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Tribalism vs. Truth

We live in a time when, with regard to political opinions, tribal identity—defined as allegiance to conservatism, Trumpism, neo-Nazism, Republicanism, Democratic-ism, liberalism, progressivism, radicalism, feminism, antifa-ism, you name it—is more important than reason, or to adherence to truth, and perhaps even to morality. Each of these identifications is a strongly in-group/out-group phenomenon. A number of recent studies have shown that Americans—and more often educated Americans rather than less educated Americans—tend to believe and espouse opinions based on their desire for solidarity with their similarly opinioned peers, more than they are concerned with either the truth, consistency, or sometimes even the message’s agreement with traditional opinions of those on their side of the political debate. 

Some examples: Trump supporters, often members of unions who have traditionally been liberal, who are often plagued by healthcare issues, both medical and monetary, are opposed to the Affordable Care Act, which provides them medical services they could not otherwise afford. Their strongest reason appears to be that liberals and a Black former president favor such healthcare and the politician  who they feel most speaks their language (Donald Trump), has demonized it. At the same time, liberals, who have traditionally favored rapprochement with Russia, who have been suspicious of the FBI and CIA, who have opposed the tactics and power of these organizations, as well as the motives of their appointed leaders, now voice alarm that our president is “sowing a lack of faith in our law enforcement and intelligence institutions,” and that he is too friendly with the Russian leader. Even when a breakthrough occurs in relations between the U.S. and North Korea, with a prospect for denuclearization of the latter, it is liberals who raise an alarm about the U.S. being “duped” by Kim Jong Un, and about a president, whom they claim is saying too many nice things about the Communist leader in an effort to gain his cooperation. Liberals have traditionally been doves not hawks, but when the president becomes a dove, his opponents become hawks.

Gina Haspel’s nomination  by President Trump for CIA Director is in jeopardy because nearly all Democrats oppose her on account of her being in charge of CIA facilities that used torture to attempt to extract information from political prisoners. Although Haspel has stated that she would not allow torture in the future and would hold the agency to a “higher moral standard,” liberal newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times have editorialized that “her failure to fully explain her actions while torture was being inflicted on her watch, and her refusal to unequivocally declare such behavior immoral, are deeply troubling.” Haspel was Deputy Director of the CIA under Director Mike Pompeo, who is now President Trump’s Secretary of State. The editorial board of the LA Times urged rejection of her nomination. At the same time, former CIA Director, General Michael Hayden is being feted by liberal media outlets, and interviewed extensively by the likes of  CBS, NBC, CNN, and NPR, and even given opinion column space in the New York Times because he is strongly opposed to President Trump’s policies, and the president’s attacks on the intelligence agencies. Yet former Director Hayden, who was also head of the NSA during the run-up and beginning of the War on Iraq and who supported the claim that Iraq had WMDs, and was the NSA Director during its instigation of warrantless wiretaps and broad collection of phone data, is completely unrepentant about the use of torture methods such as waterboarding on his watch as CIA Director, and regards them as not useful only because they do not receive “backing” from the citizens and government officials, not because they are either immoral or ineffective. The different treatment of Haspel and Hayden appears to be due entirely to whether or not they are supportive of or hostile to President Trump. A similar situation applies with regard to James Clapper, former National Intelligence Director, who defended and, in fact, lied about the NSA wiretapping program when testifying to congress. Clapper, one of the primary villains in the eyes of those who saw the government as intruding into the private lives of its citizens, without warrants or authority, in the guise of national security, has become a staple of the former-government-employee-but-now-Trump-critic circle, whose words are quoted and apparently now believed by those on the left.

In addition to espousing views based upon agreeing with one’s perceived peers and disagreeing with one’s opponents, instead of upon the merits of the viewpoint, the tribal mentality and the group solidarity it attempts to achieve, leads to a typical tribal mob mentality as a method for attacking opponents. We’ve been used to conservative religious colleges and universities restricting the kinds of opinions allowed to be expressed on their campuses by students, faculty or guest speakers, but now the same phenomenon is rampant across more liberal educational institutions. Speakers, faculty, or student leaders who question the role of race or misogyny in our society are the subject of protests for expressing such opinions. Speakers who are sympathetic to Israel or suspicious of Islam as a religion are disinvited from speaking or driven off campus when they show up. Differences in opinion are no longer debated, they are forbidden, and each side does it to the other. Freedom of Speech, the rallying cry of the left for decades, is now seen as a cover for voicing dangerous opinions that need to be silenced for fear that they will become “normalized,” meaning that some people might believe them or at least allow them to be expressed as if they were harmless.

