Red Tribe, Blue Tribe

 

donald-trump-blames-thugs-and-our-communist-friend-bernie-sanders-for-chicago-violence-1457812811Yesterday, I asked whether anyone was reading something interesting by a writer we often neglect here on Ricochet. Cyrano suggested an article by Scott Alexander that had given him a new perspective on American political dynamics: I Can Tolerate Anyone Except the Outgroup. I agree it’s a good read.

Alexander begins by suggesting that the definition of “tolerance” is something like, “respect and kindness toward members of an outgroup.”

But today we have an almost unprecedented situation.

We have a lot of people – like the Emperor – boasting of being able to tolerate everyone from every outgroup they can imagine, loving the outgroup, writing long paeans to how great the outgroup is, staying up at night fretting that somebody else might not like the outgroup enough.

And we have those same people absolutely ripping into their in-groups – straight, white, male, hetero, cis, American, whatever – talking day in and day out to anyone who will listen about how terrible their in-group is, how it is responsible for all evils, how something needs to be done about it, how they’re ashamed to be associated with it at all.

This is really surprising. It’s a total reversal of everything we know about human psychology up to this point. …

What is going on here?

To explain this, Alexander appeals to one of Sigmund Freud’s more useful observations:

Freud spoke of the narcissism of small differences, saying that “it is precisely communities with adjoining territories, and related to each other in other ways as well, who are engaged in constant feuds and ridiculing each other.” Nazis and German Jews. Northern Irish Protestants and Northern Irish Catholics. Hutus and Tutsis. South African whites and South African blacks. Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs. Anyone in the former Yugoslavia and anyone else in the former Yugoslavia.

So what makes an outgroup? Proximity plus small differences.

Americans, he argues, now “self-segregate not based on explicit religion but on implicit tribal characteristics. So in the same way, political tribes self-segregate to an impressive extent – a 1/10^45 extent …. based on their implicit tribal characteristics.”

What are these tribes, exactly?

The Red Tribe is most classically typified by conservative political beliefs, strong evangelical religious beliefs, creationism, opposing gay marriage, owning guns, eating steak, drinking Coca-Cola, driving SUVs, watching lots of TV, enjoying American football, getting conspicuously upset about terrorists and commies, marrying early, divorcing early, shouting “USA IS NUMBER ONE!!!,” and listening to country music.

The Blue Tribe is most classically typified by liberal political beliefs, vague agnosticism, supporting gay rights, thinking guns are barbaric, eating arugula, drinking fancy bottled water, driving Priuses, reading lots of books, being highly educated, mocking American football, feeling vaguely like they should like soccer but never really being able to get into it, getting conspicuously upset about sexists and bigots, marrying later, constantly pointing out how much more civilized European countries are than America, and listening to “everything except country”.

(There is a partly-formed attempt to spin off a Grey Tribe typified by libertarian political beliefs, Dawkins-style atheism, vague annoyance that the question of gay rights even comes up, eating paleo, drinking Soylent, calling in rides on Uber, reading lots of blogs, calling American football “sportsball,” getting conspicuously upset about the War on Drugs and the NSA, and listening to filk – but for our current purposes this is a distraction and they can safely be considered part of the Blue Tribe most of the time)

Read the whole article. Many perceptive points. For example:

My hunch – both the Red Tribe and the Blue Tribe, for whatever reason, identify “America” with the Red Tribe. Ask people for typically “American” things, and you end up with a very Red list of characteristics – guns, religion, barbecues, American football, NASCAR, cowboys, SUVs, unrestrained capitalism.

That means the Red Tribe feels intensely patriotic about “their” country, and the Blue Tribe feels like they’re living in fortified enclaves deep in hostile territory. …

I think the situation with “white” is much the same as the situation with “American” – it can either mean what it says, or be a code word for the Red Tribe.

And thus, he observes,

Bill Clinton was the ‘first black President,’ but if Herman Cain had won in 2012 he’d have been the 43rd white president. And when an angry white person talks at great length about how much he hates “white dudes,” he is not being humble and self-critical.

