Trigger warning: politics and bad writing
Estimated reading time: 5-10 minutes.
When my Blue Tribe friends talk about politics today, they like to talk about how it is insane that Trump is the leading republican candidate (current polls put him at around 35%, with Ted Cruz closely behind at around 30% among republicans). They like to talk about how he is a terrible person who says sexist and racist things. I routinely hear the phrase “I honestly don’t understand what goes through the minds of those supporting him.” That’s the narrative; Trump is the bad guy and his supporters don’t realize it.
Every once in a while I like to engage in Political Mind Stretching, and so this morning I found myself browsing /r/The_Donald, the subreddit dedicated to Donald Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign. Among my Red Tribe friends, and the subreddit, what I observe is a general feeling that many people these days just believe whatever they hear. That we don’t do our research; we hear something once in the media, and then immediately jump to conclusions without thinking. The Blue Tribe, in this narrative, are not being led by a terrible evil mastermind, rather they have gone astray because they have forgotten to think for themselves.
These two narratives remind me of two kinds of movies: Movies About Dracula and Movies About Zombies. Movies About Dracula aren’t just about Dracula; retellings of the story include such things as Sherlock Holmes’s (with RDJ or Benedict Cankersore) arc against Moriarty; the secret conniving foe who tricks people into doing his bidding so that he can amass more power and alleviate his boredom. Sherlock Holmes has hundreds of story arcs and yet recent years seem to have us focusing on this one particular story; where all the bad things that have happened are revealed to have been connected; where everything was part of the evil ONE’s plans.
Likewise, Movies About Zombies aren’t just about zombies. Action movies where the hero has to navigate a mass of bureaucratic red tape just to do the right thing – where hundreds of officers who are all too afraid of bending the rules let evil triumph through their lack of agency – these movies are at their core stories about overcoming mindless zombies. Granted these zombies are tamer than actual zombies who incessantly try and convert you by eating you, but if at any point in the movie someone tells the heroic contrarian that he needs to stop rocking the boat and do things the way they have always been done it’s easy to see how that’s kind of like trying to eat you.
If the Blue Tribe is afraid that Trump is like Dracula and the Red Tribe like his followers that somehow don’t see his obviously evil power grab, then the Red Tribe is afraid that the Blue Tribe is a bunch of zombies, listening to whatever the media says, who are too scared or too brainless to go against the status quo.
An explanation like this also ties in Scott’s guess that Blue Tribe values are what happens when you are optimizing for a mostly well off society and Red Tribes values, for a society in danger. In a world where people have pretty high welfare but one baddie up in a tower is trying to ruin things, we probably don’t need a police force to watch over the citizens, love should be more or less free and helping others is a safe decision. In a world where mindless zombies are slowly taking over, it becomes pertinent to be suspicious of outsiders, own your own guns, and an emphasis should be placed on practical skills rather than University learning. It’s also worth noting that I’m not the first to come up with this Dracula v. Zombies analogy, though interestingly they seem to have drawn the exact opposite comparison.
So which narrative is right? Let me preface this by saying that obviously neither narrative is completely right and also both are idiotic. But which one is closer to describing the true state of affairs? It’s always very tempting for me to try and generalize on my personal experience, but if we’re trying at a guess of how everything is right now, anecdotal evidence is going to do more harm than good.
What kinds of things would we expect to see at a large scale if the Blue Tribe narrative is right? Probably things like Trump supporters unwilling to admit Trump’s faults despite clear evidence of his malice. I don’t think we’re there. It’s not obvious to me that Trump is attempting a malicious power grab. It’s not clear that the things he wants are objectively wrong, rather than just being out of line with Blue Tribe values (don’t get me wrong, I think these values are important and more productive than a lot of other values, but there’s still nothing objective about them). Mostly it is clear that he doesn’t put a lot of thought into what he says. In fact it seems to me like most of his supporters embrace his flaws rather than deny them.
What if the Red Tribe narrative is right? We would expect to see things like increased impact of the media on popular opinion, decreased scientific literacy rates, and a general anti-intellectual vibe which comes with a tendency to repeat things without fact-checking. This is made confusing by the fact that US Universities have a Blue-leaning bias, so that most degree-holding academics will tend to hold Blue Tribe values, but consider that most of your friends who can’t stand Trump probably know a lot less about him than his supporters, and they would probably lose in an argument simply because Trump supporters in University have to know a whole lot about Trump just to get through their classes, and have probably already had the argument umpteen times with other Blue Tribe folks who haven’t done their research.
When a viewpoint makes me upset, I always need to find out whether it’s because of the things being valued or the logic behind the argument. If I think the life of an unborn child is more valuable than the autonomy of the pregnant woman, there’s nothing illogical about concluding that abortion is murder. Yet it hurts my head at a very deep level when somebody says the issue is as simple as “abortion is murder.” It doesn’t hurt my head like that when someone proposes the equally value-based “a woman has a right to do what she wants with her body.” That’s because one feels like an attack on my values. It isn’t, but it still feels like it. One of the things that sets me off like dust on a computer screen is when someone accuses an opponent of using flawed logic when what they mean is that their values diverge. It is notably less toxic to yell at your opponent “I GUESS WE VALUE DIFFERENT THINGS!” instead of “YOUR LOGIC IS WRONG.”
Society tends towards liberal values. Not Blue Tribe values, necessarily, but towards being more liberal about things. Systems get bigger; people become more accepting, or don’t and die after having more accepting kids. In America today, bias across party lines is several times more severe than bias across racial lines. Want to spend your life screaming about Dracula or zombies? Don’t waste your time. If what you’re trying to do is make room for more love in the world, which I assume is what your Tribes values are supposed to be all about, start by having at the Blue-Tribe-Red-Tribe line instead.