Sunday, September 18
Sunday, September 18, 2005
It's a lot easier to focus anger on a human face than to analyze systemic problems in depth. Perhaps on some level there's a basic fear: what if *we* are part of the problem? Each group avoids changing itself by putting the face of evil on another group, and on an individual who represents that group. A great way for any group to avoid problems in its own behavior, but a terrible way to improve the system in general. Demonizing liberals allowed Republicans to ignore escalating dissonance between their own ideals and behavior. Demonizing Republicans could lead the other side to make the same mistake.
What if there were a pervasive fatal flaw in American culture, or even global culture, something ignored for centuries because the problem could always be reframed as an issue of how to expel a group or person as a "contaminant"? Each group would take turns punishing some other group for having that flaw, but without dealing with it in themselves. Let's say the problem is something like, "Everyone is escalating arguments to the point where reasonable discussion is impossible and any sense of shared public space is eroded". If that were the basic problem, simply proving a group to be wrong and expelling it from the process would only perpetuate the flaw. What then? Rational thinking would be hijacked as a tool for groups to justify excluding and demonizing other groups, leading to an erosion of shared space and a fragmentation of culture.
Even academia, which ought to be above that nonsense, can be somewhat tribalistic and exclusive. One of the reasons Evangelical Christians became so influential in politics is because they felt excluded in academia. The charge of "political correctness" enabled the Right to marginalize the Left entirely (which, ironically, led to the Right becoming more "politically correct" than the Left). There is no shared space for discussion where each person can be assured he will be heard and respected, even if his views aren't persuasive to the rest.