scene from Monty Python’s “Life of Brian”. All rights reserved.
It may be obvious that people who identify politically as liberals and conservatives think differently because they disagree on issues ranging from immigration to climate change policy. But what are the deeper psychological roots that drive their political beliefs? In the aftermath of the federal election, the Agenda explores the conservative mind vs. the liberal mind.
the first place Rob well you’ve got the
floor let’s just dive a little deeper
here on some of the work that you’ve
done comparing the moral beliefs of
conservatives and liberals and let’s
start with this to what extent do you
think people on the right and the left
live in different moral worlds yeah I
think that I think there’s a lot of
truth in that there’s pretty robust
finding in the political psychology
literature that liberals tend to endorse
and and deploy moral values like
protecting people from harm
empathy fairness and equality more than
servus do while conservatives deploy
moral values like
- group loyalty
- respect for authority and
- moral purity and sanctity
more than then
liberals do and we find that you know
when they go to make the case for those
specific political positions liberals
and conservatives tend to rely on these
their their respective moral values but
this can often lead them to make to make
cases for their politics that don’t
resonate with the other side might not
even be legible to someone on the other
side well that’s lorilynn you’re hearing
yeah let me follow up on that no I do I
want to do two quick follow-ups with you
right here because give us a for
instance if a liberal we’re trying to
change a conservatives mind about for
example climate change what would be the
better arguments to Marshall given what
you’ve just told us
yeah our research suggests that a
conservative might be more responsive to
an argument about the environment or
climate change if it was articulated in
terms of purity sanctity and pollutants
being disgusting D sanctifying human
bodies and and nature that that’s sort
of a message because it fits with the
conservative value of moral purity we
find tends to be more effective than a
more conventional argument that a
liberal would be more likely to make in
terms of the need to protect vulnerable
ecosystems from from harm which doesn’t
tend to move the needle at least among
conservative and let’s do the other side
of the coin what about a conservative
trying to impress upon a liberal the
importance of let’s say military
spending something like that yeah so we
also find that this principle that if
you want to make an effective political
appeal you ought to think very carefully
about the person you’re communicating
with moral values and deeply all beliefs
we find it applies in both directions so
if you were trying to convince a liberal
to support high levels of military
spending it might not make a lot of
sense to make an argument in terms of
patriotism and the authoritative power
of the American military and instead you
might think well how could I tie this in
with liberal concerns about equal
opportunity and so we found that
an appeal that emphasized that the
military is a place where the poor and
minorities can achieve on a more level
playing field than in the you know the
open society that that’s sort of an
appeal LED liberals to say oh maybe
maybe I do support high levels of
military spending because they can it
helps the poor and minorities advance in
society hmm this potentially potentially
Paul opens the door to well who knows
everybody’s in their respective corners
right now in the boxing ring that is you
know the world today and I wonder if the
arguments could be reframed so that
people could speak a little could speak
to conservatives in a language that they
would appreciate better and vice versa
could you reduce polarization in the
world I think you can I think rob has
some excellent ideas now to do it I also
think we could we don’t have to give up
on idea of focusing on our common ground
so it’s true that conservatives in some
ways focus much more on groups and
issues of patriotism and nationalism but
liberals are no stranger to calls for
identity and group identity in fact
identity politics focusing on your
ethnicity or your gender your sexual
orientation is very much of an explicit
focus of a lot of liberal thoughts so in
some way they’re speaking the same
language they’re just talking about
different things and there’s something
else as well regarding reconciliation
and agreement which is I think by nature
by inclination by how we think there’s
an enormous amount of overlap between
liberals and conservatives but in the
hurly-burly political world and social
media there was a huge split of us
versus them where all of a sudden being
a liberal I’m not responding to a
certain claim or idea based on how I
naturally react to it but I is it is it
from my team or is it from your team and
there’s a lot of research finding that
if you give people an idea cap-and-trade
a response to climate change
funding for private schools and you tell
them this is a liberal idea or this is a
conservative idea they react very
differently to it your study after study
finding people don’t even care about the
idea they just care about is it my team
