I have a bad habit of trying to point out the obvious, but here goes:
People have a behavioral quirk that seems wired-in, even instinctive. Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons must have had it, and we modern folks have it in spades. It’s the compulsion to associate into groups, and it has some good effects and some very bad effects. Grouping may be the factor that causes civilization to fall apart or fail to achieve perfection. It has often resulted in civil war or revolution. Grouping has been exploited to impose dictatorship (see Hitler and the National Socialists; Mao or Stalin and the Communists.) It has resulted in Genocide. Ingroup members have killed outgroup members many times in the past. As long as democracies hold together, there isn’t killing but there are endless arguments between ingroups and outgroups.
Once a person decides to join a group, all thinking stops. Evidence against the group is ignored from that point on, if it’s detrimental. All people inside the group are friends, and those outside are enemies. A person can be a member of several such groups. There are plenty of groups, among them: Muslims vs. infidels; gays vs. straight; pro-life vs. pro-choice; Redskin fans vs. Cowboy fans; Catholics vs. Protestants; Jews vs. everyone else; gun owners vs. gun haters; and of course Liberals vs. Conservatives.
Your group can do no wrong; the outgroup is always wrong. We never listen to them.
Focusing on American politics, it’s certainly true that we have a terrific amount of polarization now. You can tell which group a person belongs to by asking a few simple questions. Do you like Fox News? Is it the most trustworthy source of news or a detestable propaganda machine? Do you like Rush Limbaugh? Do you hate him? Do you trust the mainstream media: ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, or cable news services MSNBC, or CNN? What do you think of the Wall Street Journal? The New York Times? Your answers will define you as a Liberal or a Conservative. You may regard yourself as moderate or independent, but I suspect you really lean one way or the other.
Becoming a Liberal (or a Conservative) is like crawling into a box. You will never be talked out of it except by experiencing total disaster. No amount of argument with the outgroup will change your mind. You will be compelled to completely ignore or explain away all evidence which says your group is wrong on any subject. The federal deficit? It doesn’t matter – interest rates are low, aren’t they? We can borrow money, or just print more. The economy? It’s improving, can’t you tell? The sixteen trillion in federal debt? It’s OK, just read Lord Keynes. Taxes? The rich should pay their fair share. (We could tax them at 100% and run the government for a full week.) Entitlements can’t sustain themselves at the present rate of growth? Nonsense. Just kick the can down the road.
In fairness, I’d like to describe examples which work against Conservatives, but since I are one my mind won’t accept any such evidence. I’ll try, using roughly the same questions. Reducing the federal deficit will put people out of work? The economy will no doubt pick up and they’ll be absorbed. Not the right time to cut the debt? Oops, I can’t do this. I can’t see the issues the way Liberals obviously do. It just proves my point: I’m trapped in a group and my mind blocks out all evidence that I’m wrong.
When we read letters to the editor of a newspaper on political subjects, we see some as quite logical, while those of the other group are incredibly stupid and closed-minded.
OK, here are some problems as I see them: the federal debt and deficit are out of control; entitlements -- Medicare and Social Security -- are going to collapse if not fixed; Obamacare is bad and should be repealed; taxes are too high; the Keystone Pipeline should be built; the border with Mexico should be closed; the economy is very bad and isn’t really improving. If Liberals even see these as problems, they don’t agree with us on how to fix them.
Rush Limbaugh said it best (paraphrased): “Obama doesn’t fix problems -- he fixes the blame – on Republicans.” As long as he can blame Republicans, he seems to want the problems to continue. I have heard recently that Barack can’t stand to hear Conservative arguments – simply won’t listen to them. But, that’s understandable: his mind is wired to be a member of a group, and he’s chosen Liberalism. He’s in his Liberal box, and he can’t think outside the box – even though he’s paid to represent everyone.
I’m in my Conservative box, and I can’t think outside my box. We might as well be Yankees and Rebels.
The boxes keep us from coming together and solving problems. In many cases, we don’t even agree on what is a problem and what isn’t. If we agree that something is a problem, we never agree on how to fix it.
Grouping could be mankind’s greatest flaw. But, that doesn’t make me want to crawl out of my box and into the other one.