Political Tribalism

Deep down there is more in common between Republicans and Democrats than there is between people who use all caps on online message boards.

To illustrate, here’s a short quiz which determines whether or not I would ever want to discuss politics with you:

I am voting for my candidate because (select one):

A. My top priorities align with his policy proposals.
B. We’re on the same softball team and he’s likable enough when not yammering about marginal tax rates.
C. THE OTHER GUY IS EVIL AND ALL THAT’S WRONG WITH AMERICA.
EVIL!
I AM SPROUTING HEMORRHOIDS LIKE GRAPE CLUSTERS JUST THINKING ABOUT HOW MUCH I HATE HIM! AAAAARGH! A VEIN JUST BURST IN MY EYE!
D. As with all of life’s decisions, I flipped a coin.

People that answer “C” are not people I care to associate with. Though if necessary I will manipulate them to promote my political interests and/or sell hemorrhoid cream.

Passion is good. If we weren’t enthusiastic about voting we would be British. I get pretty worked up about tariffs and corn subsidies, personally. But there is a difference between conviction and blind hatred. Later tonight, when the presidential candidates adjourn to their respective trailers to jam needles into voodoo dolls, Twitter will drown in a torrent of bile. People in bars will shout obscenities at the television screen. Relationships will end.

Much of the statements will boil down to, “I just don’t trust X,” or, “X is a terrible person!” or the honest and direct “I hate X! LIAR!”

When you hear people saying these things, what they usually mean is, “I love my tribe. I hate the other tribe!” Politics is, for much of the population, just reinforcement of group identity. Actual policy consideration rarely enters the equation.

An interesting experiment happened in Wilburton, Oklahoma some years back. A group of local children with no significant demographic differences were sent to summer camp, and arbitrarily separated into two groups. If one group condemned swearing, the other would start dropping the f-bomb. If the one skipped church, the other would form Bible studies. The lads came in homogeneous but, once differentiated as separate “teams,” manufactured their own reasons to dislike the other group.

Then they were all eaten by bears.

Okay, I made up the bit about bears. But the anecdote is otherwise true: people have a puzzling urge to form tribes and hate other tribes. Republicans and Democrats are no exception.

Overall most candidates (including this year’s presidential crop) are intelligent, hard-working people who love their families. Yes, we do get the occasional bad apple with a freezer full of money or possibly a severed head. Generally, though, both candidates in an election care deeply about our country. They differ on how to promote the republic, not whether or not we should destroy it. It’s up to level-headed voters to avoid ruin and choose the best proposed route to freedom and prosperity.

There are actual policy differences between the candidates, and some of them may well be disastrous. The last debate revealed that one candidate is predominantly concerned with actual economic growth, whereas the other is concerned with relative economic growth. In tonight’s scrum one will promote economic sanctions against Iran, while the other will say pretty much the same thing using stronger adverbs.

All well and good. Stick by your positions and vote for the candidate who promotes them. The people who annoy me are those who hate Mitt Romney because he’s wealthy/Mormon/Cylon and planning to reinstate feudalism, or are convinced that Obama is really a Kenyan/Muslim/Reptoid sleeper agent bent on destroying America.

Partisanship without thought is just feeble mindedness dressed up as patriotism.

Andrew Heaton is a writer and standup comedian. To read more of his pithy insights visit www.MightyHeaton.com

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