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What Is the Tribe of the Anti-Tribalists?

Near the end of a much-discussed podcast in May entitled Identity & Honesty, Sam Harris and Ezra Klein have the following telling exchange:

Ezra Klein: You have that bewildering experience because you donʼt realize when you keep saying that everybody else is thinking tribally, but youʼre not, that that is our disagreement.

Sam Harris: Well, no, because I know Iʼm not thinking tribally—

Ezra Klein: Well, that is our disagreement.….Right at the beginning of all this with Murray you said you look at Murray and you see what happens to you. You were completely straightforward about that, that you look at what happens to him and you see what happens to you.

Sam Harris: Itʼs not tribalism. This is an experience of talking about ideas in public.

Ezra Klein: We all have a lot of different identities weʼre part of all times. I do, too. I have all kinds of identities that you can call forward. All of them can bias me simultaneously, and the questions, of course, are which dominate and how am I able to counterbalance them through my process of information gathering and adjudication of that information. I think that your core identity in this is as someone who feels you get treated unfairly by politically correct mobs.

Here, in this standoff, we can see the alternative universes of the tribalist and the anti-tribalist. Klein wants to play identity politics—he wants to get Harris to admit that he is part of a tribe too. Harris does not want to play the game of identity politics—he wants Klein to agree to approach social issues from a standpoint that is independent of identity. He wants Klein to argue from a neutral perspective—from something that is like what philosopher Thomas Nagel calls “the view from nowhere.” Klein denies that such a stance exists and thinks this is just a way for Harris to avoid revealing the biased identity from which he speaks—his tribal perspective. Harris clearly sees himself as seeking common ground, but it does not seem that way to Klein.

I approach this exchange with a strong preference for Sam Harris’s stance. I think a rational, empirical, universalist approach to argument is the best perspective to adopt when discussing social issues. I wish the tribalists would not frame issues with the perspective and interests of their own tribes as their central focus. So what is an anti-tribalist to do when faced with a tribalist who refuses to argue in any other manner? I cannot add anything original to the long list of arguments that anti-tribalists have made in attempts to get tribalists to abandon their approach. The advantages of scientific, rational thinking on social issues have been argued by others, and convincingly, in my view. The Harris/Klein exchange shows that what results from these attempts, however, is the mutual incomprehension that occurs when a decoupler meets a contextualizer (see Falkovich in Quillette).

I wish to try a different approach here. Rather than create another argument in favor of anti-tribalism, I hope to prod tribalists to think a bit more about what might happen if the anti-tribalists ever capitulated. What would happen to the political prospects of advocates of identity politics if the anti-tribalists were ever to throw in the towel and agree to play the identity politics game? Considering some of the sobering political implications of tribalism might do more to loosen its grip on the tribalists than would more anti-tribalist rebuttals.

“OK, You Win”: The Anti-Tribalist Picks a Tribe

In the Harris/Klein exchange, Klein is the advocate of identity stances (AIS), and Harris is the opponent of identity stances (OIS). What if, instead of presenting the umpteenth (usually unsuccessful) argument against tribalism, the OIS reversed course and said: “OK, I’ll do it. I’ll explicitly adopt an identity perspective. I’ll name my tribe and argue from its perspective. My tribe is: the citizens of America for whom their identity as a citizen is more important than any identity that derives from demographic categories (race, sex, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, SES, etc.). I will call this tribe: Citizen American, or C-Amer for short.”

Many of the arguments that advocates of scientific rationalism wish to make for their approach to social issues would suffer little distortion if made instead from an admitted C-Amer perspective—a perspective where the focus is on the individual (citizen) identifying at the national level (American). This last assertion may play out differently (and be more or less easy to implement) from different places along the ideological spectrum. It will certainly be true that a Republican is more likely to be in a position to easily adopt a C-Amer identity if forced to play the identity politics game by an AIS (see my earlier essay in Quillette). But in addition to many Independents, there might be Democrats as well who could easily adopt the C-Amer stance. For example, Bernie Sanders’s campaign was less focussed on identity than was Hillary Clinton’s, and that may well be true for many of his supporters. It is likely that, rather than identity politics, many of his supporters were attracted to a more universal message of economic justice for American citizens. Sanders himself has expressed concern about the possibility of immigration and globalization depressing American wages. He was less of a globalist than Clinton, and Sanders only belatedly embraced group identity politics when it became clear that that was a necessary strategy in a Democratic primary. Thus, among Sanders supporters are many who, if forced to play the identity politics game, could comfortably declare C-Amer.

The Democratic party may contain many other subgroups whose worldviews are not far from C-Amer. Certainly many Democratic intellectuals such as Mark Lilla in his book The Once and Future Liberal (2017) have gone public with trenchant criticisms of identity politics. They must represent a subgroup of Democratic voters who are tired of the identity game and would prefer not to play it but, if forced, would find C-Amer a not uncomfortable stance. They remain Democrats in order to support a variety of specific issues (abortion, gun control, etc.), so their revealed voting behavior may conceal their opposition to identity politics.

Additionally, the now defunct Daniel Patrick Moynihan/Scoop Jackson wing of the party shows that there was once a substantial C-Amer representation among Democrats. Although this wing is now diminished in terms of formal party officeholders, there must be many Democratic voters who would express the C-Amer identity of this wing if forced to choose an identity stance. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, many Independent voters would already be voting more consistently for Democrats if not for their intense dislike of identity politics. Attempts to flush out their identity, as Klein does with Harris—attempts to force them to play the identity game—may send large numbers of Independents to C-Amer (perhaps even more so after Donald Trump leaves the scene).

