A few recent political and cultural data points support the unfortunate conclusion that our culture continues to fracture, along what may best be called tribal lines.

In New Hampshire, state legislator Brandon Phinney, who got elected as a Republican, but switched to the Libertarian Party when he saw his state’s GOP not living up to the small-government principles he expected, got shellacked in his re-election effort. Apparently, tribalism overruled performance in the eyes of the voters that put him in office two years earlier.

After a group of Antifa thugs gathered in front of Tucker Carlson’s home, and reportedly went from shouting to actually thumping against the door hard enough to damage it (Carlson wasn’t even home, but his wife was), leftist gadfly Matthew Yglesias voiced an utter lack of empathy, and diminished the terrorizing as merely “tactically unwise.” Tribal hatred overrules basic human decency.

The MeToo movement, a vitally important moment in cultural evolution, became an indefensible caricature of itself by metastasizing into an insistence that all accusers be believed, regardless of lack of evidence, corroboration, or even sanity-check. This peaked with the Kavanaugh confirmation scrum. Yet, despite the post-confirmation admission by two of his accusers that they fabricated their allegations, I’ve barely seen a blip of recognition that things have gone too far from anywhere on the Left. Tribal loyalty supersedes rational self-criticism.

I recently started watching the serialized reboot of the 1980s satirical black comedy Heathers. Whereas the original’s target was high school cliquishness and tribalism, the reboot is a vicious and over-the-top assault on social justice “woke” culture. While uneven in some ways, the series is quite entertaining, especially for those skeptical of the relentless pressure the SJ movement exerts on today’s society. That it got made at all is a surprise. That the critics’ negative reviews assert the show’s being unjust to identity groups (the high school queen bee, the one who strikes a combination of fear and adulation into everyone’s heart is significantly overweight and has an unhealthy relationship with food) shows how self-unaware the movement actually is. Either that or the critics live in cringing fear of being attacked by their own should they stray off the reservation.

Finally, there are the people attempting to defend and deflect in the story of a Mississippi man who wore a T shirt depicting a Confederate flag and a noose to his polling place on election day. Any rational person should understand the overt racism of the imagery, and yet there are folks on the Right who are insisting otherwise. News flash, there are racists out there, and some of them self-identify as Republicans. But, rather than denounce them without reservation, tribalism leads some to pretzel-logic rationalizing.

Humans are tribal by nature, and are biologically wired towards embracing belief systems. These and many other examples of tribalism over rationality illustrate a trend of politics becoming the belief system of preference for a growing number of people. Unfortunately, the platforms of political parties are incomplete and often internally contradictory, making their suitability as belief systems quite poor, and this leads to insufficient satisfaction of our biological need. Thus, the perpetual state of stress, agitation, and fear that many who are politically attentive feel and exhibit.

The societal breakdown we’re witnessing is, I’d argue, very much a function of hardened political tribalism. This tribalism rejects self-criticism, policing of one’s own, and pull-backs from extreme positions, as external signs of weakness and means of emboldening the enemy. It can only be corrected by having the guts to do all those things, when they are the rational and correct things to do.

We’ve just passed an election, when tribal agitation peaks. The (relatively) quiet span between now and the beginning of the 2020 election season is the time for both parties to get their houses in order, for both sides to reject their outliers and embarrassments, and for both tribes to stand down from their zero-sum war footing.

Is it going to happen? I doubt it. Such adjustments require both collective desire from the bodies politic and the right person at the top acting as guide and shepherd. Neither currently exists, on either side, and I see no likely candidates for the latter anywhere on the horizon.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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