or liberal, was interested in anything short of all out war.

Here’s where we are as a nation, as far as I can tell. Insofar you care about politics, you’ve chosen a side. Maybe it’s because of your genetic predisposition, or because that’s just the kind of rhetoric you’ve heard your entire life, but you’ve likely aligned yourself somewhere near the poles. Of course, in a modern society, most of us don’t have tribes. When we don’t have tribes, we have to invent them, and because politics sort of feels significant, too often we make-believe the whole of the United States democrat/republican party are our friends and tribal brothers and sisters who love and care for us. Of course this is malarkey, and even worse, we’ve just populated our tribe with nothing but “brothers” and “sisters.” We now have inbred tribes.

Our inbred tribes also have the impression that they are constantly under attack by the other inbred tribes, so each tribe is never in a mindset to actually listen (or connect) with the other side. We are all, 100%, in battle-mode, all the time. It’s pretty obvious why – battle-mode ensures that the democratic base votes democrat, the republican base votes republican, and nobody says anything at all when each party follows through with more-or-less the same exact agenda. Obama killed tons of civilians and destabilized countries that have no military capacity to strike us, but heartless slaughter is only a problem when republicans do it. Reagan almost tripled the national debt, but spending is only a problem when democrats do it. From the looks of things, what the president actually says or does doesn’t matter a stitch – if it did, then please explain to me how a single Evangelical voted for Donald Trump. No. It doesn’t matter what they do or say, it matters which tribal insignia is scratched next to their name: D or R.

From an evolutionary perspective, it’s not helpful to think things through logically when under attack – when you’re under attack, you fight for your life, the life of your family, and the survival of your tribe! So it’s best for anyone who is in power, republican or democrat, to just allow you to continue to assume that you actually belong to a political tribe, and that your tribe is under attack.

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