Bringing in the case of Independent voters reveals the electoral danger of the game that Klein is playing with Harris—the game of forcing a person to declare their identity bias so that it can be discounted or privileged according to the rules of intersectional doctrine. Forcing previously non-identifying Americans into a game they didn’t want and having large numbers of them (Republicans, Sanders voters, identity politics critics, Jackson/Moynihan Democrats, Independent voters) choose the C-Amer identity might not be the best outcome for the Democrats. This large (empowered) group of C-Amers might decide that they will not have their opinions devalued according to the group calculus of identity politics. And here is a key point that the AIS who is insisting on this game often forgets:

The Identity Left May be Able to Dictate the Game, But They Can’t Dictate How the Other Side Plays

Here, I am glossing the next step in my thought experiment. The first step was illustrated by the Harris/Klein podcast transcript (AIS to OIS: “You have an identity bias, you just won’t admit it”). My imaginary step 2 was, OIS to AIS: “OK, you’ve forced me to play. My identity is C-Amer.” I am conjecturing here about the third step, AIS to OIS: “That is not a valid identity.” In short, we are at the point in the AIS/OIS game where the AIS objects that C-Amer is not a valid group in the identity politics game; that it is not a demographic category or even a set of conjoined demographic categories like high-SES, educated, white male intellectual (the kind of identity that one gets the feeling Klein wants Harris to choose).

This objection is unfounded. What the identity-politics Left has failed to appreciate is that they don’t have the right to assign an identity to their opponents. Yes, like Klein, an AIS can refuse to allow an OIS to deny an identity perspective—and then refuse to participate if the OIS does not declare one. An AIS is free to say that an OIS must declare an identity bias. But the AIS does not get to assign that identity bias. Open-mindedness on the part of an OIS who agrees to speak from an identity perspective does not necessitate letting the AIS dictate an identity perspective for the OIS. Many AISs act as if they have that right, thus revealing the authoritarian edge concealed behind the social justice façade.

Take, for example, Jake, who is a 12 year-old who wants to start up a game of basketball. His friend Rick wants to organize a game of football. Rick is more adamant, so Jake gives in and agrees to organize a game of football. They are the captains of their respective sides, choose up their teams, and get ready to play. But when the game starts, Rick does not get to call the plays for Jake’s team. Jake has agreed to play Rick’s sport, but Rick does not get to dictate how Jake’s team operates once the game begins. The AIS who wants to assign the identities of others is acting like Rick—if Rick demanded to call the plays of the opposing team who had reluctantly agreed to play his sport in the first place.

An attempt to prescribe the identities of others is behind the campaign to label as ‘white privilege,’ ‘white supremacy,’ and ‘white nationalism’ any argument and person who remotely challenges the shibboleths of left-wing identity politics. This is transparently an attempt to discredit any stances that level criticisms of progressive policies or movements. Any conceptual identities outside of the intersectional victim categories of the Left will be labelled ‘white’ and thus associated with ‘white supremacy.’ The arguments of this stance will therefore not have to be addressed because they will be tainted from the beginning.

The C-Amer stance is a threat to this strategy because it is an open identity group defined by ideas rather than by demographics.1 It is open to all races, sexes, religions, genders, ethnicities, etc. And unlike the bullying logic of identity politics, you can freely choose it or reject it. C-Amer can’t claim your membership unless you agree to join. In progressive politics, you are classified as part of a traditional victim group just by being born with a certain demographic profile. Identity politics does not care that you didn’t sign up to be part of an identity category based on victimhood. Jamil Jivani in Quillette objects to the pre-prescribed opinions for minorities in the left-wing political nexus: “New voices from these communities that have entered the conversation in recent years—including me—have a role already prescribed for them in Kleinʼs boxed-in take on identity politics” and argues that it is Harris who honors the individuality of minorities by “implicitly fighting for the right of others ‘who do not look like’ him to be treated as individuals, not ambassadors from a group.”

It is doubtful that the one in four Hispanics or the one in four Asians who voted for Donald Trump want progressive advocates to be speaking for them, yet the AIS blithely articulates attitudes for entire demographic categories without consulting the individuals within them. The AIS wants to assign you to a tribe and then dictate that the beliefs of the entire tribe are uniform. C-Amer does not do this.

As an open, freely-chosen stance not tied to demographics (other than citizenship, resident status, or prospective citizenship) C-Amer can be honestly and firmly employed against identity politics and against AIS attempts to taint opponents with baseless charges of racial animus. By ‘firmly,’ I mean that C-Amer advocates can adamantly and honestly repudiate the claim that C-Amer is a proxy for a demographic category (be it race, sex, income, etc). Of course it will be correlated with demographics in a host of ways, but the correlations do not define it.

The Mathematics of Identity: Why There Will Always be an Association with Majority Status in Any Anti-Tribal Group (Until Identity Politics is Defeated)

The fallacy of the charge that opposition to identity politics is fuelled by white nationalism results from a failure to understand the math that follows from identity politics already being in place in the Democratic party. It is necessarily the case that any opposing identity will have an association with non-minority status (whiteness, in our culture) until identity politics is defeated. But this necessary association is often unrecognized, and instead the correlation is often used to sow suspicions of racism against any opposing perspective (via the accusingly delivered phrase “but it’s associated with whiteness!”).

Let’s consider a thought experiment in order to see that it is redundant and banal to say that some characteristic is “associated with whiteness” when it is guaranteed to be correlated once minorities cluster. The thought experiment is deliberately and knowingly stripped of context and history so that we can focus on the logic of the numbers in play. Imagine a population of 100 minority individuals and a majority of 900 individuals. Imagine that there existed a perspective (or a stance, or a political party, or a worldview, or an ideology—it doesn’t matter which), let’s call it A, and that 450 majority individuals and 90 minority individuals were originally attracted to it (a total of 540). A total of 460 people (450 majority and 10 minority) were not attracted originally to perspective/party/ideology A.