He’s merely expressing blue-tribe solidarity and intolerance of the red tribe. Consider the fate of Brendan Eich, the CEO of Mozilla, who was hounded out of his job by a baying Blue Tribe mob after it came to light that he had donated $1,000 to California’s Proposition 8:

Think of Brendan Eich as a member of a tiny religious minority surrounded by people who hate that minority. Suddenly firing him doesn’t seem very noble. …

When a friend of mine heard Eich got fired, she didn’t see anything wrong with it. “I can tolerate anything except intolerance,” she said.

“Intolerance” is starting to look like another one of those words like “white” and “American”.

“I can tolerate anything except the outgroup.” Doesn’t sound quite so noble now, does it?

The “unprecedented situation,” then, is not so very unprecedented. Millions of Americans are not, in fact, conspicuously praising every outgroup they can think of while conspicuously condemning their own in-group.

We noted that outgroups are rarely literally “the group most different from you”, and in fact far more likely to be groups very similar to you sharing almost all your characteristics and living in the same area.

We then noted that although liberals and conservatives live in the same area, they might as well be two totally different countries or universe as far as level of interaction were concerned.

Contra the usual idea of them being marked only by voting behavior, we described them as very different tribes with totally different cultures. You can speak of “American culture” only in the same way you can speak of “Asian culture” – that is, with a lot of interior boundaries being pushed under the rug.

The outgroup of the Red Tribe is occasionally blacks and gays and Muslims, more often the Blue Tribe.

The Blue Tribe has performed some kind of very impressive act of alchemy, and transmuted all of its outgroup hatred to the Red Tribe. …

Research suggests Blue Tribe / Red Tribe prejudice to be much stronger than better-known types of prejudice like racism. Once the Blue Tribe was able to enlist the blacks and gays and Muslims in their ranks, they became allies of convenience who deserve to be rehabilitated with mildly condescending paeans to their virtue.

This perhaps is a useful description of what we’re seeing in and around Trump rallies: tribal violence. Two hopped-up tribes, both itching for any excuse to raid each other.

And frankly, I’m worried that if this keeps up, it’s only a matter of time before we have our own version of the al-Askari mosque bombing. And turn into Yugoslavia. Because this is, in fact, exactly how these things happen. (And halfway around the world, people cluck and say, “Those people have been killing each other for centuries. Why should we start caring now?)

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  1. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge
    Fake John/Jane Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    As soon as the blue tribe kills off the red tribe all will be well. Because that is where this thing is heading and the blue tribe has taken control of the government and the press.

    • #31
  2. Songwriter Inactive
    Songwriter
    @user_19450

    Members of the Red Tribe (conservatives) are, in the end, proud of America, despite her faults.

    Members of the Blue Tribe (liberals) begin with the premise they are embarrassed by America, despite her many attributes and accomplishments.

    • #32
  3. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Tim Wright: Slatestarcodex has some great reads…and that article is one of the most perceptive I have ever read. Yet when the author turns away from his very sharp perceptions, he immediately assume s”blue” attitudes, as witness his subsequent thoughts on gun control, for example.

    Yes, he’s a natural progressive and statist, but he regularly gores his own side’s oxen.

    • #33
  4. Cyrano Inactive
    Cyrano
    @Cyrano

    Tim H.:It makes me think about some of our conservative writers who live in strong Blue Tribe enclaves…

    Yes. It’s somewhat difficult to deal with, but there is an upside to being a Red or a Grey among the Blues.

    So many of us live in bubbles, by accident or design. Social bubbles, information bubbles, experience bubbles. This has been enabled or exacerbated by technology and I have argued it leads to political polarization. To some degree, we react differently to events because we are fed different facts, different spin. We see nuance and complexity in our own arguments and beliefs, but those of the other are more distant, more homogeneous, less detailed.

