April 19, 2019

Blame Modern Life for Political Strife

“It’s hard to argue against the comforts of modernity. Avocado toast, fiber optics, Roombas. What’s not to love? Technological innovation and trade liberalization have yielded prosperity and stability. Poverty, infant mortality, and global hunger have fallen. Human development, life expectancy, and food production have risen. Compared to our ancestors, we’re the glitterati.

But there are always tradeoffs. While urbanization and personal accumulation have enriched the West, they have also produced a culture of narcissism and illusion of time scarcity. This self-preoccupation and feeling of lost leisure time has reduced our participation in civic organizations. We’re engaging less with one another. And as a consequence, societal trust has dissipated. This has inhibited the development of common interests and shared identities, prompting a return to an archaic tribalism which prioritizes salient features over ideological values.

You People are All the Same

Imagine you were speaking to someone you’ve never met. Both of you are separated by a dark curtain to conceal appearances and voices have been distorted to obscure genders. The first and only thing they mention is that they’re a Republican. What might this person look like? Chances are you weren’t picturing someone black, female, gay, or non-religious. What if they said Democrat? Did you picture a white Christian male? Not likely, we’d wager. Out of many possible combinations, you have intuitive ideas about who sides with what party.

Here’s the secret about modern political tribalism: it has little to with policy or ideology. In fact, research suggests that political identities are weak predictors of policy preferences with Americans routinely overestimating the policy preferences of Republicans and Democrats.”

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