Now imagine that an alternative perspective/party/worldview, call it B, comes along and attracts the remaining 460 people (the other 460 are candidates for B, because if A had been optimal for them, they would already be part of it). The situation would look like this:

The majority doesn’t cluster. It is equally attracted to perspective A and perspective B. The minority group in this population does cluster. As a result of that clustering, demographic group (majority vs minority status) is correlated with perspective. In fact, there is a statistic—the phi coefficient—that measures the degree of association in a 2 x 2 table like this. The degree of association between demographic group and perspective here is .241, which sounds, and is, moderate to low considering that the coefficient runs from -1.0 to +1.0. The value of the phi coefficient sounds less startling than saying that 97.8 percent of perspective B individuals are in the majority population (450 out of 460), which is also true. But then again, the 97.8 percent itself sounds less startling when taken in the context of the fact that fully 83.3 percent of perspective A individuals are also in the majority group (450 out of 540). In this example, perspective B is majority dominated not because the majority uniformly takes a particular stance, but because minorities are pretty monolithic in their perspective choice.2

The only way that perspective B would not be correlated with demographic status is if, when given the choice, only 100 of the 460 opted for perspective B (90 majority and 10 minority individuals) and the remaining 360 decided that they really did like perspective A better. Then we would have:

…and the phi coefficient would become zero (indicating no association between perspective and majority/minority status). Majority status would no longer be associated with perspective B. But this is achieved by the majority becoming as monolithic in perspective choice as the minority is. One way for opponents of Democrats to avoid the charge of “being associated with whiteness” is for most of the opponents to become Democrats! (Might there be a tactic at work here?) Finally, another way for the phi coefficient to be zero is for 40 individuals in the minority in Example #1 to defect from perspective A to perspective B.

The point of this abstract exercise is to see that, whatever perspective arises in opposition to perspective A, it will be associated with majority status. In the context of identity politics, it means that whatever philosophy arises in opposition to identity politics, it is going to be “associated with whiteness!” because the lopsided baseline was already in existence.

We now have the fourth step in the imaginary confrontation between the AIS and OIS with which we began:

  1. AIS: “You’re in a tribe too.”
    OIS: “No, I’m not.”
  2. AIS: “Yes, you are. You speak from some perspective bias.”
    OIS: “OK, I am in a tribe. I’m in the C-Amer tribe.”
  3. AIS: “That’s not a valid tribe.”
    OIS: “You don’t get to assign everyone else’s identity.”
  4. AIS: “OK, you’re a C-Amer. But it’s disproportionately non-minority. Your tribe represents white supremacy.”

The OIS response to this fourth step is to point out that white is not a defining feature of C-Amer and it is only incidentally correlated with C-Amer because identity politics had already started the game with lopsided percentages.3 The statistical exercise of this section was to diffuse the invalid racism charge from AIS and turn one’s response from the invalid, unthoughtful “Oh my gosh, it’s correlated with whiteness!” into “Of course its correlated with whiteness, but whiteness has nothing to do with it.”4

The Perils of C-Amer for the Democratic Electoral Strategy

As Mark Lilla’s book amply demonstrates, the people playing the identity politics game are playing a different game to those in the Democratic party who are trying to win elections. No doubt the AIS thinks they are helping the Democrats electorally by flushing out groups like white nationalists—by forcing them to play the identity politics game (as if they weren’t already). Since white nationalists are pretty uniformly loathed and more easily associated with the Republicans, the idea here is that this kind of identity-outing helps electorally. But identity politics has the potential to flush out identities that are not so electorally helpful to Democrats. The argument here is that C-Amer is one of them.

The C-Amer identity is open ended. It could in theory be chosen by all American citizens and prospective citizens, unlike the demographic categories that identity politics uses to slice and dice the electorate. Unlike C-Amer, Democratic identity politics seals off others when it separates out victim groups, implicitly (and often explicitly) labelling the complement of the group—white, or men—as oppressors.5 This is not a wise electoral strategy when the complement category is half the electorate (men) or more (white). And, on top of that, there is the issue discussed above—the tendency to treat all members of the designated victim groups as if they thought alike. As Jamil Jivani puts it, “The phenomenon can be anti-democratic in its effect, because it enables the most vocal members of an identity group—or those, such as Klein, who claim to be channeling a single viewpoint attributed to that identity group—to speak for others without democratic accountability.”

This is presumptuous even when the designated victim group votes 90 percent Democratic, as in the case of African-Americans. It is downright insulting when the group splits closer to 66-33 percent Democratic, as do Asians and Hispanics. And it is insulting not just to the one in three who do not agree with the AIS dictating their identity to them, but it is potentially uncomfortable for even the majority if they are conscious of the views of the dissenters. The AIS may have gotten my identity exactly right, the majority might think, but it still chafes when he acts as if he has the right to assign it.

The illogic of victim identity categories reaches the lunatic level when applied to a category such as women, where the split is as close as 55-45 percent. It is ludicrous to speak of a category that splits 55/45 as if there is uniformity within it. But this was done prominently during the 2012 campaign when the Democrats accused the Republicans of waging a “War on Women.”

The variability and fissures within the women’s vote are predictably as vast as one would expect in a demographic category that large. As an example of these fissures, consider that although minority women voted strongly for Clinton (82 percent to 14 percent), white women favoured Trump over Clinton by a clear margin (52 percent to 43 percent), and white married women displayed a margin for Trump (roughly 60/40) that is similar to the split of Hispanics for Clinton, one of the traditional victim groups of identity politics. Probably many of these women preferred C-Amer (even without the name) because they didn’t see the War on Women that the Democrats were selling as a defining feature of the country. Instead, they identified as free and equal citizens, something closer to C-Amer. They saw, not an enemy within (evil men conducting a war on women), but a flexible and tolerant nation working hard to remedy legal and cultural flaws.

An AIS flushing out women who identify as C-Amer will reveal that the Democratic strategy of claiming that all rational women vote for them is an aggressive shaming tactic. Almost half of all women reject this view now. There could even be more if a labelled, freely-chosen identity like C-Amer were available to them. Women are the case where the strategy of identity politics is most starkly revealed: AIS wants to assign you a tribe and then uniformly dictate the beliefs of that tribe. C-Amer does not do this.

Scientific Thinking Versus the Identity Approach to Knowledge

The lure of identity politics is that in exchange for following the group victim narrative, you get a special privilege—the privilege of a superior position in any discussion that concerns your assigned group. Mark Lilla points out that the phrase “speaking as an X” is really a claim of privileged position in the debate, one that frames the debate as “the winner of the argument will be whoever has invoked the morally superior identity” (2017, p. 90). The spectre of argument descending to such premodern levels was probably what made Harris so recalcitrant in the exchange with Klein. No doubt Harris was pressing (rightly, in my view) for an argument where no one claims special privilege. Harris wants both parties to take the stance “speaking as a rational human being,” so that their arguments can be evaluated on their merits without invoking special scoring points for characteristics over which we have no control (race, sex, etc.).