    The benefit of being “embedded” in an ultramarine blue area is the opportunity to see Blue Tribe members in their natural habitat, and not some Hannityesque caricature of them. But, owing to my position and situation (see above), I admit I get less unfiltered, undistorted information about and feedback from Red Tribe members – which is one reason why I am here.  To be blunt, this is the only political site I have ever encountered where the comments on posts are actually worth reading.

    I wish some of my Blue Tribe colleagues could spend some time among the Reds, for their own edification.

    • #34
  5. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    @cyrano I use the term “Pro(re)gressive” to more accurately depict the results of their beliefs.

    • #35
  6. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    By the way, there are a few of us who regularly reference Scott Alexander.

    Here and here are a couple of mine.

    • #36
  7. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Someone has probably made this observation, but it occurs to me that the Trump and Sanders fans have another thing in common: Idealism. Trump fans believe that (like the French Revolution) we can blow everything up and it will all be okay (without wondering what will happen in the vacuum/chaos). Sanders fans believe that the government should pay for everything and we should all be financially equal (without realizing that they will be the ones, in a few years, who will pick up the tab and suffer from the results). They all live in an idealistic frame of mind, without any historical perspective on how these things will turn out. Interesting.

    • #37
  8. Cyrano Inactive
    Cyrano
    @Cyrano

    Fake John/Jane Galt:As soon as the blue tribe kills off the red tribe all will be well. Because that is where this thing is heading and the blue tribe has taken control of the government and the press.

    If the blue tribe manages to exterminate the red tribe, what will happen is the blue tribe will split into pieces, and former allies will become the bitterest of enemies.  For some of us, there must always be an outgroup, and if one does not exist naturally, it must be manufactured.

    • #38
  9. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Cyrano: become the bitterest of enemies. For some of us, there must always be an outgroup, and if one does not exist naturally, it must be manufactured.

    I wonder, Cyrano, if this is true because we have such a human desire (whether we acknowledge it or not) to create scapegoats. Often, scapegoats that we select do something (even if it’s minor) to cause our frustration or wrath. I’m not putting blame on the scapegoats. But as an example, Jews in Germany tried to ignore the signs of Nazism because they wanted to be included in the society. There’s nothing wrong with that desire in and of itself, unless it is irrational; the Jews have often become scapegoats because they are the out group. When we create scapegoats, we are able to elevate ourselves and discount others, which allows us to feel superior. It’s not healthy and almost always destructive. Thus, the Red and the Blue.

    • #39
  10. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    @PaulARahe

    Cyrano:

    Fake John/Jane Galt:As soon as the blue tribe kills off the red tribe all will be well. Because that is where this thing is heading and the blue tribe has taken control of the government and the press.

    If the blue tribe manages to exterminate the red tribe, what will happen is the blue tribe will split into pieces, and former allies will become the bitterest of enemies. For some of us, there must always be an outgroup, and if one does not exist naturally, it must be manufactured.

    This is already happening in our universities. There are virtually no members of the red tribe left at any of our institutions of higher education, and most of them are in hiding. So guess what is happening at Yale, Northwestern, University of Missouri, and Claremont McKenna College? The hard left is turning on the less hard left and forcing them to undergo sensitivity training and the like. With every passing year, it gets uglier.

    • #40
  11. Dietlbomb Inactive
    Dietlbomb
    @Dietlbomb

    The Dowager Jojo:

    Zafar:

    Red Fish, Blue Fish:

    States with those laws are states where enforcing blue values through public figures is seen as beneficial. It makes perfect sense that administrators in those states would enforce them more vigorously, which no doubt results in less anti-gay bullying.

    So the laws work.

    They work to give an extra attention and penalty to anti-gay bullying which is not given to pro-gay bullying, anti-fat bullying, anti-Christian bullying, anti-socially awkward bullying, etc. Some people call that “working”. If justice is the goal, it’s not.

    States where the Blue tribe dominates encode Blue values into their laws. States where the Red tribe dominates are increasingly prohibited by Supreme Court ukases from encoding their values into their laws.

