Self-Serving Lawmakers and Unions Get a Boost From Aggravating Racial TensionsPosted: December 28, 2014
Politicians benefit from American Tribal Warfare
Glen Reynolds writes: “What if I told you,” asks a Matrix-themed photo-meme that has been circulating on Facebook, “that you can be against cops murdering citizens and citizens murdering cops at the same time?”
“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.”
Judging by the past few weeks, this really is a Matrix-level revelation, obvious as it may seem. We have Americans protesting because of police shootings, and we have police turning their backs on New York City’s Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio over lack of support after two police were assassinated by Ismaaiyl Abdullah Brinsley, a gunman from Baltimore who said he was seeking revenge for the choking death of cigarette-tax evader Eric Garner.
“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.”
And, as blogger Eric Raymond notes, the response has been divided: “Because humans are excessively tribal, it’s difficult now to call for justice against Eric Garner’s murderers without being lumped in with the ‘wrong side.’ Nor will Garner’s partisans, on the whole, have any truck with people who aren’t interested in poisonously racializing the circumstances of his death.”
“In a tribalized society, what matters is what tribe you belong to, and who is on top at the moment.”
This is a tragedy, but not a surprise. 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.
[Glenn Reynolds‘ book “The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education from Itself“ is available at Amazon]
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…(read more)
Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor, is the author of The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education from Itself.
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