or is it your team and if we could rid
political discourse of that or at least
diminish it we do
much much better well Becky let’s do an
example of something you’ve studied
fracking tell us the story so I think
that this speaks to Rob suggestion of
how to play to people’s morality and
having this kind of discussion so we
examined people’s favorability towards
hydraulic fracturing and the degree to
which they thought this was risky and we
found that people who are higher in
political conservatism were more
favorable towards hydraulic fracturing
and they saw it as less risky
we also measured knowledge about
fracking and people that knew more about
it had less favorable attitudes about it
and they thought it’s more risky
however conservatives that knew more
about hydraulic fracturing for them they
had even more favorable attitudes and so
it is even less favorable than
conservatives that didn’t know a lot
about it and you find this same pattern
when you look at climate change so this
kind of goes against this notion that if
we just educate other people and they
know more and they’re more aware of
these issues they’ll get what I think
and they’ll be on board with my attitude
or the way that I see the world and
that’s not what happens you have another
question yeah do you think I don’t know
if you’ve done this but do you think
have you told a group of conservatives a
group of liberals and saying you know
what do you think of fracking and let me
tell you this Bernie Sanders Elizabeth
Warren one thing they agree on is we
need more fracking of this type it’s
very important it’s important for their
environment or to help American business
to increase minority access to jobs do
you think being told that would sway
their views I think it depends on who it
is so people that don’t know as much
about politics and don’t have that kind
of firm identity or just knowledgeable
for them it could sway them but for
people that are very knowledgeable at
these things they understand what
defines a conservative position and a
liberal position it’s not going to sway
them so I think that political identity
in belonging to these groups is really
important in dictating our beliefs or
attitudes how we vote but it’s not the
only thing and I worry sometimes that we
overstate it so I think it depends on
the person and I think it depends on the
context so in an American context right
now where the stakes are really high you
can see how people might be more apt to
kind of be like okay I can give that up
right now even it’s important to me
because I want my team to win but kind
of under normal circumstances or less
high threat or high stakes situations it
shouldn’t have the same kind of impact I
mean living in a state in the age of
very much in a high polarization time
there is a study that was recently done
which ask people about cap and trade
what do you think of cap and trade and
people had very strong views about it
then they asked them another question
what is cap and trade and I gotta say I
like I’m not I have found myself
exposing strong views and realizing I
don’t know that much I just know what
views I’m supposed to have yeah I’m
still waiting for the moment where there
where the conservative person says wait
a second Bernie Sanders and Liz Warren
are in favor of fracking date you don’t
think anybody would say that they would
be surprised they would be surprised
indeed if they were to say that okay
let’s um yeah
apropos of my team is better than yours
let’s go on to this in today’s polarized
world is it simply okay Rob you start
with this is it simply more important
okay for for for people to say I’m with
my team I don’t care I’m not
influenceable by facts I don’t care what
the facts say loyalty to my team is all
what it’s about nowadays right yeah I
think there’s a lot of evidence for that
and I think that what we see when we
look at trends and polarization in the
US over the last 40 years or so and this
is in the general public mind you that
you don’t see as much of ideological
polarization wherein people are clumping
around coherent ideological worldviews
because people are kind of they’re a
little bit disorganized in in their
thoughts they don’t spend all their time
thinking and talking about politics and
those who do they are very ideological
on average but what we see very clearly
is this rising antipathy across party
lines where Democrats and Republicans
you know increasingly dislike the
political out group and favor their own
in-group over the last 40 years or so
and if you look for like well what what
sparked all this I think that the
biggest thing that sparked it was that
at the elite level elected politicians
Congress people the president and so on
they polarized first they separated
along party lines and became
ideologically distinct you know by the
80s or so in a way that was not so much
the case in the 50s and
once that happened it became easier to
say okay no I really am a Democrat
because I’m a liberal and I really am
not like those other people and in fact
I really dislike them but when things
were a little more mixed up in terms of
what Democrats Republicans believed as
was the case in the 50s it was harder to
hate the other side cuz they were not so
clearly different from from your own
Becky let me let me pursue with you the
