Monday, November 12, 2012

Why the Republicans lost: excessive tribalism — a partial TIMN interpretation

From a TIMN perspective, the Republicans lost because they’ve become excessively tribal, and much less institutional and market-oriented. More to the point, the Republicans lost because of the media: not the mainstream media or the liberal media, but their very own right-wing conservative media — particularly Fox News, along with right-wing radio talk shows, and all their well-known opinionators. These media have become so dominated by tribalists who aim to tribalize that they’ve become counter-productive, even destructive for the Republican party.

The usual frames for discussing what I’m trying to get at are “partisanship” and “polarization”. But those frames have become too dryly analytical, too easy to treat as glossable criticisms that apply equally to the Democrats. At this point, when matters have become so excessive, tribalism is a more accurate, dynamic frame — certainly from a TIMN perspective

How do extreme tribalists think and act? They stress identity and loyalty. They tout honor, pride, respect, and dignity. They demonize opponents. They believe it’s okay to lie to and about outsiders. They require unity and claim purity for their side. They turn combative and uncompromising. They force people to take sides. They shun moderates once on their side. They engage in magical thinking about their prospects. Et cetera. And of course they accuse the other side — in this case, the Democrats — of excessive tribalism.

There is nothing basically wrong — and much can still be righted — about key Republican principles: e.g., limited government, free enterprise, responsibility, family. But recovery from the current debacle calls for more than the kinds of detailed dissections, self-reassurances, and tinkering adjustments that are now being talked about in election post-mortems. From a TIMN perspective, the party will have to de-tribalize and re-institutionalize, as well as become more market-oriented about ideas, in order to correct its approaches to those principles and restore itself to playing a nationally constructive, attractive role. And if its leaders really do want to temper the roles of tribalism, they will have to rethink their relations with those associated media, which gain huge benefits and claim great success from being so tribal (even as they denying being too tribal?).

* * * * *

Excessive tribalism has led not only to organizational disarray and regression in TIMN terms, but also to carving out ideological and policy stances that violate (or at least are at variance with) TIMN principles and dynamics. TIMN implies keeping the forms in balance, observing their limits as well as their strengths, adopting appropriate regulatory interfaces, etc. — all in keeping with a society’s particular culture and stage of development. Here are some of the violations that I have spotted:
  • Many Republicans and related conservatives have adopted an unbalanced approach to the TIMN forms. They are mired in dogmatic logics insisting that market (+M) should prevail over government (+I) approaches, and that market solutions are surely good, government solutions bad. Their bias is so strong it runs contrary to TIMN principles about respecting, balancing, and limiting all the forms, making them all work together, and doing so by creating appropriate regulatory interfaces. There are sound Republican arguments about favoring limited if not small government that would be in keeping with TIMN, but they’re not normally evident when voiced by tribalists.
  • Conservative Republicans are not pro-market when it comes to ideas. Consider in particular the anti-tax pledge that so many Republicans have felt obligated to sign. From a TIMN perspective, it’s a tribal, hierarchically-wielded, anti-market device. Its imposition is run not so much by a traditional tribal “big man” or chieftain, as by a kind of warlord — a fiscal warlord — and his clannish cronies. Fiscal warlordism is surely not good for the party as an institution; such warlordism stifles and threatens to punish a marketplace of ideas from emerging around tax issues within the party. (Perhaps a key way to begin de-tribalizing the Republican party would be to break with the anti-tax pledge. It is not an obvious step, for many tribalists would immediately view it as a victory for the Democrats. But before long, it would become evident that the move revitalizes ideological and practical maneuvering room for the Republicans.)
  • And here’s another conservative approach to ideas that reflects extreme tribalism: It’s about opinionators who have voiced a yearning to “drive another nail into the coffin of liberalism.” What the hell? They seek the death of a major American ism? They want to bury a large part of the American political spectrum? Criticism is okay; so is having fun with hyperbole. But this sounds like an insensible plunge into a demonic kind of tribalism. And if America ever went that far to the right, even these opinionators would surely be among those whose pro-freedom, pro-individual ideals got demolished before long. America cannot be truly American without having a broad vital political spectrum — a point that is consistent with TIMN. I did not hear this demonic view voiced explicitly during the campaign — so it does not rank as a reason why the Republicans lost — but it still seemed to echo in the background noise of what the more extreme tribalists were saying at times.
  • TIMN recognizes the importance of regulatory interfaces. According to TIMN, balanced combination is imperative, and success depends on developing appropriate regulatory interfaces. Moreover, the type and degree of regulation should be roughly comparable between any and all forms. Today’s Republicans are contradictory regarding this TIMN principle too, in that many keep calling for extreme deregulation of relations between government (I) and business (M) sectors, but for heavy new government regulation of marriage, reproduction, immigration, and other social (T) matters. This too seems to stem from excessive tribalism.
  • TIMN implies recognizing cultural and historical variations among societies. Thus it would explain “American exceptionalism” by, among other matters, pointing to the unusual diversity of our nation’s population, along with our ability to accommodate all sorts of people — in other words, our capacity to dampen uncivil kinds of domestic (T) tribalism, partly so the other TIMN forms work better. During the presidential campaign, tribalists among the Republicans tried to claim the mantle of American exceptionalism. But as I recall, they mostly did so by stressing that American exceptionalism derived mainly from free enterprise and individual initiative (harking back to M-level priorities). Okay, sure, to some degree. But they ignored or misunderstood the historical tribal (T-level) characteristics that make our nation so unique and different from, say, Europe. Yet, perhaps it makes sense they have done so — tribalists have to be very careful about accommodating to ethnic, religious, and other kinds of T-level diversity, and allowing it to be an explanation for exceptionalism. They want their own tribe to be the explanation.
In short, the excessive tribalism I detect seems partly a reflection of so many Republicans and related conservatives thinking and acting in so many ways that run contrary to TIMN principles. Tribalism becomes a refuge of the wrong and the wronged. If its proponents were to gain power, such tribalism could be more conducive to patrimonial corporatism than to liberal democracy.


An earlier draft of the first section above appeared first as a comment and later as the final part of a post at the Zenpundit blog (h/t Mark Safranski). Points in the second section above riff on an old post here at my blog about the increasing obsolescence of liberalism and conservatism, and also on the final part of a recent post about my video TIMN.


[UPDATE — October 26, 2013: The excessive tribalism discussed above continues to deepen and divide within Republican circles. Of the blogs I follow, one that regularly offers incisive analysis about this is futurist David Brin’s blog Contrary Brin. He works with themes about American exceptionalism, Tea-Party radicalism, Fox-News bias, political polarization, and anti-science posturing. For example, see these recent posts: here and here. He also aims to identify remedies, lately to neutralize gerrymandering (here). All thoughtful and interesting. Sweeping and entertaining too.]

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