But in the face of AIS resistance to declaring a mutually neutral stance—in the face of being forced by an AIS to play the identity politics game—the C-Amer stance is one of the best places for people (like myself) who share Harris’s proclivities. C-Amer does claim some privilege in the identity politics game, but very, very much less than others are claiming. It is much closer to the scientific rationalist ‘view from nowhere’ that Harris is defending on the podcast. And it shuts no-one out from claiming it as their own stance, unlike identity politics, which does. In normal identity politics, a man can’t claim the ‘speaking as a woman’ privilege. But, for purposes of argument, almost anyone can adopt the C-Amer perspective. That is, a non-C-Amer could say, “well you have no special right to C-Amer, I can choose it too and claim the privileges of its framework.” Unlike the monolithic stance of a traditional player in the identity politics game, the C-Amer can show the expansiveness and inclusiveness of the perspective by inviting an opponent to do just that and fairly allowing him/her to argue from that position.

In the 1970s, when I started teaching critical thinking and scientific thinking in a psychology department, it was the epitome of the professor’s role to teach students to think like Harris wants Klein to think—to teach students the counter-intuitive superiority of ‘the view from nowhere’ implicit in the scientific worldview and the pitfalls of relying on ‘lived experience’ to adjudicate knowledge claims. My students and I discussed how, in science, the truth of a knowledge claim is not determined by the strength of belief of the individual putting forth the claim. In my courses, we discussed the problematic nature of adjudicating truth claims by other means; for example, though intuition, authority, or personal experience (as we called it then). The problem with all non-empirically-based systems of belief is that they have no mechanism for deciding among conflicting claims. When everyone’s claim is based on lived experience, but the claims conflict, how do we decide whose lived experience is reflecting the truth? History shows that the result of such conflicts is usually a power struggle.

Rather than relying on personalized knowledge, science makes knowledge claims public so that conflicting ideas can be tested in a way that is acceptable to all disputants. Science puts observation in place of a power struggle. Truly scientific claims are in the public realm, where they can be criticized, tested, improved, or perhaps rejected. This allows a selection among theories to take place by peaceful mechanisms that we all agree on in advance, and it is why science has been a major humanizing force in human history.

In the course of all these discussions, as a voluble new instructor back in the 1970s, trying to direct my students’ attention to the importance of the material, I’m sure that, gesticulating, I exclaimed, “Science doesn’t care about your personal experiences, it doesn’t care about your feelings!” It got the students’ attention. Now, I’m sure that a student would hear that I was denying the meaning of their personal experiences and say that they had been triggered. It would probably lead to a visit from the Bias Response Team and I would be writing memos back to the Dean explaining myself, rather than writing this essay or doing my research.

Ironically, in the 1970s, it was seen as politically progressive to move students from personalized worldviews to scientific worldviews—to move students from egocentric perspectives to ‘the view from nowhere.’ The warning that Harris gives Klein in the podcast (at 2:10:58)—“I am just saying that we are going to be ambushed by data that will have a political charge and we have to be in a position to talk about it without demonizing people”—was taken to heart back then. The larger assumption was that revealing the objective truth about the human condition (biologically and psychologically) would aid in constructing a just society, not impede it. This mindset has been lost in the modern university.

A robust defence of the scientific adjudication of truth claims is no longer the default—no longer the accepted norm—on university campuses, at least as exemplified in the official policies coming from the university administration and in the politically-correct atmosphere in which professors in the social sciences and humanities must now work (making groups like Heterodox Academy necessary). The new normal is what Harris experienced with Klein. Universities are as likely now to side with Klein. The extensive diversity/inclusion administrative infrastructure is devoted to the AIS approach, not to advancing a scientific worldview.

Identity Politics is Bad—Not Just Bad for the Democrats

As this personal history reveals, I approach identity politics from the academic side of things—not from that of a political theorist or a party operative. As a university professor and scientist, I approach identity politics slightly differently than did Lilla—also a professor—in his book. He is quite clear that he thinks identity politics is impeding the Democratic party (2016 being a salient case in point) and that for practical electoral reasons it should be de-emphasized. He (attractively) suggests (pp. 120-121) that Democrats appeal more to citizenship when addressing the electorate. All of this sounds so similar to C-Amer, that I should clarify some differences.

C-Amer was not concocted as a strategy to help the Democrats. It was inspired by the Harris/Klein exchange and the associated thought experiment of what an OIS might do in an OIS/AIS standoff. C-Amer is a strategy that could be used against a right-wing identitarian as well, with all the logic that I have discussed following through in exactly the same manner. Nothing in its use depends on the detail that Klein and Harris are both left-leaning. A right-wing AIS likewise does not get to assign an identity to a right-leaning OIS.

C-Amer was not invented as a ‘front’ for the identity politics of the Left. It was not intended to serve as a public relations ploy for Democrats in elections—one that would allow identity politics to simply carry on in the background, veiled from the public eye. I come to bury identity politics, not to give it a lifeline. C-Amer is not meant to conceal the agendas of identity politics, but to open up the space of discourse from the stifling effects of AIS intransigence and to remove the “play our game or else—we’re the only game in town” advantage that identity politics enjoys.

I am not saying that Lilla intends to conceal identity politics with his citizenship emphasis, but at times he comes close, as when he says that “it is a social fact that many Americans today think of themselves in terms of identity groups, but there is no reason they cannot simultaneously think of themselves as political citizens like everyone else” (p. 121). Whoa, there. That sounds like some people get two stances to argue from—or two sets of influences in politics—and others get only one. It sounds like we are right back at the logic of Democratic politics again, where some get their full weight as citizens like everyone else, but then get some extra weight because of the group they are in. That approach is going to take us right back to the AIS/OIS impasse again.6 In an honest use of the C-Amer stance, you don’t get to weigh in as a full and equal American citizen and then weigh in again as a member of a group—that would be like getting two votes. C-Amer is not a tool for the Democrats to use to win elections without having to give up identity politics. It is a tool for breaking the roadblock that AISs throw in front of rational discussion.