    • #41
  12. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Liberals remind me of the protagonist in Robert Shaw’s The Man in the Glass Booth. You get to the end and you don’t know what to think. Is it self-hatred? Guilt? Or the ultimate in narcissism?

    • #42
  13. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Susan Quinn: They all live in an idealistic frame of mind, without any historical perspective on how these things will turn out. Interesting.

    This is not unprecedented. Internationalist socialist and national socialist movements tend to rise up in response to the same kinds of social and economic conditions. Two sides of the same coin.

    • #43
  14. Cyrano Inactive
    Cyrano
    @Cyrano

    Paul A. Rahe:

    Cyrano:

    If the blue tribe manages to exterminate the red tribe, what will happen is the blue tribe will split into pieces, and former allies will become the bitterest of enemies. For some of us, there must always be an outgroup, and if one does not exist naturally, it must be manufactured.

    This is already happening in our universities. There are virtually no members of the red tribe left at any of our institutions of higher education, and most of them are in hiding. So guess what is happening at Yale, Northwestern, University of Missouri, and Claremont McKenna College? The hard left is turning on the less hard left and forcing them to undergo sensitivity training and the like. With every passing year, it gets uglier.

    Yes.  And I am watching this bizarrely uncivil civil war unfold surreptitiously.  Part of me wants them to be preoccupied with each other so they don’t notice others like me, so they weaken each other, so they appear even more ridiculous to thoughtful outsiders.  But the energies they expend actually strengthen them, the collateral damage of their conflicts is vast, and they are either immune to or have Finlandized the outsiders.  It seems a bit hopeless.

    • #44
  15. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Paul A. Rahe: The hard left is turning on the less hard left and forcing them to undergo sensitivity training and the like. With every passing year, it gets uglier.

    Yep.

    • #45
  16. Tim H. Member
    Tim H.
    @TimH

    “The hard left is turning on the less hard left…”
    I’ve noticed this on the political correctness side, especially with some outrage of the day. If the purported outrage comes from someone they consider one of their own—Richard Dawkins, the “Bad Astronomer” columnist, etc.—the harrassment and calls for public confessions seem much stronger.

    I reckon the heretics are always considerd worse than the heathen.

    • #46
  17. Nick Stuart Inactive
    Nick Stuart
    @NickStuart

    Paul A. Rahe: The hard left is turning on the less hard left and forcing them to undergo sensitivity training and the like. With every passing year, it gets uglier.

    Sometimes if it weren’t for schadenfreude I wouldn’t have no freude at all.

    • #47
  18. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Je Sui Robespierre?

    • #48
  19. Z in MT Member
    Z in MT
    @ZinMT

    The grey tribe sounds very weird.

    • #49
  20. Don Tillman Member
    Don Tillman
    @DonTillman

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:Quoted:

    This is really surprising. It’s a total reversal of everything we know about human psychology up to this point. …

    What is going on here?

    Claire,

    I so, so, so disagree with the premise.

    “Total reversal of everything we know about human psychology”?  Nonsense, it’s simple strategy.

    Please read my very recent post, The Left’s Grand Stategy Is a Star Trek Episode.  The intolerant tolerant is entirely consistent with my proposition.

    • #50
  21. Don Tillman Member
    Don Tillman
    @DonTillman

    More specifically…

    The concept of tolerance was fabricated as a Democratic Talking Point and spread by the news media.  It was introduced suddenly, with no build up, with no particular reason for it to be introduced when it was.

    Most intolerance was already due to the left, but nobody would question it.   And who could argue against being tolerant?

    Tolerance was introduced as the most important human attribute ever, and the only thing you could be intolerant of was intolerance itself (which is a lovely Get Out of Jail Free card).  Anybody in the mob can win moral victory points by declaring themselves more tolerant than someone else.

    And the solution involves outlawing speech.

    So yeah, it’s completely consistent with my proposition.

