September 21, 2018

Can We Please Start Over?

Screenshot from Twitter.

We are born unique, complex, imperfect.
Into the universe of nature, often moral, often unjust.
Into society, where we must sign a social contract to survive.
We are individuals, continuously striving to retain our individuality.

The first social unit we encounter is our family.
We desire acceptance but also crave respect.
The second is our religion, race, ethnicity.
Often, these add to our unique identities; sometimes, we are subsumed by them.

Next: School. From an early age, we try desperately to fit in, to be liked; it is here that we
first face the harsh realities of social acceptance.
We are cruelly pushed out of some groups and just as arbitrarily pushed into others;
parental pressures only add to the pain.
Our ability to navigate these early social rites informs how we deal with group acceptance
for the rest of our lives.

Finally, our political party.
Up until recently, aligning oneself with a political party did not create an impervious line
in the sand. Republicans and Democrats argued, to be sure, but they also could
socialize, see humor in their differences, compromise.
No more. The two groups hardly interact, and within each party, one must maintain
rigid conformity to a strict party line — The Orthodoxy — or you risk being publicly
humiliated.

I may agree with you on some issues, disagree with you on others. But unless you try to bully me into submission, I respect your right to your opinions, even if I find them odious.

Individuality, on both the left and the right, is dying; tribalism rules; obedience reigns.

Tribalism begets extremism; extremism begets hysterics. Social media lit the final match.

Can we please start over?

I am unique, complex, imperfect.

I may agree with you on some issues, disagree with you on others. But unless you try to
bully me into submission, I respect your right to your opinions, even if I find them
odious.

I don’t care which party you belong to; I don’t care which religion, race or ethnicity you
identify with. Unless you try to force me to follow your way of thinking or living.

I may try to get you to see an issue the way I do, but I would never bully you. We have lost
the distinction between arguing and bullying.

Issues are often complex; embrace the complexity. Totalitarianism offers instant
security; resist it.

Question dogma; rebel against irrationality.
Be brave but civil; break boundaries but remain decent.
Relearn to tolerate difference; to take comfort in diversity; to listen.
We each have the ability to create bonds of compassion, to sow seeds of accord, to bring
light back into the darkness.

But first, we need to reclaim our individuality.
I am unique, complex, imperfect.
I try to honor my quirks, idiosyncrasies, opinions, to let them inspire my dreams.
Heterodoxy: I think for myself; I don’t need the validation of others.

I am not a political party; I am not a group identity; I am me.


Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and author of “The Lipstick Proviso: Women, Sex & Power in the Real World” (Doubleday). Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The New Republic, The Wall Street Journal and Metropolis, among others.

Trapped Inside of Our Tribes

When push comes to shove, we often pick loyalty to a political party over loyalty to an idea or a truth. This is true whether we are on the left or right. Conforming to the views of our political tribe is the safe way to go. Criticizing your tribe in public, well, that’s a lot more risky.

Just ask conservative writer Mona Charen, who had the nerve to call out the hypocrisy of her own Republican Party last week at the CPAC convention. On a panel about the #MeToo movement, she said she was “disappointed in people on our side for being hypocrites about sexual harassers and abusers of women who are in our party. Who are sitting in the White House. Who brag about their extramarital affairs. Who brag about mistreating women. And because he happens to have an R after his name, we look the other way, we don’t complain.” She got a loud chorus of boos.

The hypocrisy works both ways. Don’t get me started about the liberal feminists who went easy on that serial sexual abuser Bill Clinton because of the D after his name.

I saw plenty of tribal loyalty during the heated arguments over the Iran nuclear deal. A pro-Israel friend of mine who is a die-hard Democrat confessed that he hated the Iran deal. So, why didn’t he speak up? Well, he hated Republicans even more. He couldn’t stand the idea of saying anything that might make them look good.

Blind loyalty is a bipartisan disease.

I also have blind loyalty — to the Los Angeles Lakers. Rain or shine, I’m a diehard fan. But I don’t just love my Lakers, I also hate the Boston Celtics. Those two sentiments go hand in hand. If you love the Lakers, you must hate the Celtics. It’s tradition.

I enjoy looking at both sides of an argument. It’s challenging. It opens my mind. When my views are locked in, that’s when my mind stagnates.

When friends ask me about my fanatical devotion to a sports team, I never know what to say, other than I love sports and I love rooting for my home team. I suppose if I wanted to get esoteric, it’s possible that, subconsciously, I’m using the Lakers to get tribal fanaticism out of my system. Then, when I’m confronted with something serious like politics, I’ll be more inclined to see both sides of an argument. Like I said, esoteric.

In any case, politics is not sports. The stakes in politics are enormous, and the views are fluid. I may like a party’s policy on one issue and another party’s on another issue. For me, it’s case by case, policy by policy, candidate by candidate. No reason to go all in with one party.

But there’s something else — I enjoy looking at both sides of an argument. It’s challenging. It opens my mind. When my views are locked in, that’s when my mind stagnates.

An open mindset is the animating force behind our new Roundtable email newsletter. It stands out from other newsletters because you get three different views on hot issues of the day curated from across the ideological spectrum. It’s an opportunity every morning to sneak out of our tribes and open our minds to a range of viewpoints.

But the Roundtable is an exception. If anything, the rift between left and right in America has grown wider than ever. In her new book, “Political Tribes,” Amy Chua writes: “The Left believes that right-wing tribalism — bigotry, racism — is tearing the country apart. The Right believes that left-wing tribalism — identity politics, political correctness — is tearing the country apart. They are both right.”

This is not the way America was meant to evolve.

“America is a super-group — the only one among the major powers of the world,” Chua writes. “We have forged a national identity that transcends tribal politics — an identity that does not belong to any subgroup, that is strong and capacious enough to hold together an incredibly diverse population, making us all American. This status was hard-won; it is precious.

“The destructive, fracturing tribalism that is seizing American politics puts this in jeopardy.”

The nasty fighting now raging over gun control is an example of this destructive tribalism. As Ben Shapiro writes this week in his Journal column, “There’s no way we’ll ever be able to find rational solutions if we shout at one another that our disagreements are evidence of our malice toward innocent children.”

An insult is not an argument. An emotion is not an idea. An attack is not a policy.

An insult is not an argument. An emotion is not an idea. An attack is not a policy.

Our obsession with tribal politics is bringing out the darker angels of our nature.

In 1780, four years after the Declaration of Independence, Founding Father John Adams wrote:

“There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.”

Adams had no idea that 238 years after he wrote those words, a social media revolution would facilitate and magnify the very political evil he feared.

Since the theme of our issue this week is prayer, maybe we can pray for a day when more Americans will channel their tribalism toward their sports teams rather than their political parties. As for me, I can’t stand those Celtics.