The proportion of politically affiliated citizens (Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Independents) who might choose C-Amer as a stance is unknown. Its electoral consequences could go either way in my view. If they used it honestly (that is, not to conceal other agendas), perhaps the Democrats could employ C-Amer to pull back from identity politics and form a natural alliance with the many Independents who abhor victim-based identity politics but are already close to C-Amer in perspective. Alternatively, perhaps post-Trump, the Republicans will realize the advantages of C-Amer and use it honestly—that is, truly inclusively (using it dishonestly will, I would hope, defeat them just as identity politics has impeded the Democrats). Like the converse coalition, a coalition of Independent C-Amer with an honest Republican version would be electorally formidable.

At the very least, I would caution Democrats against thinking that all AIS identity-outing will be helpful to them politically. That incorrect default comes from the authoritarian assumption that AIS have the power (and the right) to stipulate the identities of all others, including their opponents. Left-wing dominance of cultural institutions such as the media, universities, and Hollywood might have encouraged this aggressive assumption.

But identity-outing could backfire on the Democrats. If the Democrats persist in the identity politics game, a C-Amer coalition arrayed against them could be a formidable opponent. Post-Trump, C-Amer may have particular use as a cohesion tool for regrouping Republicans. It is already probably a major (but unnamed) framework among Independents. Old school economic liberals and union members who have decried the dominance of identity politics in their party may find it congenial. C-Amer also remains an open identification for all minorities who do not see their interests advanced by being in an ethnic silo. Finally, many young men may one day become tired of their designated role as allies in the intersectional game—a role confined to confessing their privilege and getting out of the way to give others the platform. C-Amer becomes a more dignified identity for them than their current role in an identity-based Democratic Party.

Salena Zito and Brad Todd open their book on the 2016 election (The Great Revolt, 2018) with the story of Bonnie Smith, a bakery owner in Ashtabula County, Ohio. Bonnie’s parents were Democrats, and so were she and her husband. Bonnie had voted for Democrats all her life and had worked in the Democratic sheriff’s office. Local officials in her county had been Democratic as long as anyone could remember. In the 2016 Ohio primary, Bonnie had chosen Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton. But in the general election, both Bonnie and her husband voted for Trump. Bonnie explained that she felt that she had to take a stand “for my country” (p. 4). I would bet, that if you forced Bonnie to choose an identity, it would be C-Amer, if she were aware that such an identity existed. I agree with Zito and Todd, regarding people like Bonnie, that “if their political behavior in 2016 becomes an affiliation and not a dalliance, they have the potential to realign the American political landscape” (p. 3). And if people like Bonnie are forced into an identity stance (as the AIS seems to want) this could be really bad for the Democrats.

I suspect that many Democratic operatives know this, but are taking the easy way out. The easy way out is to let their base carry on with identity politics and hope that the campaign to demonize other identity stances with the epithets ‘racist’ and ‘xenophobe’ can impede valid counter-identities such as C-Amer. But this may be only delaying the inevitable. Someone will eventually play the C-Amer card. In fact, the increasingly baseless claims of ubiquitous racism and xenophobia by progressives could make this happen sooner rather than later (calling people like Bonnie ‘deplorables’ will definitely make it sooner!). The demonization campaign of the AIS is unbecoming of Democrats, in any case. We should reject the campaign to try to shame people away from critiquing a politics of identity based largely on demographic categories rather than conscious choice.

For months, political theorists have been puzzling over the 206 counties in the United States that voted for Obama twice and then for Trump in 2016. That otherwise strange phenomenon might have been signalling the emergence of C-Amer as a political identity. If so, the phenomenon broke in favor of the Republicans this time, but this is not a guaranteed outcome. C-Amer as a political identity could aid the Democrats if it forces them to abandon the types of victim-group politics that reduce support for more universalistic Democratic policies. On the other hand, it could just as well become a cohesive identity for a post-Trump Republican party. The tribalist Democrats need to think hard about the consequences of forcing the entire citizenry into explicit identity stances. Those consequences could be more unpredictable than the Left now seems to think, focussed—as it is now—on what it assumes are inevitable demographic changes in its favor.

In short, if Klein refuses Harris’s universalism, he may succeed in forcing a lot more people to play the identity politics game. But they may decide not to play it the way he wants them to play—by labeling themselves white nationalists (and thus marginalizing themselves). Instead, they might label themselves C-Amer and gain allies from Harris-like universalists as well as from ethnic group members who want to be thought of more as Americans first. The diversity and size of a Citizen-American identity could well have unpredictable electoral consequences.

Featured Pic by Andy Ngo.

 

Keith E. Stanovich is a professor emeritus of applied psychology and human development at the University of Toronto. His latest book is The Rationality Quotient.

Footnotes:

1 There are many eloquent commentaries relevant to the C-Amer perspective, writings by: Richard Rorty, Shelby Steele, David Brooks, Peggy Noonan, Jason Riley, J. D. Vance, Yuval Levin, Joan Williams, Amy Chua, Jonathan Haidt, Victor Davis Hanson, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Richard Rodriguez, Greg Lukianoff, John McWhorter, and many others including, of course, Lilla’s own excellent volume.

2 I am deliberately keeping the example abstract by ignoring the history of the original partitioning of minority voters.

3 When I imply that identity politics caused the original partitioning, I am using here Lilla’s (2017, pp. 59-64) emphasis on the part of the backstory that begins in the 1960s and for similar reasons.

4 We saw an example almost ten years ago now, when the media breathlessly announced that the new Tea Party movement was “almost entirely white!” The rest of the nation reacted with a yawn, because it seemed to recognize the mathematical necessity of this fact more than the media did.

5 In fairness, the AIS counters this criticism by defining the status of so-called “intersectional ally”. We can assume that this identity of humble supplicant whose prime concern is to let others speak will not be chosen by many.

6 And it will surely encourage demands for: “everyone else to have a group too, along with citizenship”. Lilla’s description of his citizenship position here is really encouraging what we don’t want: publicly expressed allegiance to categories like white, or male, or straight.

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173 Comments

  1. I had a completely different reading of the debate than you. I do think that Ezra was right when he said that Sam has his own tribe. Sam seems to like seeing himself as part of the Enlightened group. He often acts as if he’s some kind of prophet. Always, attempting to make people understand *his* opinion. Whenever people don’t buy it, he gets fairly defensive.