notion about whether or not we are less
polarized in Canada than they are in the
United States basically everybody who
gets elected down there is a Democrat or
a Republican basically I mean you got a
few independents along the way but
basically that’s it we just had an
election which is going to send liberals
and conservatives and New Democrats and
block East’s and greens to our federal
parliament and the People’s Party even
they didn’t win any seats but they got a
bunch of votes what does that say I
think there’s several things that are
going on I think we’re not immune to the
kind of quote/unquote tribalism that’s
happening south of the border but I
think that we have some buffers in the
sense that we have a multi-party system
now if any one of those parties should
gain more popularity to kind of lose
some of those I think we would be in
greater danger of having this kind of us
versus them mentality and I think that
still exists here but it’s difficult to
have that to the same extreme because we
have more than one party so there’s
multiple people kind of vying for power
how accurate do you think the view that
conservatives have of liberals and vice
all is yeah there’s been a lot of work
on this and and there are two things one
thing is that psychologists are always
interesting everybody’s interested in
bias against against women against black
people against gays and their subtle
measures of this but the bias is we have
at least in the states towards the other
political team are anything but subtle
they’re powerful people to say if you’re
a Republican I don’t want to see a
Democrat I don’t want my kid to marry a
Democrat and then you get to kick the
question of accuracy so when you ask
people about other groups let me ask you
some questions about about gay people
about women it turns out a lot of
studies have been done showing that to
bet people have a pretty good perception
of the other group what jobs they tend
to have all sorts of other factors about
them but this goes to garbage
when you ask people politics so Liberals
have very confused ideas about
conservatives and conservatives very
confused ideas about liberals and what
happens is that this sort of tribalism
we’re talking about distorts our
thinking if you’re my worst enemy in the
world I’m not gonna think about you in
an objective fashion I’m gonna pile upon
you every stupid and ugly attitude and
and and you know if if if not it’s not
hard to see that this is not a good
thing politically and maybe this is why
Canadian politics which doesn’t have too
strict you know either-or dichotomy that
American politics has is less vicious
than American politics so a lot less
interesting too the last time you were
on this program and in fact I can see
your book on the Shelf right over there
we talked about your book about empathy
and so I’m going to facetiously say to
you right now because I know what your
answer is gonna be more empathy would
help this right well I’m not gonna say
yes come on I’m sighs you to say yes I’m
sure will surprise me which is it
depends what you mean by empathy so so
one sort of empathy which means feeling
the pain of others feeling the suffering
of others a study came out last week
which is causing a lot of play which
finds that the more empathy you have of
that sort the the more you hate the
other group why because you devote all
that feeling and empathy towards your
own group it makes you more tribal on
the other hand there’s another sort of
empathy which the most understanding
people perspective taking and I think
that is mostly for the good I think that
that you know if I if I was I was a
Hillary voter I don’t need to put myself
in the shoes of a trump voter but I
should try to understand why they voted
for Trump among other things if I want
my side to win the next time it sure
helps to know why why I didn’t win last
time just a few minutes to go here and
let me get Jonathan Hyde into this
conversation and the social psychologist
recently had this to say left and right
are like yin and yang both see different
threats push in different directions and
protect different things that matter and
that are at risk of getting trampled by
the other side okay bigger picture here
do liberals and conservatives need each
other in some way less their own
impulses turn inward and destructive
so I’d say on a macro level that is
probably beneficial to have a diverse
pool of ideological outlooks
I think anything in the extreme could
kind of lead us down a dangerous path
and I think there’s many examples of
very extreme right-wing or left-wing
governments around the world the kind of
plate of that to illustrate kind of the
dangers I think having a sort of push
each other back and forth and keep us in
check again on a macro level is probably
beneficial on the whole Rob I disagree
with everything you say but damn it all
I need you is that what we’re saying i I
you know I think there’s a lot of truth
in that I think ideological diversity
can help groups make better I’d you know
better decisions and come up with more
different possibly better ideas I also
think that an ideologically pluralistic
society is a difficult one to steer
effectively because it’s disposed to
creating these sort of tribal
so if I have deeply different views on
