Our Tribes and Tribulations

Jaspreet Gill in Quillette:

MaxPixel.freegreatpicture.com-Strategy-Chess-Play-Chessboard-Game-Figure-Board-1215079Disagreement has made disagreeable individuals of us all. News channels are littered with platitudes masquerading as thoughtful discussions. Individuals, convinced that the volume of their speech corresponds to the correctness of their arguments, contribute to the cacophony of tirades. The print media publish headlines assassinating opponents’ characters rather than their ideas. Swipes and scrolls lead us to trivial online quarrels which bleed into our personal conversations. Research from the Pew Research Centre suggests that 91 percent of Republicans and 86 percent of Democrats hold unfavourable views of the other. It would be unfair but tempting to lay the blame at the feet of politicians, public intellectuals, and journalists. But we, the people, are also complicit in this potentially slippery slope.

Gathering by the campfire in our ideological tribes, we bask in the warm glow of unchallenged beliefs. We caricature arguments that do not fit neatly into our canonical jigsaw. Foregoing uncomfortable rumination in favour of rhetoric, we have helped to create and perpetuate a climate in which dissent is tolerated only for as long as it is a heresy we find palatable. And because the sacred cow revered by one tribe could be butchered by another, both worship and slaughter are seen as barbaric. Our immune system, fearful the body may contract moral anaemia by merely engaging with opposing viewpoints, triggers a defensive response that renders us allergic (and deaf) to opinions outside our personalised Overton windows. The ultra-networked age leaves us distant and disconnected and facilitates the rapid transmission of viral partisanship.

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