Thursday, November 07, 2013

Progressives Are Nothing But Jerks and Ought to be Taken Out and Shot; Or, Group Dynamics: Problems and Solutions

One of the more helpful contributions of postmodernism and postcolonialism is the development of the concept of the Other. What were once thought of as separate issues -- sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. -- can be seen in this light as deeply structurally related. This is important in no small part because it can help us overcome the utter nonsense of the claim that sexism, racism, etc. are entirely socially constructed and help us realize that what we are in fact dealing with are particular expressions of an evolved psychological tendency.

Humans naturally engage in "othering." We see it in children. Put a group of children together, and they will form smaller groups, and those smaller groups will in no small part create an identity based on the fact that they are not the other group(s) that formed. The formation of the group can be as arbitrary as mere proximity; yet, when the groups are formed, they are quite clear about who is "good" and who is "not as good as us." From an outside perspective, each group may be essentially the same, with the same mixture of race and sex and ages, but if you were to ask each group about themselves and the other group(s), you would find each providing many good attributes about their own group, and finding all kinds of flaws with the other group(s). Anyone who has seen children in a classroom and/or on a playground knows this to be true.

In the past, group membership was something you were born into. Your tribe was US, and other tribes were THEM. And the name of your tribe typically was the same word you had for Human Being; others in other tribes were not fellow human beings. Out of this we see the old patterns of racism, ethnic divisions, religious divisions, etc. As divisive as religion often is, it has nevertheless acted as a way to overcome racial and ethnic divisions. Race does not matter so long as you are a fellow Christian, Muslim, etc. A shared Other can make for a larger group of Us.

However, the world is seeing greater and greater heterogeneity. Especially in places like the United States. We send our children to school with children of other races, ethnicities, religions, etc. We see them playing together and getting along, and come to the conclusion that racism is socially constructed -- after all, look at our children playing, showing no racial animosity at all. But this actually exposes our own racism, in thinking that what children are looking for are deep, inherent racial differences that are, in fact, not really there. However, if we understand what we are really looking at, we can see that our children are no better than any other human being that ever lived -- they just Other different groups.

And sometimes they do the same old Us vs Them groups. Your children will fight like cats and dogs -- until and unless someone else comes along, in which case there will be a united family front against the other. Outsiders cannot attack the family.

It is more obvious when we look at how our children divide themselves up now. It is less and less along racial/ethnic lines and more and more along lines of interest, etc. Cliques are the new "racism." The nerds are certain they are superior to the jocks, who are equally certain they are superior to the nerds. You have nerds, geeks, stoners, punks, gangstas, jocks, etc. It is Our School vs the Other School(s). My college vs. other colleges. My sports team vs. other sports teams. Science vs. the Humanities. Proletariat vs. Bourgeois. Right vs. Left. As we get older, we simply change group membership -- we don't abandon group membership itself.

Political divisions are a good example of this. The Right is convinced the Left are immoral, arrogant dictator-wannabes. The Left is equally convinced the Right are immoral, arrogant dictator-wannabes.  Libertarians agree with both of them, and both of them agree that the libertarians are out of touch with reality (and arrogant and immoral). The divisions become deeper and deeper the more there is at stake -- and the more power the government has, the more there is at stake, meaning divisions are only going to become deeper and deeper.

The divisions humans create may be arbitrary in many ways, but the fact that we want to divide ourselves into Us and Them is an evolved drive. That drive is not socially constructed, though the qualities of the divisions may be. We are naturally xenophobic. However, we are naturally xenophilic as well (making us paradoxical in nature -- meaning we have to engage in complex behaviors to negotiate both drives). We are naturally competitive, but naturally cooperative as well. And the latter drives the former. We cooperate to compete. We get together in groups to cooperate, but that means we identify other groups with which we are in competition. So long as the stakes are relatively low (power and wealth relatively decentralized and spread out, as one finds in market economies), the groups will not engage in violent competition. Violent competition is costly, and the benefits have to outweigh the costs. This means that if the stakes get to be high enough, violence becomes worth engaging in. This is the great danger in governments having too much power over peoples' lives, whether in the economy or in other aspects of civil society. The more power a government has, the more there is at stake. The more there is at stake, the more likely it is that the groups in a given civil society will treat each other with increasing hostility.

We are never going to get rid of the human tendency to want to live together in cooperative groups. Nor would we want to do so. It is what allows us to live in cities and work together in firms. But that same tendency has a dark side. Depending on what institutions are in place, that dark side can be greatly minimized, or it can be greatly emphasized. If we centralize wealth and power, we can expect greater hostility among groups. If we decentralize wealth and power, we can expect decreased hostility among groups. But we will never get rid of the natural human tendency to get into groups and to think our own group superior to others. We can only create the conditions to mitigate those effects.
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