things that matter a lot from you in an
ideal world we get together we you know
we come up with a way to get all the
advantages out of that and none of the
weaknesses but I think there is also a
very strong tendency for us to decide
that we are fundamentally different and
our differences are irreconcilable
because they go all the way down to our
bones to our values and so I have a
little bit less of a rosy picture of
moral pluralism Paul last thirty Seconds
to you we know that when political
parties want to raise money all they do
is put every alleged sin of their
opponents in those letters and they just
watch the shekels come in we’re kind of
doomed in this regard aren’t we we have
our worst instincts and people there’s a
lot of money and votes and power in
exaggerating the differences that exist
between these groups but I I agree with
with these other guys on pluralism is
what we should we just aspire for as
voters and as individuals authoritarians
on both sides will try to shut that down
they’ll try to shut down free speech
they’ll try to shut down communication
and I think we have a sort of moral duty
liberals and conservatives both to to
try to listen and try to try to get
together and try to be pluralistic in
the best of all possible ways amen
that’s a great place to leave it I want
to thank all three of you for coming out
of TVO tonight Rob will are at Stanford
University in California
Becky Toma from Ryerson University
in toronto Paul bloom from Yale
University in New Haven Connecticut it’s
great to have all of you on TV Oh
tonight thanks so much thank you
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Later, it comes out that the beloved nobleman did not in fact kill his good-for-nothing brother. The good-for-nothing brother killed the beloved nobleman (and stole his identity). Now the townspeople want to see him lynched or burned alive, and it is only the priest who – consistently – offers a measured forgiveness conditional on penance and self-reflection.
The priest tells them:
It seems to me that you only pardon the sins that you don’t really think sinful. You only forgive criminals when they commit what you don’t regard as crimes, but rather as conventions. You forgive a conventional duel just as you forgive a conventional divorce. You forgive because there isn’t anything to be forgiven.
.. He further notes that this is why the townspeople can self-righteously consider themselves more compassionate and forgiving than he is. Actual forgiveness, the kind the priest needs to cultivate to forgive evildoers, is really really hard. The fake forgiveness the townspeople use to forgive the people they like is really easy, so they get to boast not only of their forgiving nature, but of how much nicer they are than those mean old priests who find forgiveness difficult and want penance along with it.
.. There are a lot of people who say “I forgive you” when they mean “No harm done”, and a lot of people who say “That was unforgiveable” when they mean “That was genuinely really bad”.
.. But since forgiveness is generally considered a virtue, and one that many want credit for having, I think it’s fair to say you only earn the right to call yourself ‘forgiving’ if you forgive things that genuinely hurt you.
.. To borrow Chesterton’s example, if you think divorce is a-ok, then you don’t get to “forgive” people their divorces, you merely ignore them.
.. “Master, I have been tolerant of innumerable gays, lesbians, bisexuals, asexuals, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, transgender people, and Jews. How many Virtue Points have I earned for my meritorious deeds?”
Bodhidharma answers: “None at all”.
The Emperor, somewhat put out, demands to know why.
Bodhidharma asks: “Well, what do you think of gay people?”
The Emperor answers: “What do you think I am, some kind of homophobic bigot? Of course I have nothing against gay people!”
And Bodhidharma answers: “Thus do you gain no merit by tolerating them!”
.. If I had to define “tolerance” it would be something like “respect and kindness toward members of an outgroup”.
.. We have a lot of people – like the Emperor – boasting of being able to tolerate everyone from every outgroup they can imagine, loving the outgroup, writing long paeans to how great the outgroup is, staying up at night fretting that somebody else might not like the outgroup enough.
This is really surprising. It’s a total reversal of everything we know about human psychology up to this point. No one did any genetic engineering. No one passed out weird glowing pills in the public schools. And yet suddenly we get an entire group of people who conspicuously promote and defend their outgroups, the outer the better.
.. Any theory of outgroupishness that naively assumes the Nazis’ natural outgroup is Japanese or Chinese people will be totally inadequate.
.. So what makes an outgroup? Proximity plus small differences.
.. If you want to know who someone in former Yugoslavia hates, don’t look at the Indonesians or the Zulus or the Tibetans or anyone else distant and exotic. Find the Yugoslavian ethnicity that lives closely intermingled with them and is most conspicuously similar to them, and chances are you’ll find the one who they have eight hundred years of seething hatred toward.
