Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Readings about the tribalization of America — #7: Glenn Harlan Reynolds, "Politicians benefit from American tribal warfare" (2014)

Here is another sustained discussion of tribalism from 2014: conservative libertarian Glenn Harlan Reynolds, on how and why "Politicians benefit from American tribal warfare" (2014). It even references the 2014 discussion by Robert Reich that I posted a few days ago (#6).
As a TIMNista, I commend his identifying tribes as "the default state of humanity". His preferred modern alternative is a healthy civil society. But at the time he was writing, outbreaks of racial strife were serving to tribalize all sides, and demagogic politicians were coming to the fore (he is particularly critical of Al Sharpton). Their behaviors were causing further tribalization — creating a malignant spiral with no clear solution in sight.
Here's an excerpt:
"… Tribalism is the default state of humanity: The tendency to defend our own tribe even when we think it's wrong, and to attack other tribes even when they're right, just because they're other. Societies that give in to the temptations of tribalism — which are always present — wind up spending a lot of their energy on internal strife, and are prone to disintegrate into spectacular factionalism and infighting, often to the point of self-destruction.
"Societies that temper those tribal tendencies, replacing them with the mechanisms of civil society, do much better. But there is much opportunity for political empire-building in tribalism, and if the benefits of stoking tribal fires exceed the costs for political actors, then expect political actors to pour gasoline on even the smallest spark.
"That's pretty much what's happened in the last few months, and the results haven't been good. In America, we have both a police culture that is too quick to escalate force, and an aggressive victim culture, embodied by the loathsome Al Sharpton, that seeks to portray every police use of force, at least against members of the wrong racial and ethnic groups, as excessive.
"A healthy society would stigmatize, marginalize and shun the tribalizers. …
"In a healthy civil society, people can deal with others without worrying about tribalism, confident that disputes will be settled by neutral and reasonably fair procedures overseen by neutral and fair people. In a tribalized society, what matters is what tribe you belong to, and who is on top at the moment.
"Healthy civil societies are a lot better places to live. They're richer, safer and more peaceful. But healthy civil societies don't provide the opportunity for political power grabs, for payoffs and for extortion that tribalized societies do. It's no wonder that so many political figures favor tribalism. The question is, how long will the rest of us allow them to get away with it?"

To read for yourself, go here:

[I posted an earlier write-up of this reading on my Facebook page, on April 5.]

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