    BTW, Ezra calling out Sam on being part of an identity group was less about tribalism and more about showing Sam that he isn’t above everybody as he seems to believe.

    • Rob says

      Being opinionated or arrogant has nothing to do with tribalism. Tribalism is when you strongly identify with a group, when you refrain from criticizing or challenging members of that group, and when you have an identifiable group that you vilify. Who is this identifiable group of people who Harris never criticizes?

        • andrea2018 says

          @Reading Nomad

          maybe atheists dont see themselves as a group as they see atheism as just common sense, the product of individual rational thought. but there is plenty of groupthink amongst atheists these days.

        • William L says

          Except Sam has always been particularly vocal in rejecting the label “atheist” as political grouping. Listen to this speech, and then try and tell me he is a tribal atheist:

          • Identity politics is [to me anyway] a very poorly defined term. This Wikipedia definition by itself isn’t problematic:

            “Identity politics are political positions based on the interests and perspectives of social groups with which people identify.”

            Were Black civil rights activists or early feminists or gay rights activists when homosexuality was banned political based on identity? Well yes. Wrong? No.

            It seems ID only gets a bad name, rightly, by being confined to one particular identity and staying there. And like many terminologies it meaning has shifted and this has become the sole [operating] definition of the word.

      • John Murray says

        The anti-Trump group. Prior to Trump I would have agreed with you but Sam has been such an impassioned anti-Trumpist for so long that he now finds it impossible to be anti anyone who is anti Trump unless they’re deranged to the point of advocating violence.

      • Gilded says

        Like when Harris refused to criticize Charles Murray’s pseudoscience about IQ after Ezra provided statements, studies, and arguments from four IQ researchers that contradicted Harris?

    • Paolo says

      I think you have misunderstood Klein’s claim. He was not calling out Harris because of his temper, attitude, character, persona. He tried to be sly and evoke Sam’s demographic identities, throughout the podcast (though in the passage above he mutters something about an identity of being afraid of mobs, whatever that means).

    • peanut gallery says

      That was my read as well. Even Anti-Tribalism could be a tribe. And it’s all on a spectrum. We all have our biases (for good or ill) and Harris is no exception. Perhaps the context of the full exchange is required.

  2. Steve Sailer says

    Here’s a 2015 exchange between Ezra Klein and Bernie Sanders that is highly relevant:

    Ezra Klein
    You said being a democratic socialist means a more international view. I think if you take global poverty that seriously, it leads you to conclusions that in the US are considered out of political bounds. Things like sharply raising the level of immigration we permit, even up to a level of open borders. About sharply increasing …

    Bernie Sanders
    Open borders? No, that’s a Koch brothers proposal.

    Ezra Klein
    Really?

    Bernie Sanders
    Of course. That’s a right-wing proposal, which says essentially there is no United States. …

    Ezra Klein
    But it would make …

    Bernie Sanders
    Excuse me …

    Ezra Klein
    It would make a lot of global poor richer, wouldn’t it?

    Bernie Sanders
    It would make everybody in America poorer —you’re doing away with the concept of a nation state, and I don’t think there’s any country in the world that believes in that. If you believe in a nation state or in a country called the United States or UK or Denmark or any other country, you have an obligation in my view to do everything we can to help poor people. What right-wing people in this country would love is an open-border policy. Bring in all kinds of people, work for $2 or $3 an hour, that would be great for them. I don’t believe in that. I think we have to raise wages in this country, I think we have to do everything we can to create millions of jobs.

    You know what youth unemployment is in the United States of America today? If you’re a white high school graduate, it’s 33 percent, Hispanic 36 percent, African American 51 percent. You think we should open the borders and bring in a lot of low-wage workers, or do you think maybe we should try to get jobs for those kids?

    I think from a moral responsibility we’ve got to work with the rest of the industrialized world to address the problems of international poverty, but you don’t do that by making people in this country even poorer.

    Ezra Klein
    Then what are the responsibilities that we have? Someone who is poor by US standards is quite well off by, say, Malaysian standards, so if the calculation goes so easily to the benefit of the person in the US, how do we think about that responsibility?

    We have a nation-state structure. I agree on that. But philosophically, the question is how do you weight it? How do you think about what the foreign aid budget should be? How do you think about poverty abroad?

    Bernie Sanders
    I do weigh it. As a United States senator in Vermont, my first obligation is to make certain kids in my state and kids all over this country have the ability to go to college, which is why I am supporting tuition-free public colleges and universities.

    https://www.vox.com/2015/7/28/9014491/bernie-sanders-vox-conversation

    • Thanks for this. It gives a better perspective of what Ezra is all about. But for now, I still stand by my opinion about Sam. He’s come across as self-absorbed.

    • D.B. Cooper says

      I read the Klein/Sanders article when it was originally published (I guess) in 2015, and I can remember thinking, then, the same or something very similar to what I’m thinking now: what would be the catalyst behind someone knowingly giving preference to his/her’s outgroup (the “other”) at the expense of his/her’s ingroup? This is counter intuitive from an evolutionary perspective, no?

      It would be one thing if Klein were a one-off, but we know the type of thinking he exhibits – for outgroup preference – is diffuse throughout large segments of society, and I’ve yet to hear an explanation (worth repeating) for why this “type of thinking” would continue to be selected for.

      • IKR! I think it’s because they believe they’re selfless. They like this image of themselves. They don’t understand that he doesnt make sense.

      • ga gamba says

        what would be the catalyst behind someone knowingly giving preference to his/her’s outgroup (the “other”) at the expense of his/her’s ingroup?

        It’s straight out of postmodernism, though both Freud and Hegel also covered it. Both Derrida and Jacques Lacan wrote much about the Other. Derrida’s two-step deconstructionist approach covers the Self and the Other; one has an obligation to put aside the Self to prefer the Other. You have to cease privileging the Self. Lacanian psychoanalysis features the Other prominently. He has both a little other (a) and a big Other (A) – I recall he even has a castrated or circumcised other, which I can’t represent here with the symbol he assigned it. Academics then take this and apply it to their own disciplines.