.. eight hundred years of the British committing genocide against the Irish and considering them literally subhuman turned into smiles and songs about shamrocks once the Irish started looking like useful cannon fodder for a larger fight.
.. outgroups may be the people who look exactly like you, and scary foreigner types can become the in-group on a moment’s notice when it seems convenient.
.. 46% of Americans are creationists. Not just in the sense of believing God helped guide evolution. I mean they think evolution is a vile atheist lie and God created humans exactly as they exist right now. That’s half the country.
.. And I don’t have a single one of those people in my social circle.
.. About forty percent of Americans want to ban gay marriage. I think if I really stretch it, maybe ten of my top hundred fifty friends might fall into this group. This is less astronomically unlikely; the odds are a mere one to one hundred quintillion against.
.. there was a thread on Reddit asking – Redditors Against Gay Marriage, What Is Your Best Supporting Argument? A Reddit user who didn’t understand how anybody could be against gay marriage honestly wanted to know how other people who were against it justified their position. He figured he might as well ask one of the largest sites on the Internet, with an estimated user base in the tens of millions.
It soon became clear that nobody there was actually against gay marriage.
.. In a thread with 10,401 comments, a thread specifically asking for people against gay marriage, I was eventually able to find two people who came out and opposed it, way near the bottom. Their posts started with “I know I’m going to be downvoted to hell for this…”
.. Only one percent of LWers were normal everyday God-‘n-guns-but-not-George-III conservatives of the type that seem to make up about half of the United States.
.. similar to other elite universities, had a faculty and a student body that skewed about 90-10 liberal to conservative – and we can bet that, like LW, even those few token conservatives are Mitt Romney types rather than God-n’-guns types. I get my news from vox.com, an Official Liberal Approved Site. Even when I go out to eat, it turns out my favorite restaurant, California Pizza Kitchen, is the most liberal restaurant in the United States.
.. I have created an outrageously strong bubble, a 10^45 bubble. Conservatives are all around me, yet I am about as likely to have a serious encounter with one as I am a Tibetan lama.
(Less likely, actually. One time a Tibetan lama came to my college and gave a really nice presentation, but if a conservative tried that, people would protest and it would be canceled.)
.. One day I realized that entirely by accident I was fulfilling all the Jewish stereotypes.
I’m nerdy, over-educated, good with words, good with money, weird sense of humor, don’t get outside much, I like deli sandwiches. And I’m a psychiatrist, which is about the most stereotypically Jewish profession short of maybe stand-up comedian or rabbi.
I’m not very religious. And I don’t go to synagogue. But that’s stereotypically Jewish too!
.. The defining factors of Judaism – Torah-reading, synagogue-following, mother-having – are the tip of a giant iceberg. Jews sometimes identify as a “tribe”, and even if you don’t attend synagogue, you’re still a member of that tribe and people can still (in a statistical way) infer things about you by knowing your Jewish identity – like how likely they are to be psychiatrists.
.. The Red Tribe is most classically typified by conservative political beliefs, strong evangelical religious beliefs, creationism, opposing gay marriage, owning guns, eating steak, drinking Coca-Cola, driving SUVs, watching lots of TV, enjoying American football, getting conspicuously upset about terrorists and commies, marrying early, divorcing early, shouting “USA IS NUMBER ONE!!!”, and listening to country music.
.. The Blue Tribe is most classically typified by liberal political beliefs, vague agnosticism, supporting gay rights, thinking guns are barbaric, eating arugula, drinking fancy bottled water, driving Priuses, reading lots of books, being highly educated, mocking American football, feeling vaguely like they should like soccer but never really being able to get into it, getting conspicuously upset about sexists and bigots, marrying later, constantly pointing out how much more civilized European countries are than America, and listening to “everything except country”.
