Human beings join tribes. This instinct is biological. Tribes assume moral superiority over and seek to dominate other tribes. Winning is primary. The price of victory is secondary. These battles produce strong emotions that distort reality.
When tribes join with other tribes into super-tribes, a threat to one tribe is a threat to every tribe. Life becomes more dangerous and irrational. Republicans and Democrats are super-tribes. They focus on winning the next election.
The development of these electoral super-tribes has undermined the ability of legislators to compromise, which is the heart of democracy. Legislators must compromise to address difficult problems, but increased polarization has made it more difficult. Tribalism is pulling the country ever deeper into a downward spiral of bitter gridlock.
Compromise is not always timely. Militant activism can help bring attention to pressing issues and build pressure for stronger improvements. But outside the electoral arena, on the left and the right, doctrinaire, victory-centric tribes have also formed super-tribes. They demonize opponents, resist all compromise, and disregard the consequences of their actions. The result is profound fragmentation.
The time has come for everyone to step back and engage in critical self-evaluation. Learning to overcome arrogant, hyper-competitive, domineering tribalism is essential in order to unite and transform this nation into a compassionate community.
Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity by Lilliana Mason analyzes Republicans and Democrats. Her book applies to other tribes as well.
A single vote can now indicate a person’s partisan preference as well as his or her religion, race, ethnicity, gender, neighborhood, and favorite grocery store. This is no longer a single social identity. Partisanship can now be thought of as a mega-identity.
Mason calls this dynamic “social polarization.” The convergence of multiple identities into one mega-identity leads to greater stereotyping, prejudice, and emotional volatility — and makes us “increasingly blind to our commonalities.”