Modern Tribalism and The Danger Of Identity Politics
In a recent study, Americans were asked to guess the size of certain groups in each political party. People believed 31.7% of Democrats were members of the LGBTQ community. The actual number is 6.3%. On the other side, respondents believed that 38.2% of Republicans made over $250,000 a year. The real number is 2.2%. Moreover, research would suggest that our political identities are unreliable predictors of political preferences and we are constantly overestimating the views of Liberals and Conservatives respectively. In essence, we are not very good at understanding our political opponents, which contributes to polarization and modern tribalism.
It goes without saying that we are culturally and politically divided. It’s something we all feel, but are hard pressed to properly articulate. In a piece for Quillette, Vincent Harniman and Rob Henderson argue that our political and social identities have formed an unholy union, coalescing with each other into a political mega-identity that perpetuates out-group hostility. This accelerates the process of polarization and renders bipartisan agreement a virtual impossibility. It used to be the case that Democrats and Republicans were bound together by a common principle, a time when hearing the terms “Liberal Republican” and “Conservative Democrat” was not considered an oddity. In 1960, 5% of Republicans and 4% of Democrats disapproved of their kids marrying someone outside of their political party. In 2014, those numbers skyrocketed to a whopping 30% of Republicans and 23% of Democrats disapproving inter-party marriage. Another study found that 20% of Democrats and 15% of Republicans feel the country would be better off if large portions of the opposing political party would actually just die.
It would seem we are moving further apart, finding less in common than ever before. The authors of the article above believe this could quite simply be a consequence of living in the modern world. The explosion of technological developments coupled with a drastic economic transformation has led to a decline in civic engagement. Only 57% of Americans know one or some of their neighbors by name. Another study found that 1 in 3 Americans believe that most people can’t be trusted. We attend less community meetings, join less clubs, and have less dinner parties with friends and family. Our feeling of social cohesion is rapidly dissipating. Each one of us lives in our own kind of bubble, without exercising the primordial need to participate in communal affairs. Insofar as we lack a shared identity that circumvents political difference, we will continue to bash our political opponents for the feeling of solidarity it elicits — even though we can’t put our finger on exactly what we find so reprehensible about them. It’s a vicious cycle with dangerous implications, leading to a relapse in toxic tribalism.
Another example of the confusion brought about through the enhanced grouping of political identities was uncovered in a study where a full 80% of the population believe that “political correctness is a problem in our country”, contrary to what’s being peddled through the polluted airways of mainstream media and the rhetoric of progressive academia. Point being, when we are split up into various in-groups and out-groups, divided into separate political camps of hardened enmity, we lose sight of what people around us actually think. Most would seem to believe that the majority is in support of political correctness, when in reality it’s only the wealthiest, whitest, and most educated political demographic who is making most of the noise. On the other hand, one of the biggest Gallup poll leaps over the past 60 years was the general acceptance of interracial marriage, jumping from 4% in 1958 to 87% in 2010, while women are graduating college at substantially higher rates than men, despite the insistence by many that we live in a systemically racist patriarchal society. Racism and sexism are in measurable decline, while political tribalism is on the rise. We have traded one vice for another.
“A reduction in civil engagement doesn’t just diminish tribal connectivity. It redirects it. Tribalism is inevitable. And the collapse of social capital provokes a scramble to compensate and direct our social energy elsewhere.
Trust and association go hand in hand. We associate with those we trust. And we trust those we associate with. But in the absence of civic organizations, we develop different means of conferring trust upon the unfamiliar.
Without voluntary associations, we tend to reduce unfamiliar individuals down to a set of salient features. When we don’t have the time or interest to get to know one another, we resort to cheap and easy methods of identification. We default to our biases about race, ethnicity, gender, religion, and sexual orientation. The calculus for this method is simple yet disturbing: “I trust this person because they look or think like me.”
~ “Blame Modern Life For Political Strife” (aforementioned article)
Toxic tribalism is inflamed by Identity Politics — the belief that our group identity is paramount. When the first thing we notice about someone is their race, gender, or ethnicity (outside of our natural response to visual stimuli) we are no longer truly looking at that person. Identity Politics places an ideological screen over reality, where individual autonomous experience is mere collateral in relation to the historical relativity of group dynamics. History matters, sure, but it cannot be rightly changed through giving full credence to our group identity in an attempt to correct the cosmic error. In fact, history only seems to repeat itself when employing such ideological devices. It is self-evident that people generally have more in common than not, that we have more things the same about us than different, when push comes to shove. We are tribal creatures, for better or for worse, and if we don’t tend to our evolutionary impulses than they will most certainly tend to us. “Cross-Cutting Cleavages”, shared identities that eclipse political persuasion and cross the threshold of group identification (by race, gender, and ethnicity), offer us the ability to connect with each other and unravel our common humanness against the heavy tide of the divisive in/out-group tendencies that have pervaded our world. We all have a bias, whether Left-leaning or Right-leaning, and it is an act of faith and a moral effort to lean towards the Center — the only place where the problems of our world can truly be addressed.
Breathe Deep and Seek Peace ~ Samuel