.. (There is a partly-formed attempt to spin off a Grey Tribe typified by libertarian political beliefs, Dawkins-style atheism, vague annoyance that the question of gay rights even comes up, eating paleo, drinking Soylent, calling in rides on Uber, reading lots of blogs, calling American football “sportsball”, getting conspicuously upset about the War on Drugs and the NSA, and listening to filk – but for our current purposes this is a distraction and they can safely be considered part of the Blue Tribe most of the time)
.. And I genuinely believed that day that I had found some unexpected good in people – that everyone I knew was so humane and compassionate that they were unable to rejoice even in the death of someone who hated them and everything they stood for.
.. Then a few years later, Margaret Thatcher died. And on my Facebook wall – made of these same “intelligent, reasoned, and thoughtful” people – the most common response was to quote some portion of the song “Ding Dong, The Witch Is Dead”.
.. You can talk all you want about Islamophobia, but my friend’s “intelligent, reasoned, and thoughtful people” – her name for the Blue Tribe – can’t get together enough energy to really hate Osama, let alone Muslims in general. We understand that what he did was bad, but it didn’t anger us personally. When he died, we were able to very rationally apply our better nature and our Far Mode beliefs about how it’s never right to be happy about anyone else’s death.
On the other hand, that same group absolutely loathed Thatcher. Most of us (though not all) can agree, if the question is posed explicitly, that Osama was a worse person than Thatcher. But in terms of actual gut feeling? Osama provokes a snap judgment of “flawed human being”, Thatcher a snap judgment of “scum”.
.. I started this essay by pointing out that, despite what geographical and cultural distance would suggest, the Nazis’ outgroup was not the vastly different Japanese, but the almost-identical German Jews.
And my hypothesis, stated plainly, is that if you’re part of the Blue Tribe, then your outgroup isn’t al-Qaeda, or Muslims, or blacks, or gays, or transpeople, or Jews, or atheists – it’s the Red Tribe.
.. One of the ways we know that racism is a giant all-encompassing social factor is the Implicit Association Test. Psychologists ask subjects to quickly identify whether words or photos are members of certain gerrymandered categories, like “either a white person’s face or a positive emotion” or “either a black person’s face and a negative emotion”.
.. If subjects have more trouble (as measured in latency time) connecting white people to negative things than they do white people to positive things, then they probably have subconscious positive associations with white people.
.. what the test famously found was that even white people who claimed to have no racist attitudes at all usually had positive associations with white people and negative associations with black people on the test.
.. there have been several studies where people sent out a bunch of identical resumes except sometimes with a black person’s photo and other times with a white person’s photo, and it was noticed that employers were much more likely to invite the fictional white candidates for interviews.
.. Once again, discrimination on the basis of party was much stronger than discrimination on the basis of race.
.. People have been studying “belief congruence theory” – the idea that differences in beliefs are more important than demographic factors in forming in-groups and outgroups – for decades.
.. people were more likely to accept friendships across racial lines than across beliefs
.. One of the best-known examples of racism is the “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” scenario where parents are scandalized about their child marrying someone of a different race. Pew has done some good work on this and found that only 23% of conservatives and 1% (!) of liberals admit they would be upset in this situation. But Pew also asked how parents would feel about their child marrying someone of a different political party. Now 30% of conservatives and 23% of liberals would get upset.
.. I’m not saying people of either party have it “worse” than black people, or that partyism is more of a problem than racism, or any of a number of stupid things along those lines which I am sure I will nevertheless be accused of believing. Racism is worse than partyism because the two parties are at least kind of balanced in numbers and in resources, whereas the brunt of an entire country’s racism falls on a few underprivileged people.
.. Every election cycle like clockwork, conservatives accuse liberals of not being sufficiently pro-America. And every election cycle like clockwork, liberals give extremely unconvincing denials of this.
.. My hunch – both the Red Tribe and the Blue Tribe, for whatever reason, identify “America” with the Red Tribe. Ask people for typically “American” things, and you end up with a very Red list of characteristics – guns, religion, barbecues, American football, NASCAR, cowboys, SUVs, unrestrained capitalism.
.. That means the Red Tribe feels intensely patriotic about “their” country, and the Blue Tribe feels like they’re living in fortified enclaves deep in hostile territory.
