Crushing our Better Angels – Epilogue

Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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37 Responses

  1. greginak says:

    This and the original post are good stuff. People talk about tribalism being hard wired which i find a bit overly strong. Most people certainly have a strong tendency towards tribalism but we do have choices, we can say/type what we want, we can listen or we can shout. Most people don’t want to give up their tribalism however they may complain about the tribalism of other people.

    You are generous with praise and links which is a good thing. I can tell that from your link to that Classic Values link. Bitter and nasty can also be honest and powerful.

    My guess is the parallels between PS and …umm..other large institutions which have failed to lived up to there moral and legal standards will become more pronounced as we learn more.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to greginak says:

      Some of it depends on what we talk about when we say “tribalism.” Tribalism as defined by covering up pedophilic behavior by the chief lieutenant is a negative manifestation of tribalism. And you’re right that we have a choice about that. But I think it’s difficult enough that it’s impossible for somebody to successfully resist 100% of the time. We so often have to make assumptions about whether certain things actually happened or not based on limited information; we have to determine the context of the actions that occurred; we have to wade through the often morally ambiguous world with competing values that we simultaneously adhere to (at least abstractly).

      If you can do all that, and yet not be heavily influenced by the identities of the groups that accept and reject you, that have assisted you and thwarted you, and that you are inherently a part of and in opposition to… I have to think you’re a robot.

      Which, of course, isn’t to say that we shouldn’t try.Report

      • greginak in reply to Will Truman says:

        Of course one of the ways to deal with that is to have mandatory reporting laws in emp handbooks and for people that work with kids. And of course they don’t always work.



        • Will Truman in reply to greginak says:

          I totally mucked up my wording. My talk about how “difficult it is” was more general. Institutions absolutely should be expected to turn over something like this case. My head had floated off to more ambiguous situations. But I didn’t, you know, actually *say* that.Report

          • greginak in reply to Will Truman says:

            Your kind of people always do that.

            Anyway i agree. My belief is tribalism is the biggest long term threat to humanity. If we don’t learn to be able to see each other as people to the point where we can live together we’ll never be able to defeat those forking Romunlans when the war comes.Report

  2. Will Truman says:

    You know, I had quite a bit to add to the thoughts on your post, but the discussion that followed was so comprehensive that everyone else touched on it. As not-infrequently happens, I was rendered redundant.Report

  3. Kolohe says:

    Anyone who would associate Bill Whittle’s ‘Tribes’ essay with what you wrote (on either this or the previous post) completely missed your point with the speed of a superluminal neutrino.Report

  4. DensityDuck says:

    You have a large amount of text tied up in explaining why everyone who got upset at your title is wrong.  Maybe you could have avoided this by actually citing some Democratic tribalism in the title instead of just expecting that readers would see a title with two Republican and one neutral-but-immediate and not get the impression that the piece had a partisan slant.  Failure of craft is not the fault of the audience.Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to DensityDuck says:

      Yeah.  With that kind of title you’d have to, like, read the post to be able to get what I was saying.Report

      • DensityDuck in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        So it’s not your fault that people read a strongly slanted title and assume that the essay following it will be equally slanted?

        I mean, yes, if you want to reduce everything to first principles, then everything should be taken without assumptions and considered on its own merits. But it’s not like you’re the first person who ever wrote a blog post. We have years of experience of reading DailyKOS and Little Green Footballs and the like. We have seen hundreds of posts where a strongly slanted title was indeed an indicator of strongly slanted content. I really don’t think you’ve earned the hurt “it’s not my fault you didn’t actually READ the ESSAY” tone, because the partisan slant was an entirely reasonable assumption on the part of someone who just saw the post on an aggregator.Report

        • Tod Kelly in reply to DensityDuck says:

          “I really don’t think you’ve earned the hurt”

          Who said I felt hurt?

          Look, Duck, at the end of the day I reject this idea that I have to have a 50/50 of both parties in my posts in order for my thoughts to be valid.

          I’m working on a post now about how corruption in our system is a larger problem than the R vs D argument we focus on, and much of it focuses on a large $433 million dollar “gift” awarded to an Obama contributor; to date I am not including any details about the GOP in this post, regardless of the fact that corruption exists in both parties – and I do not believe believe that it is necessary that I force some in just to make everybody happy.

          And even if I did, I may not have been blogging for long but I’ve been doing it long enough to know that it wouldn’t matter.  When I post my piece talking about White House corruption, you and everyone else that thought I shouldn’t talk about the GOP in my last post will say “Hear, Hear!” and people from Ballon Juice will say that my Republican bias is showing.  If I try to make sure that I have two GOP and two DNC examples in everything I write, all of these same people will say “Half of this is right, and the other half is FISHING BULLS**T AND YOU KNOW IT!!!!”

          I don’t write for those people.  I write for the people that want to read what I say, and engage me with dialogue.Report

          • DensityDuck in reply to Tod Kelly says:

            “I reject that I have to have a 50/50 of both parties in my posts in order for my thoughts to be valid.”

            At no point did I say anything about your thoughts, at least in this thread.  What I’m saying is that a blog post is an advertisement, and it’s a bit thick to complain about the audience you get when you advertise yourself a particular way.

            But if you honestly don’t think that a title which references two Republican Presidential candidates and a school involved in a pedophilia scandal creates an expectation of negative partisan slant, then I guess there’s nowhere for this conversation to go.Report

            • Tod Kelly in reply to DensityDuck says:

              How is a blog post an advertisement?Report

            • Patrick Cahalan in reply to DensityDuck says:

              But if you honestly don’t think that a title which references two Republican Presidential candidates and a school involved in a pedophilia scandal creates an expectation of negative partisan slant

              This is a valid point, Duck. At least in the sense that we get linked from places that have an aggressive partisan slant, and thus when they see a blog post *title* (which is something of an advertisement for the content I agree) that could be interpreted as a negative partisan slant (either for or against their brand of partisanship), they’re likely to show up and cheer/bitch/express tribalism.Report

              • I agree with this.

