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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Other Threat To Democracy

In last Tuesday's blogpost (click here), I discussed how tribalism is threatening our democracy while talking about the Women's March. Tribalism threatens our democracy because our group loyalties cause us to embrace a moral  relativity that allows us to treat others in ways that we would never allow for them to return the favor.  In addition, tribalism limits our self-awareness and thus our ability to recognize our own faults and empathize with those outside our groups.

In addition,  there is pattern of behaviors and attitudes couched in tribalism that prohibits us from even listening to others. That pattern is called authoritarianism. With authoritarianism, a sensitivity to disagreement with one's  heroes and authority figures leads one to respond with intolerance and aggression. It is this intolerance and aggression that keeps us from listening to each other. 

With authoritarianism, truth is determined more by the credentials of a given source rather than the facts and logic employed by that source. And one of the main credentials used is the identity of the group a source belongs to. Ideas that sound like they come from another group are automatically, if not pre-emptively, rejected. For to affirm the ideas and beliefs of sources from other groups would be to give credibility to those sources. And to give credibility to outside or competing groups would be to flirt with heresy and with joining an opposing group. 

Authoritarianism becomes most apparent when the names of opposing groups are used pejoratively. Sometimes people have responded to what I have written by accusing me of listening to leftist propaganda. Here, according to my antagonists, leftist automatically means that whatever view was expressed  is wrong. Liberals and Leftists also respond in the same way to conservatives. No group has a monopoly on authoritarianism and tribalism.

Tribalism is a host to authoritarianism because tribalism revolves around the authority of the group. Here we should note that being loyal to the groups we belong does not imply that we are tribal. Tribalism occurs only when group loyalty is so high that it starts to trump our commitment to common morals and principles.  When that occurs, we are no longer able to criticize our own groups before others lest our groups lose their prestige and privileges over others. Tribalism doesn't look to share power as Democracy does. Rather, it looks to conquer because of the belief that one's group is entitled to rule.

For as long as we embrace tribalism in our group associations, we will cleave to authoritarianism. And the more authoritarian we are, the more divisive we will be because we will not even tolerate giving others a fair hearing. And unfortunately, American society, as much as it claims to be democratic,  is very authoritarian. We look for heroes to direct and save us and we value blind loyalty. Authoritarianism keeps us insular because it rules out views that come from unacceptable sources. And we should note here that remaining insular is far more comfortable than dealing with the dissonance that comes from being open minded.


We are currently going through a time where we are witnessing a spike in tribalism and authoritarianism in our nation. And whether we can temper and recover from that sharp increase will determine not just whether we can keep our democracy, but whether we will survive. The odds are not in our favor.


 

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