.. Here is a popular piece published on a major media site called America: A Big, Fat, Stupid Nation. Another: America: A Bunch Of Spoiled, Whiny Brats. Americans are ignorant, scientifically illiterate religious fanatics whose “patriotism” is actually just narcissism. You Will Be Shocked At How Ignorant Americans Are, and we should Blame The Childish, Ignorant American People.
Needless to say, every single one of these articles was written by an American and read almost entirely by Americans. Those Americans very likely enjoyed the articles very much and did not feel the least bit insulted.
.. But I think the situation with “white” is much the same as the situation with “American” – it can either mean what it says, or be a code word for the Red Tribe.
.. Imagine hearing that a liberal talk show host and comedian was so enraged by the actions of ISIS that he’d recorded and posted a video in which he shouts at them for ten minutes, cursing the “fanatical terrorists” and calling them “utter savages” with “savage values”.
If I heard that, I’d be kind of surprised. It doesn’t fit my model of what liberal talk show hosts do.
.. That fits my model perfectly. You wouldn’t celebrate Osama’s death, only Thatcher’s. And you wouldn’t call ISIS savages, only Fox News. Fox is the outgroup, ISIS is just some random people off in a desert. You hate the outgroup, you don’t hate random desert people.
.. Not only does Brand not feel much like hating ISIS, he has a strong incentive not to. That incentive is: the Red Tribe is known to hate ISIS loudly and conspicuously. Hating ISIS would signal Red Tribe membership, would be the equivalent of going into Crips territory with a big Bloods gang sign tattooed on your shoulder.
.. What would Russell Brand answer, if we asked him to justify his decision to be much angrier at Fox than ISIS?
He might say something like “Obviously Fox News is not literally worse than ISIS. But here I am, talking to my audience, who are mostly white British people and Americans. These people already know that ISIS is bad; they don’t need to be told that any further. In fact, at this point being angry about how bad ISIS is, is less likely to genuinely change someone’s mind about ISIS, and more likely to promote Islamophobia. The sort of people in my audience are at zero risk of becoming ISIS supporters, but at a very real risk of Islamophobia. So ranting against ISIS would be counterproductive and dangerous.
.. So here’s somewhere I have a genuine chance to reach people at risk and change minds. Therefore, I think my decision to rant against Fox News, and maybe hyperbolically say they were ‘worse than ISIS’ is justified under the circumstances.”
.. But my sympathy with Brand ends when he acts like his audience is likely to be fans of Fox News.
.. In a world where a negligible number of Redditors oppose gay marriage and 1% of Less Wrongers identify conservative and I know 0/150 creationists, how many of the people who visit the YouTube channel of a well-known liberal activist with a Che-inspired banner, a channel whose episode names are things like “War: What Is It Good For?” and “Sarah Silverman Talks Feminism” – how many of them do you think are big Fox News fans?
.. If he attacked ISIS, his viewers would just be a little confused and uncomfortable. Whereas every moment he’s attacking Fox his viewers are like “HA HA! YEAH! GET ‘EM! SHOW THOSE IGNORANT BIGOTS IN THE OUTGROUP WHO’S BOSS!”
.. Brand acts as if there are just these countries called “Britain” and “America” who are receiving his material. Wrong. There are two parallel universes, and he’s only broadcasting to one of them.
.. Think of Brendan Eich as a member of a tiny religious minority surrounded by people who hate that minority. Suddenly firing him doesn’t seem very noble.
.. If you mix together Podunk, Texas and Mosul, Iraq, you can prove that Muslims are scary and very powerful people who are executing Christians all the time – and so we have a great excuse for kicking the one remaining Muslim family, random people who never hurt anyone, out of town.
.. When a friend of mine heard Eich got fired, she didn’t see anything wrong with it. “I can tolerate anything except intolerance,” she said.
“Intolerance” is starting to look like another one of those words like “white” and “American”.
“I can tolerate anything except the outgroup.” Doesn’t sound quite so noble now, does it?
.. The outgroup of the Red Tribe is occasionally blacks and gays and Muslims, more often the Blue Tribe.
.. The Blue Tribe has performed some kind of very impressive act of alchemy, and transmuted all of its outgroup hatred to the Red Tribe.
