I’ve spent the last week responding to comments on my Twitter feed. It’s been instructive. The passion and commitment that the commenters feel towards their positions is instructive. This is more than just discussion of ideas. The positions taken and the fervour with which those positions are defended seems to be an expression of an underlying orientation to the world rather than just opinions. It’s part of their identity as a person, as a citizen, and as a human.
I’ve tried to be reasonable, although I haven’t succeeded a lot of the time. It’s so difficult to restrain one’s self when confronted with that kind of tribalism. Some of the commenters are there I suspect purely to hold up their “side”, but others are firmly committed to their positions and want to argue them. I doubt if the debates, the back and forth, are really very useful or move anyone’s opinion, either mine or theirs.
Why so intractable? Have we always been this way as humans? Tribal? Willing to ignore contrary evidence in order to preserve our biases?
Maybe this kind of tribalism has been selected for over hundreds of millennia living in small hunter-gatherer bands, where solidarity and group identity ensured survival. This tribalism can be harnessed and used by those with strong rhetorical skills. That’s all well and good if those with the strong rhetoric also have strong ethical systems. It can also be harnessed by those with bad intent. I see that taking place in modern America right now, in this moment, and on several fronts — political, scientific, cultural.
How did we get here? That’s the question I want to explore in the next few posts. It will take a few posts, because this is a complex problem and there are no easy answers.
My biggest concern is that, at a time when we need experts the most — a global pandemic where millions of people have died and many more millions could possibly die — experts and expert analysis and opinion are being ignored, mistrusted, and/or rejected by a significant portion of the population in favour of easy answers, false panaceas, and wishful thinking.