        Amongst the social justicey types the other is whoever is marginalsed, so that’s women, the people of the colours, queers, etc. If you can claim other status then you have carte blanch to get away with all kinds of objectionable and even repellent behaviour. It’s the ultimate Get of Jail Free card. To demonstrate “good allyship”, which I presume Klein is performing, one must be fixated on defending and advancing the cause of the other. In this case, and ironically, the other always remains the other, which is a violation of Derrida’s second step – this doesn’t matter because the adherent always remain at step one.

        • I don’t think academic Postmodernism affects our politics or social fabric as much as you and the “IDW” types think it does. An empathic and determined preference to include the other (or pursuit of mind to transcend the ego for a greater good) is rooted in all sorts of cultural and historical beliefs. From Buddhism to the American project itself. As for D.B Cooper’s comment:

          what would be the catalyst behind someone knowingly giving preference to his/her’s outgroup (the “other”) at the expense of his/her’s ingroup?

          Inclusion and equality of a marginalized group is THE logical (and ethical) stand against small-minded tribalism. Call it enlightened or whatever you want. This holds humanism as its ultimate guiding light, not post modernism, and there’s been all sorts of well documented (mostly modern) examples of this “philosophy’s” successes. Again, the American project being a big one. Almost all the faults that go along with this experiment of inclusion etc.—why it’s often so messy— are a result invevitable backlashes, which is its own messy topic.

      • Intersectionality aims to create a new majority through which the weild power. Sure, it produces a new hierarchy of oppression, but proponents present the victim-first hierarchy as morally-superior to the patriarchy.

        As the intersectionality hierarchy pays Klein’s bills, he’s naturally concluded that his place in that hierarchy is better than what it would be otherwise. And like other less-victimized people in the hierarchy, he can rise in power there only so long as he remembers his place and do long as he uses all power they give him to enforce their will. One misstep and the mob will take him. Thus, he’s trapped, whether or not he knows it consciously.

        • D.B. Cooper says

          @Mike Stop Continues

          The authoritarians always find one another.

      • @ Cooper

        It’s the conceit of leftists that out of their cultural sophistication and unyielding compassion for the oppressed that they can claim to adhere to an ethic of selflessness. But if you dig a little deeper you will find that this supposed surrender of self to the other is based on an othering of all those boorish, bible thumping rednecks who are perceived as incapable of the infinite toleration they seem to see in themselves, though of course not without irony.

        This type of thinking is so popular because the adherents can claim to be tolerant and open minded all the while dissembling a deeper commitment to mindless orthodoxy and in-group/our-group dynamics.

      • Softclocks says

        This isn’t obvious?

        Klein’s in-group is not America, but another nation.

      • NickG says

        >I’ve yet to hear an explanation (worth repeating) for why this “type of thinking” would continue to be selected for.<

        It wont, it's suicidal, it will eliminate itself.

        There's a book about this by Douglass Murray – The Strange Death of Europe.

    • C Young says

      What’s interesting here is that Klein (who’s supposed to be a contextualiser) is taking a radically decoupled viewpoint – all humans are the same in the context of the border.

      This is clearly inconsistent with his views about the US.

      It seems that internationalism is incompatible with modern identity politics. No one can claim that an woman of Indian origin is treated worse in the US than in India. There is no country in Africa where an ‘African’-American emigrant would have better rights.

      US claims of social injustice evaporate when the lens is pulled back. No wonder Klein is confused.

    • Ezra Klein’s position is easily understood by reading this influential essay, “I can tolerate anything except the outgroup.”

      Basically, Ezra is in the Blue Tribe. The Red Tribe is C-Amer. Their outgroup is non-American citizens. The Blue Tribe’s outgroup is the Red Tribe. Once you realize this, it all makes sense and becomes consistent. Ezra Klein loves foreigners and is willing to do harm to C-Amer – his tribe’s outgroup – in order to help his ingroup.

      And who wouldn’t harm The Other to help their own tribemates? That’s what tribalism is all about.

      • C Young says

        If that is true he is simply irrational and not a very interesting topic for discussion. Note – I have never heard of this person.

      • @ harlandO

        Thanks for the useful recap and link. Ingroup-outgroup analysis offers a convincing explanation for actions Trudeau and Merkel have taken to functionally erase the borders of their respective countries.

  3. All of this can be easily settled in Sam’s favor by being more precise about what we mean when we call an identity tribal.

    Not all identities are tribal. What makes an identity tribal is when it is based on any number of immutable characteristics. You know you are in a tribe when you end up there through no choice of your own. Political parties are not tribes because people choose them and are not coerced into them by their race, gender, etc.

    Tribal politics are toxic because they are not based on free human choice. The whole point of politics should be to preserve the ability of individuals to make political decisions based on heir conscience and not forced into allegiance with a group based on factors outside their control.

    But you will argue, isn’t being a citizen make you part of a tribe? After all it’s something one is typically born with. No, in America you are given the option to expatriate yourself, which is great mews for all the people out there who hate America.

    • MCA says

      I disagree about immutable characters being required for tribalism – there are plenty of groups formed by voluntary association which exhibit extremely strong in-group preference and outgroup demonization, including religions, political parties (especially the GOP), and even hobbyist groups. If anything, such groups have MORE animosity, because instead of non-membership being based on circumstances of birth, it must be explained by conscious choice and therefore reveal the individual to be irrational or morally defective for choosing the “wrong” group.

      • I disagree that it is analytically useful to lump all identities into the category of tribal. Identities that are freely chosen are the only ones that allow for the possibility of politics to be conducted through reason and deliberation. If your opponent has chosen their identity, it means that you can reason with them in an attempt to persuade them to choose your position. Politics can proceed without violence in this scenario because there is the possibility of deliberation actually making a difference in the political outcome.

        A tribal identity, on the other hand, is immutable and all politics based on it proceeds on the principle of might equals right. There is no such thing as truth or justice in the tribal society.

        Western culture emerged from tribalism with Plato and Aristotle, thinkers who asked the question of justice and who posited a distinctly political sphere of human activity where persuasion and free choice was the guiding principle — NOT immutable characteristics.

        The identitarians want to return our society to a pre Axial age condition, a primitive condition that will doubtless destroy civilization as we know it if permitted to dominate.