.. Even the Nazis, not known for their ethnic tolerance, were able to get all buddy-buddy with the Japanese when they had a common cause.
.. Research suggests Blue Tribe / Red Tribe prejudice to be much stronger than better-known types of prejudice like racism. Once the Blue Tribe was able to enlist the blacks and gays and Muslims in their ranks, they became allies of convenience who deserve to be rehabilitated with mildly condescending paeans to their virtue. “There never was a coward where the shamrock grows.”
.. Spending your entire life insulting the other tribe and talking about how terrible they are makes you look, well, tribalistic. It is definitely not high class. So when members of the Blue Tribe decide to dedicate their entire life to yelling about how terrible the Red Tribe is, they make sure that instead of saying “the Red Tribe”, they say “America”, or “white people”, or “straight white men”. That way it’s humble self-criticism. They are so interested in justice that they are willing to critique their own beloved side, much as it pains them to do so.
.. every Blue Tribe institution is permanently licensed to take whatever emergency measures are necessary against the Red Tribe, however disturbing they might otherwise seem.
.. I had fun writing this article. People do not have fun writing articles savagely criticizing their in-group. People can criticize their in-group, it’s not humanly impossible, but it takes nerves of steel, it makes your blood boil, you should sweat blood. It shouldn’t be fun.
.. I imagine might I feel like some liberal US Muslim leader, when he goes on the O’Reilly Show, and O’Reilly ambushes him and demands to know why he and other American Muslims haven’t condemned beheadings by ISIS more, demands that he criticize them right there on live TV. And you can see the wheels in the Muslim leader’s head turning, thinking something like “Okay, obviously beheadings are terrible and I hate them as much as anyone. But you don’t care even the slightest bit about the victims of beheadings. You’re just looking for a way to score points against me so you can embarass all Muslims. And I would rather personally behead every single person in the world than give a smug bigot like you a single microgram more stupid self-satisfaction than you’ve already got.”
.. But if I want Self-Criticism Virtue Points, criticizing the Grey Tribe is the only honest way to get them. And if I want Tolerance Points, my own personal cross to bear right now is tolerating the Blue Tribe.
.. And when they are good people, they are powerful and necessary crusaders against the evils of the world.
Conservatives who enter progressive domains like the academy or elite media are quite familiar with the idea of tolerance. Such institutions place an enormous amount of emphasis on it, in fact, so much so that they reserve the right to be intolerant to preserve the tolerant ethos of the community, sometimes explicitly. In one of my favorite First Amendment cases, I sued a university that declared in no uncertain terms, “Acts of intolerance will not be tolerated.”
.. We know what the university wanted, a catch-all provision it could use to expel, punish, and silence anyone who ran afoul of the prevailing campus orthodoxy.
.. a person on the left will claim that they’re tolerant because of their regard for “gays, lesbians, bisexuals, asexuals, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, transgender people, and Jews.” But ask that same person a simple question, “What’s wrong with gay people?” and the answer is immediate: “What do you think I am, some kind of homophobic bigot? Of course I have nothing against gay people.”
Then, guess what, you’re not tolerating anything.
.. I like Alexander’s definition of true tolerance: “Respect and kindness toward members of an outgroup” — not respect and kindness toward members of what others would define as an outgroup, but rather respect and kindness toward people that are out of your group.
.. The result of this flawed understanding is that millions of people misapprehend their own values. To the very marrow of their being, they believe that they’re something they’re not.
.. The justification for Kevin’s firing — as repeated endlessly on Twitter — is that women don’t want to “share office space with a man who wants them dead.”
.. He’s the son of a teen mom, born shortly before Roe v. Wade, and narrowly escaped being aborted.
.. Their views on abortion aren’t just tolerable, they’re glorious. They’re liberating. They’re the linchpin of the sexual revolution, the key to women’s liberation. What was intolerable was the notion that a man — no matter how courteous and professional in person — could sit next to them advocating ideas they hate.
.. But in polarized times, “of no party or clique” is a hard space to occupy.
.. progressives be honest about your purpose. You can call it tribalism. You can call it social justice. Just, please, do not lie and call it tolerance.