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Monday, June 25, 2018

The primeval tribalism of American politics

The Economist
Originally posted May 24, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

The problem is structural: the root of tribalism is human nature, and the current state of American democracy is distinctly primeval. People have an urge to belong to exclusive groups and to affirm their membership by beating other groups. A new book by the political scientist Lilliana Mason, “Uncivil Agreement”, describes the psychology experiments that proved this. In one, members of randomly selected groups were told to share a pile of cash between their group and another. Given the choice of halving the sum, or of keeping a lesser portion for themselves and handing an even smaller portion to the other group, they preferred the second option. The common good meant nothing. Winning was all. This is the logic of American politics today.

How passion got strained

The main reason for that, Ms Mason argues, is a growing correlation between partisan and other important identities, concerning race, religion and so on. When the electorate was more jumbled (for example, when the parties had similar numbers of racists and smug elitists) most Americans had interests in both camps. That allowed people to float between, or at least to respect them. The electorate is now so sorted—with Republicans the party of less well-educated and socially conservative whites and Democrats for everyone else—as to provide little impediment to a deliciously self-affirming intertribal dust-up.

The article is here.