    • #51
  22. Weeping Inactive
    Weeping
    @Weeping

    My initial reactions to the article excerpts:

    1.) Orwell knew what he was talking about when he wrote Animal Farm.

    2.) The more a society focuses on its differences, the more it pulls itself apart.

    • #52
  23. SParker Member
    SParker
    @SParker

    I have two slightly different kvetches about the usefulness of this kind of analysis:

    1.  I’ve been hearing some version of it all my life and, in limited experience with putative tribes and their interactions, it’s always been wrong.   Worse,  it doesn’t seem to tell me much.
    2. If you don’t know your shaman or haven’t spent any time in a sweat lodge with him recently, you probably don’t really belong to a tribe.   Notions of tribalism were best confined to something very closely resembling a for-real tribe.  Reasoning by analogy only goes so far before it throws you into a ditch.
    • #53
  24. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    Susan Quinn: Someone has probably made this observation, but it occurs to me that the Trump and Sanders fans have another thing in common: Idealism. Trump fans believe that (like the French Revolution) we can blow everything up and it will all be okay (without wondering what will happen in the vacuum/chaos). Sanders fans believe that the government should pay for everything and we should all be financially equal (without realizing that they will be the ones, in a few years, who will pick up the tab and suffer from the results). They all live in an idealistic frame of mind, without any historical perspective on how these things will turn out. Interesting.

    That’s some of the best commentary I’ve heard.

    • #54
  25. SEnkey Inactive
    SEnkey
    @SEnkey

    I think this analysis is useful, with limits of course. Take for instance my Thanksgiving dinner a few year ago. I was at my father-in-laws in Richmond, VA.  My father-in-law is a center left type. He’s really a very nice man, very caring and charitable. He also fits the blue tribe and comes from the upper middle class. He recently remarried and we were actually at his new in-laws’ house. His in-laws were definitely upper middle class if not outright upper class. I come from pretty humble beginnings and thought I would not enjoy the night at all. What was interesting was that as the night went on I found I was more at home with his in-laws. Why?

    There were certain cues that endeared me to them and gave me an expectation that many of my views would be accepted by them. By the end of the night I was in a group with a 60 year old banker, a 38 year old ATF agent, a 34 year old teacher,  and a 42 year old financier/dunkin donuts owner and his wife. At the time I was a 24 year old no-longer-active marine and college student.

    Fast forward a few years and we’ve all gotten to know each other better. That whole family is republican. The group I naturally shifted into that night are the more conservative republicans.

    Useful? It explains how that group naturally found each other. It also helps me see that sometimes I dislike or mistrust people because their preferences. I may, without realizing it, put more importance on their preferences than I should. There is a guy at work who is a vegan, he drives me nuts. Is it because I suspect his diet choices reflect other, perhaps political preferences? I know it’s not fair but I think that is why I dislike him. I’ve never thought about it until now. I am sure if I got to know him we could get along fine. But that is the point, we don’t get to know most people. We rely on cues and limited information to make bigger judgements – I don’t think that is wrong.

    Limits? Of course! I wouldn’t expect to know someone’s beliefs based off of what kind of salad they get or whether they choose soda or water.

    • #55
  26. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    SEnkey:There is a guy at work who is a vegan, he drives me nuts. Is it because I suspect his diet choices reflect other, perhaps political preferences? I know it’s not fair but I think that is why I dislike him. I’ve never thought about it until now. I am sure if I got to know him we could get along fine. But that is the point, we don’t get to know most people. We rely on cues and limited information to make bigger judgements – I don’t think that is wrong.

    Limits? Of course! I wouldn’t expect to know someone’s beliefs based off of what kind of salad they get or whether they choose soda or water.

    There is a guy I work with who is vegan. Guy is a missileer and it blew me away. Turns out he had some health problems that went away to further he got to a vegan diet. Doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a leather belt or shoes.

    So, vegan for health reasons or vegan for moral ones? – there is a difference.

    • #56
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