Innocent until proven guilty has been a bulwark of our legal system and determines the way suspects can be questioned, held by law enforcement, guaranteed legal representation, etc., but since the rise of the “Me-too” movement, men accused of “sexually predatory behavior,” which ranges from rape to intimidation to disrespect, have lost their jobs or been forced to resign, and publicly tried by both the news and social media. At least one person, fired by the Canadian Broadcasting Company, was acquitted when the complaints against him came to court, but he was not given back his job. An NPR broadcaster was fired after allegations of “bullying and sexual misconduct,” although the station’s own investigation found that his behavior “was not sexual in nature and did not constitute sexual harassment,” but did create “an abusive work environment.” Serious sexual misconduct, bullying, abusive use of power, particularly against women, have been revealed in the entertainment and media industries as well as elsewhere, including the U.S. congress, and such revelations certainly should come out and such behavior exposed. I am even convinced that what has been exposed so far is just the tip of the iceberg in a culture that allows men in all aspects of business and government, as well as in the home, to use their power to abuse women, including more often than not, sexual abuse of some nature, however, no one seems concerned about the lack of due process that has characterized the reactions to these accusations. Instead, a mob mentality has dictated how those who are accused are treated. Even as I say this, I recognize that my own comments will probably provoke harsh recriminations from those who see me as being disloyal to the issue of the abuse of women. My whole point is that adherence to truth and our agreed upon rules of justice should outweigh loyalty to a group or position.

If I seem to be more critical of liberals than conservatives, it is because I am. I don’t think liberals are more guilty of tribalism or of disregarding truth or reason than conservatives, in fact I think they are less so. But I hold liberals to a higher standard. Conservatives routinely overrule reason or even truth with religious considerations or with blind patriotism. They are more likely to adhere to rigid viewpoints that are not open to new or conflicting information. They value submission to hierarchical authoritarianism, as in “the bible says it,” or “the government ordered it,” or “the founding fathers said it,” or “if it was good enough for my parents, it’s good enough for me.” They favor punitive measures over understanding ones, blame leniency for criminality, etc.  Liberals, on the other hand, have usually favored reasoning over belief, justice over punishment, experimentation over tradition. Most of all, liberals, in my mind, have insisted that the ends don’t justify the means. One doesn’t sacrifice a few to save many, one doesn’t tell lies to achieve even a noble end, one doesn't employ inhumane torture to gain even valuable and potentially life-saving information. It’s not more important that our team win than that we play the game fairly. So I have high expectations for liberals, and I’m afraid they have been letting me down lately. We have a model for using any means possible to achieve one’s ends, including lying, misinformation, bias, and drumming up zealous fervor among one’s peers, in the behavior of our current administration. Liberals should not try to combat this administration by falling into the same pattern of behavior.


Reader Comments (4)

This is the most enlightened commentary yet posted on this site. But it’s not flawless.The final paragraph is made a little shakey by trying to assuage those who claim to be liberal by suggesting that their views (when practiced in best form) are inherently morally superior to their conservative brethren (based on the unproven opinion that liberal practices are superior to conservative practices.) The attempt to put salve on the wounded liberal ego in this paragraph only goes to prove the mindless tribalism currently affecting the left (just as it affects some on the right.) I’ll suggest that a few of your followers will vow to never read your writing again because you have betrayed their “holy cause” in this commentary. That would be very unfortunate if true. Support for free speech absolutism must come from both (or all) sides. Well done.

May 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMark Wheeler

It certainly is interesting to see the curtain being lifted on the machinations of our system.

It might be worthwhile to recognize the deeply profound sigioficance of the Gilens-Page study that refutes the mythology that the opinions of the people count (even when we are in 70-80% agreement), instead showing that only the opinions of the wealthy class actually create policy at a federal level. Considering that virtually all entertainment and information media are now in the hands of the wealthy class and that for generations most has been, I actually start to wonder if all the -isms illustrated in this article really count. Maybe all the major controversies are nothing more than games of leverage and control by the power elite. It is certainly clear by looking at the obvious bias of all major media.

