In my business of digital marketing, I necessarily spend a good amount of time on social media channels. Often it is not time comfortably spent given the sheer volume of political rhetoric, insults, castigation, and outright bullying. And what occurs to me is the ubiquity of what could rightly be called – tribalism. Certainly political conflict is nothing new and dates back as far as the most primitive forms of government – America’s founding fathers nearly came to fisticuffs on multiple occasions when hammering out the constitution. BUT… there is a significant and important difference now in play. What we are seeing in our modern society is the rise of a form of tribalism that is truly disturbing. I think it is quite fair to say that a disproportionate segment of our society is garnering their world view in 30 second increments from “news” sources that are so “in the tank” for one of the 2 political parties that they can scarcely be called “news” organizations at all. They are at best editorialized commentary and at worst, outright propaganda. But it is easily disguised… “They agree with me, they must be right!” How this came to be isn’t so hard to understand. As with most things political, and as rightly apprehended by the great economist Peter Drucker who said, “There is no such thing as politics, there is only economics,” all one need do is follow the money. People seek like-minded opinions, not challenging or opposing view points and this drives viewership, drives ratings, drives advertising dollars, drives profits. Unfortunately, what you will find at the heart of this tribal mind-set is simple – intellectual laziness and fear. Far easier (and safer) to agree with the group than do the oft uncomfortable heavy lifting of examination and evaluation. I also do not dismiss the notion that there is an evolutionary component at work…allies = survival. It is written in our coding, our DNA.
This much I do know, if you only expose yourself to opinions you agree with, your critical thinking muscle will atrophy – you will learn very little. If your ideology is shaped only by CNN, or Fox News, or Rush Limbaugh then you have precious little hope of understanding the gross complexities that shape our modern geo-political landscape. If you really want un-polluted, un-dilluted information to inform your understanding you’re going to have to do the unthinkable – you’re going to have to read a book – or three. If you want to truly understand what is or isn’t happening with climate change for example, read a science book – or three. Don’t get your science from partisan politicians or partisan media outlets and always understand that science – real, peer-reviewed science, doesn’t care what you believe. If you want to understand global politics, read a book – or three. Not the standard issue school history books either, (the ones that glorify Columbus or contort the Thanksgiving tale from the horror show it was into a nice children’s story). Read real the histories. If you want to understand the human mind and it’s motivations, it’s behavioral tendencies, read a book – or three. Read the great works of philosophy, psychology, anthropology.
Seek out other opinions then listen, I mean truly listen. Attempt to understand just how powerful an influence socio-economics, among myriad other factors, can be on perspective. Try to become acquainted with the notion that outside the rigid confines of science, objectivity is a very slippery slope. Subjectivity is generally a much more dependable ally.
As long as we, as diverse a nation as any on earth, insist on supporting “our guy” regardless of the consequences; as long as we value tribal tendencies above the tendencies toward rational and critical thought, we will never live up to the promise that is America. We will shrink into a quagmire of profit driven misinformation, swear on our mother’s grave it’s all true, harbor hatred toward our fellow countrymen, all while remaining blissfully ignorant that we are collectively, tragically, shredding our own flag.