Crushing our Better Angels – Epilogue
I wrote a post this week where I took the Presidential debate I had just witnessed, the horrific news coming from Penn State and other thoughts that had been buzzing around inside my melon and tried to make some sense of things. Those that are regular readers and commenters will know that my thoughts in that post were not “off the reservation” in terms of my normal way of reacting to political and cultural events, though perhaps more drilled down.
And then a good deal after those of us here moved on to other topics – (yet another shout out there with that link – I have reread that post something like five times and love it more each time) – the post was quoted in part in three conservative blogs: The Dish (yeah, yeah, I know some people bristle when it’s suggested Sullivan’s conservative, but that is his chosen self-label), The American Conservative, and Hot Air. Instapundit didn’t quote the post, but also linked to it having run across it at Hot Air. The result has been a lot of traffic for a post I had thought past it’s expiration date, a brief but huge increase in trolls, and most importantly a good collection of fine dissents from smart new readers. (I hope these last folks return to the League to read, challenge and contribute.)
Since I’m a newbie to the blogging thingy, and since this experience has been both new and surprising, I’d like to take a moment to think out loud on both my post and the reaction it’s gotten over the past 24 hours. With that…
I should probably start off by clearing up two common misperceptions that those that came from Hot Air and Instapundit have about my post. The vast preponderance of troll-y or smart dissenters, both in the comment sections or my email box, take umbrage for one of two reasons:
1. The false equivalency of the various topics I mentioned
2. Democrats are guilty of tribalism too, and so am I
Both of these dissents have two things in common: The first is that both are absolutely 100% true; the second is that I never argued they weren’t.
I had thought that I was very clear that the examples I picked were not remotely alike, nor were the people I discussed. What I was exploring was not whether or not Herman Cain was guilty, or how much the Penn State and Catholic Church scandals were or were not the same. Rather, I was looking at how we as humans are quick to believe the very worst of those on the other side of the fence with little or no proof, but will ignore mounting evidence that someone on our own side has transgressed the values we hold most dear. I chose the bit from Losing My Religion because I thought it an excellent example of this dynamic, not because I equate the Catholic Church with football, or Rick Perry with child molestation. In fact, the bit from Losing My Religion aside, the thing I found fascinating in all the examples I used, Clinton included, is that we are so willing to draw a line in the sand for people that play so strongly into our self-identity, despite the fact that they are people we have never met and don’t really know. (I am not counting having read about or watched on TV someone who has a professional PR and image team as “really knowing” someone.)
To those that objected on the basis that their opponents on the other side of the political fence are human and react in tribal ways too: well, yeah. As I said, that was the entire point. (I’m not bothering to address the arguments by both righties and lefties that their sides never ever do anything wrong and the other is side is full of degenerate murdering rapists; I hope I don’t need to explain why.)
A similar “well, yeah” to those that point out that I am not immune to the effects of tribalism. Sheesh, I started my post talking about a case where I had been very guilty of the dynamic I was describing, and spent more time with my inability to step back with Garvey than on any other individual example of people doing the same. This was not by accident, and I am surprised so many people missed it. I suspect that those that were reading me for the first time simply assumed I was a political blogger writing for Team X.
The common way of talking about politics in the blogging world is to make subjective arguments using a voice both objective and certain, so as to be more persuasive. There is nothing wrong with this approach, but it is not mine. I prefer to use my posts to think out loud on where I stand and why. A large part of that is my own life experience, and so I usually weave that experience – flawed, common and human – into what I write about. I know that some think of this as either fluffy or solipsistic, and that’s cool. But it’s still the way I approach things; I can’t not be me.
I am assuming, by the way, that part of what people saw in my post was what they brought with them when they linked over. When Andrew Sullivan quoted me, he did so by using the setup “Tod [Kelly] connects the Penn State coverup to the Catholic Church’s abuse scandal.” So it is pretty understandable that having linked through Sullivan, you might be thinking “Huh! How is he going to equate Penn State and the Catholic Church?” before you even start reading. Similarly, I assume those that read political blogs like Hot Air or Balloon Juice are conditioned to being linked to bloggers that are either Liberal Champion or Conservative Champion, so it seems equally forgivable that they quickly put me into one of those camps and viewed me thus.
A Few Shout Outs
I would be remiss not to mention some of the quality posts that have engaged and disagreed with my thoughts on tribalism that are not on our comments page. For those that found my musings interesting, I encourage you to seek these folks out.
Glen Reynolds did a mini-riff on my thinking about tribalism, and though I quoted it in an update earlier I’ll do it again here because I think it’s a very important part of the big picture:
“See, though, the thing about tribalism is that it often works. 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. That doesn’t mean that tribalism is necessarily good of course, any more than other hardwired instincts are necessarily good. But it’s not just an example of stupidity. It’s there for a reason.
Note, too, that people who purport to decry tribalism are often just engaging in propaganda on behalf of their own tribe.”
Eric Schele of Classic Values weaves through the Penn State controversy and passionately defends his turf while still trying to look at his internal motivations, and in turn writes post that I found both honest and powerful.
The Conservatory’s Dan Collins is someone that totally misreads what I try to say, but goes on to write a smart, bang-up post that’s well worth the read anyway.
Our own Tom Van Dyke challenges me (as usual) as a smaller point of a larger post over at Dutch Courage in way that is classic TVD: smart and witty, with smoky, jazz-like language.
Thanks to all in advance for allowing me to ramble this morning.