                I don’t agree that I therefore need to retract my post in the order of fairness.  (Which, I need to say, was not something that Duck advocated.)Report

              • DensityDuck in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                It would have actually been kind of funny if you’d done it on purpose–written a post about how tribalism often leads us to preconditioned responses against apparent attacks on the tribe, and then tailored a title to appear as exactly that kind of attack, and then sat back and seen what kind of responses you got.

                Like I’ve said elsewhere, “the troll that provokes only flames in response is not the true troll”.  Or, as some others might call it, <i>satire</i>.Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to DensityDuck says:

                Yeah, I think I need to get off my high horse and listen to your advice.  Cause even though I think I’m right, you are definitely right as well.  And I think trying to listen to what you’re saying will allow for fewer trolls in the future.

                So a belated thanks, DD.Report

              • DensityDuck in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                I will admit that I’m often perceived as an asshole (and sometimes that’s because it’s actually the case) so I can see how you’d at first think that I was just being an asshole again.Report

  5. Mike Schilling says:

    The reason why people are hardwired for tribalism is that our predecessors who didn’t have those instincts were wiped out by the people who did. 

    See, I don;t disregard everything Reynolds says because he’s a conservative, I disregard it because it’s usually as contentless as this bit of folk sociobiology is.Report

  6. MFarmer says:

    Uh-oh, you need to write another post.

    My advice is to say — “This is my story, and I’m sticking with it.” Once you start getting open-minded and stuff, giving credence to certain points from your critics, it just never ends. They won’t be satisfied until you recant and join their tribe. Then they will never fully accept you, because you betrayed your previous tribe. That’s why I don’t join a tribe unless I can be the chief and make the rules.Report

  7. Diesel Gypsy says:

    I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by tribal madness, bewildered in partisan fogs,

    whole gardens of genius consumed by Party,

    soaring visionaries dragged down to earth and chained on a rigged field, grunting out their lives to move the ball a few yards this way, or that..Report

  8. Plinko says:

    It was a great post, Todd. It seemed to me about 90% of the animosity I saw in the comments were people just proving the point. You are a far more generous man than I.

    I do think you might be well-served to follow this up with a post taking on the natural follow up here – which would be the stuff going on in Will and greniak’s exchange above. Think through what we can do to minimize/avoid that pull to negative tribalism. Glenn’s point is nice and all as it is, but the fact is that Penn State football and the Republican nomination are not institutions that prop up our very existence from extermination. Mandatory reporting laws are a good example, as are whistleblower laws, of things we do to balance the weight of institutional loyalty against moral obligations.Report

  9. Jaybird says:

    The dynamic that pretty much always interests me is the one where we watch people switch from Simple Declarative Statements to “well, you have to understand…” explanations (or, in the extreme, the “why do they think that criticizing X is a worthwhile use of their time?”).

    The comparison that seems to fit most directly to the whole Penn thing is not Herman Cain nor Rick Perry but Roman Polanski.

    Remember a few years back when there was discussion of Polanski’s extradition?

    A lot of people made a lot of very, very interesting arguments (indeed, some on this very blog! Just do a search for “Polanski”).

    Under what circumstances will people come out and say “This was totally wrong and we need to make a stand lest we lose our souls!”

    Under what circumstances will people say “Well, you have to understand, culture was different, besides, prison won’t undo what was done, we don’t know exactly what happened…”?

    Under what circumstances will people say “Do you really think that the fact that you’re yet another voice in this chorus will provide you with the shred of moral seriousness that you’re obviously grasping for?”

    I mean, each of these is a fair enough response (well, maybe the third one isn’t) because it does make sense to look at something like Penn or Polanski and say “this is one of those black and white situations and I don’t know how or why somebody involved didn’t get a tire iron. Children need to be protected from evil!” It makes perfect sense to say “well, I’m sure that there were a lot of things going on, a lot of dynamics, information gets muddied as people play the telephone game, years pass and it’s difficult to say what really happened and it’s easy to get mad at the things that you imagined happened and easier yet to get mad at the people you imagine support this thing that you imagined happened…”

    Under what circumstances will you Make Your Stand? Under what circumstances will you be understanding and make time to point out to folks that, hey, they need to understand some stuff too?

    Is there a predictable pattern?


    • DensityDuck in reply to Jaybird says:

      “Under what circumstances will you Make Your Stand?”

      When the Borg enter Section Zero Zero One.  The line must be drawn here!Report

    • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Jaybird says:

      “This is one of those black and white situations and I don’t know how or why somebody involved didn’t get a tire iron. Children need to be protected from evil!”

      I hope the jury sees it that way if I’m ever the guy who finds someone raping a child in the bathroom.Report

  10. Rufus F. says:

    To be honest, I sort of missed the rancor in the comments, but I didn’t read most of them.

    I do wish we had some anthropologists weigh in on how tribes actually function. I read an article in the New York Times a year or so ago that said they were turning out not to hew as closely to tribalism as once thought, which actually makes some sense if your big problems of survival are more pressing than which Congressman is more honest. But I could be wrong about that- maybe they really are “tribal” in the ways we assume.Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to Rufus F. says:

      The reason that what people are calling “tribalism” doesn’t match actual tribal behavior is that they don’t mean it’s actual tribal behavior.  What they mean is “you’re only disagreeing with me because you’re acting in a precivilized manner, which is because you’re stupid!”Report