As Casey points out, you can see the elements of control by what the establishment wants folks to think about. While I am stunned and disheartened that our government allowed torture in the black sites and that many of those responsible are now in positions of authority, shouldn't I and our media be even more outraged that every day close to 100,000 American citixens are tortured by solitary confinement. While I am perturbed that a tiny portion of our popualtion has it's rights stripped away because of transgender discrimination shouldn't I and our media be even more outraged that according to mid-range estimates one American dies every 36 seconds due to poverty related social factors. And I don't even have to mention global warming.

May 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDariel Garner

Solitary confinement is more often a form of protection for the prisoner and/or fellow prisoners based on a dire need. It may seem torturous to some, but it serves a very necessary, albeit expensive, purpose.

Transgenderism is a social construct, not a physical reality. It's very difficult to ensure the rights of a person whose needs are based on a subjective view of self, science and fact. I'll agree that people who believe they are transgender require a great deal of personalized care and a tremendous commitment from their fellow citizens to help them successfully function. However, it's a dubious and dangerous tactic to simply play a game of "the emperor's new clothes" with people who struggle with this form of psychomachia. The suggestion that a mass acceptance of surreality is all that transgender-identifying people really need is to deny that the sucideality rate among these citizens remains unchanged even in the most optimal of conditions.

As far as people dying of poverty related factors, there is no obvious solution to this terrible quandary. Perpetual and excessive taxation solves very few problems. Charitable organizations and religious institutions are generally better equipped to help on a local level. Unfortunately, it seems that there will always be a portion of the population that is under-served and living on the margins of society.

May 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMark Wheeler

To me, Casey, your essay illustrates the crisis of conscience that many of us are facing, whether on the left or right or somewhere in between. That crisis is demanding a call to intellectual honesty - a call to not lie to ourselves about our tendency toward trialism at the cost of truth (that nebulous term that we nevertheless need to seek as best we can.)

Years ago, Rabbi Kushner wrote the book, "When Bad Things Happy to Good People," to assuage the terrible pain people feel when they experience loss that doesn't make sense. There needs to be a new book called, "When Good Things Happy to Bad People," to explain the seeming recent success of Donald Trump to those of us who find him less than an admirable human being (and I'm being kind here). That's the crisis of conscience I'm facing, how to accept outcomes that seem counter-intuitive to the process, Everything seems upside down to me. How does someone who uses tactics our parents taught us as dishonorable and actually despicable, succeed in any realm where decency, intelligence, grace, and wisdom are respected and considered effective? It's a daily intellectual battle. I know there are many on the right who struggle with this as well.

And what do we do with that psychologically? When Trump's success brings about results that, on the surface, seem to point in the direction of the peace we've all tried to work for all our lives, how can we not applaud it? Emotionally, it's like watching anyone in our lives who has done us great harm, now go on to do something others respect and admire. It's a hard pill to swallow. It takes every ounce of discipline within me to NOT search for any and all flaws in any positive outcome this man may have fallen upon or fallen into.

It is a bit hurtful to read the statement in one of the comments above that suggests "a few of your followers will vow to never read your writing again because you have betrayed their 'holy cause' in this commentary" I'm glad he said "a few", because you can count me out of that imagined and highly debatable scenario.

And speaking of "holy", let's talk about the Seven Deadly Sins! As you know, Greta Boris, one of our writer friends is writing a series of mysteries based on the seven deadly sins! (I was reading a chapter in "Scent of Wrath" last night the topic of sin is on my mind.) I had forgotten my Baltimore Catechism answer to the question of what exactly they are and had to look them up. Of all the sins that we have been taught as a child are deadly:(pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth) sloth is the only one I can see is NOT displayed by this President. It's very difficult to accept that this particular person can effect positive change, but as Rabbi Kushner advises, when facing a dilemma, "choose the more morally demanding alternative." The more morally demanding alternative is to stay well informed and politically active. To be alert to the changes that are happening behind the scenes in the courts and in agencies like the EPA and Department of Education. The oligarchs of the world would love for us to believe that we have lost our ability to affect change. That is something I won't accept. Meanwhile, whatever good comes about by decisions made with forethought or by accident have to be respected.

May 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBillie Kelpin

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