Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Andrew Sullivan opines on tribalism in NYMag: "America Wasn't Built for Humans"



Andrew Sullivan has a searing booklet-length piece in New York Magazine Sept 18, 2018 (not “The New Yorker), “America Wasn’t Built for Humans”.  His byline is “Tribalism was an urge the Founding Fathers assumed we could overcome. And so it has become out greatest vulnerability”.
   
 The link is here
   
Once again, we’re confronted with the fact that most of us are genetically hardwired for tribal preferences. Rooting for a favorite sports team is at least mild tribal behavior. (Yes, the Cubs lost last night, at home.)   It does seem that lot of this discussion started with Amy Chua.

I’d like to think that the smartest among us overcome tribalism, and in setting our own goals, some of us do – the more unbalanced personalities in Rosenfels polarity theories. But that generates some of the problem: the winner-take-all economy expressed by extreme capitalism, especially as it developed, surprisingly, post 9/11 (but had started during Reagan) simply leaves most people behind to scrabble now with the no-benefits “sharing” economy.


That’s one reason why I’ve paid so much attention to morality on an “individual” basis – the “pay your dues” idea (2004). Now that seems to miss “the point”.

Sullivan is particularly chilling as he explains how tribalism has infected a lot of academia, and how the idea of “hate speech” has expanded to incorporate crime.  Even my speech, because of its gratuitous funding, could be reviewed as indirect “hate speech” by some – this gets into the area of “implicit content” that I have described. 

He also gives the story of journalist Chadwick Moore, who was sacked by the gay mainstream after showing intellectually balanced appreciation for Milo Yiannopoulos.  In fact, if you actually read Milo’s book (“Dangerous”), it is not as extreme as everyone thinks. 

Likewise, he sympathizes with James Damore – whose work I have mixed feelings about.  The comments on Sullivan’s article are not sympathetic.

The problem is that for many people, they have to stick together and live in solidarity with one another to survive – so they must become combative, and not tolerate any insults to “the group”.  That explains the malignant growth of “hate speech” as a concept. 

Sullivan describes two mega-tribes: the urban-coastal (globalist and intellectually elite), vs. the rural (local and socially driven).  He notes that the end of conscription after the Vietnam war helped keep the tribes apart (and like me, Sullivan made this point in the 1990s during the debate over gays in the military). 

I have to admit that I snicker with some degree of personal contempt when I hear people chanting “lock her up” at Trump rallies, as if they were Manchurian zombies who had abandoned their own personhoods.

But tribal social orientation – and the capacity to put the local group above the self, and regard outsiders as enemies (even if that feeds racism) probably got hardwired into the genes of most people in pre-modern generations.  Some of us seem to have fewer of these genes, stand out, and find ourselves watching our backs.
  
Sullivan recommends “individuality” as opposed to individualism (in 2004, people were just starting to talk about hyperindividualism  -- Ayn Rand style – as the opposite of solidarity).  And he recommends forgiveness.

1 comment:

FJP said...

Sullivan is correct about his view on tribalism and comes very close to describing why tribalism will be hard -- if not impossible -- to eradicate. E. O. Wilson was pilloried for suggesting in his 1975 book Sociobiology that many human social behaviors might have an evolutionary basis; his Marxist critics wanted to keep the mind a blank slate, moldable by governments into Socialist Man. Research since then has established that Wilson was correct. From their earliest years, children wish to be part of a group, to obey its rules and to punish violators. People have an instinctive morality, a readiness to make any sacrifice in defense of their family or group. These and other social behaviors seem to be inherent and therefore genetically based, even though the relevant genes are still being identified. Charles Darwin firmly believes that group selection was the mechanism by which many human psychological traits emerged. Group selection means that traits not necessarily beneficial to the individual but rather to the group (such as altruism) spread through competition between groups (for instance: one tribe defeats and exterminates another tribe through its individuals’ superior willingness to sacrifice themselves). Strikingly, Darwin affirmed that humanity was intellectually and even morally improved through such relentless tribal warfare: “Of the high importance of the intellectual faculties there can be no doubt, for man mainly owed to them his predominant position in the world. We can see, that in the rudest state of society, the individuals who were the most sagacious, who invented and used the best weapons or traps, and who were the best able to defend themselves, would rear the greatest number of offspring. The tribes, which included the largest number of men thus endowed, would increase in number and supplant other tribes.”