    • Just Me says

      Psychological research shows that humans can become tribal over trivial and artificial differences.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minimal_group_paradigm

      But also, while some political identities are chosen through deliberation, many are simply inherited without people giving it much thought. Many people simply adopt whatever political views their parents, family, environment provide them and never question it.

      Most Republicans or Democrats in the US are simply going with the flow of what their environment taught them early on. Of course the whole process of registering as one or the other encourages people to pick a tribe and stick to it.

      • @just me

        The psychological research does not make the distinction I am making between tribal and non-tribal identities and their connection to political possibilities. Hence it does not make sense to use their findings as a matter of comparison for what I am claiming.

        • Just Me says

          The research shows it doesn’t matter what the foundation for grouping people into “tribes” is, it will happen anyway. You can’t just do away with “tribalism” by fiat, or reason.

          But of course some tribal identities are more consequential in social life than others, e.g. ethnic, cultural, racial, national, npolitical ones.

    • Dan Vesty says

      But what if a person exercizes their free human choice to be part of an identity-based tribe ?

      • Then you have with your free will chosen slavery.

        • Dan Vesty says

          For the record, I am generally sympathetic to the view that the closer people can get to a ‘non-tribal’ identity and by extension, non-tribal way of thinking the better – it just seems like there’s a utopian vulnerability to the idea that completely detached reason, utterly divorced from any taint of shared personal/familial/cultural/ethnic identity is ever actually achievable in reality – and therefore a certain amount of peace has to be made with the fact that people are always going to be vulnerable to ‘tribal’ considerations.And are you sure it strictly follows that someone is more reasonable for having ‘chosen’ their identity rather than merely accepting the one they have apparently been given ? After all, people regularly ‘choose’ identities that, were they to be taken seriously, would fly in the face of all scientific, reasonable consideration (Rachel Dolezal for example).

          • augustine says

            “And are you sure it strictly follows that someone is more reasonable for having ‘chosen’ their identity rather than merely accepting the one they have apparently been given ?”

            A very good question.

            Outside of some metro centers, where have people ever come together as the result of freely choosing their own (non-tribal) identities? Members of literal tribes kill one another savagely, and so do ideology-driven populations. The current piece on this site on the Khmer Rouge is a case in point.

          • @Dan

            I’m not saying that people shouldn’t have or indeed can get by in life without some sense of belonging to various tribes. I’m making an ethical argument for the imperative of privileging national identity when making political decisions or political claims on society. In the political context it should matter more what is good for the country as a whole than what is good for your racial tribe alone

          • augustine says

            @ AA

            “In the political context it should matter more what is good for the country as a whole than what is good for your racial tribe alone”

            This seems like an oversimplification or even a contradiction. These two realms are not necessarily at odds with each other in their aims and needs and many issues are tackled every day in ways that transcend differences of tribe, region, class, etc. Except in cases where one tribe holds a massive majority (in which case your point is essentially moot), countries comprised of different groups generally work out larger problems in spite of their differences at the tribal level. In other words, how can any one tribe, where there are two or more in a country, *avoid* working for the general good?

            In the end we are simultaneously serving a number of masters: self (ego), family, tribe, profession, and so on. Self-interest is unavoidable, so we can only work to limit its hegemony and encourage everyone, regardless of tribe, giving up something for the greater whole. Societies that are more successful in collectively sacrificing in this way have enjoyed relatively greater prosperity.

            Why can’t the dominance of one tribe account for the good of the country as a whole and for that tribe’s interests as well?

  4. Steve Sailer says

    Way back in 2006, I made the case for what I call “citizenism” in my article “Americans First:”

    “If you want to win at American politics, you need a moral theory. Fortunately, there is a concept that is both more practical and more attractive to American idealism than either liberal “multiculturalism” or neoconservative “propositionism.” I call it “citizenism” because it affirms that true patriots and idealists are willing to make sacrifices for the overall good of their fellow American citizens rather than for the advantage of either six billion foreigners or of the special interests within our own country. The notion is sensible, its appeal broad. Yet it has seldom been explicitly articulated.”

    http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/americans-first/

  5. martti_s says

    Calling Sam Harris a ‘tribalist’ follows the same line of argumentation as calling atheism a religion.
    You are sort of ashamed of what you represent and you want to pull others down to the same level. With Sam Harris it is a very difficult job. The challengers just do not have what it takes.
    They go ad hominem, talking about what Sam Harris is instead of challenging the ideas he represents. That’s what they know how to do.

    • D.B. Cooper says

      I’ve always been somewhat agnostic – if you’ll pardon the pun – about the idea that atheism isn’t a belief system; which is more or less how I would define the term “religion.” I’ve read different arguments on the matter, and I can certainly be persuaded either way, but I’m just not convinced the answer is as clear cut as you seem to believe.

      But, regardless of how one would (or should) describe atheism, you would agree that everyone has a belief system of some sort, right? Ex: theism, naturalism, materialism, etc.

      If I had to guess, I think this is the problem most people have when it comes to Sam’s religious views. I should probably say that, personally, I don’t really give a shit what Sam’s views are on the matter one way or the other. I like him b/c I think he’s an interesting guy who has interesting things to say.

      • Jay Salhi says

        Atheism = I see no convincing evidence for the existence of a god or gods. If that’s a believe system than so is “I see no evidence for the existence of Big Foot”.

        • MCA says

          DB – the problem is there’s atheists in the strict sense (i.e. does not believe in God) and the narrower but more publicly visible sense (e.g. scientific materialists such as Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, etc.).

          Atheism in the strict sense is not a religion, and in fact certain sects of certain religions are atheistic in that, while they believe in the supernatural, they do not believe in personified entities that could be called Gods (Zen Buddhism and Taoism). But there is, especially in the western world, a subset of atheists for whom it is a group identity, with some level of tribalism.

        • Atheism isn’t the same as agnosticism. Not seeing enough evidence to believe in God isn’t the same as positively asserting there is no God, and positively asserting there is no God is a belief.

      • martti_s says

        Sam Harris has thought his stuff through and become an atheist. (One who holds no gods) Jordan Peterson has thought his stuff through and he’s become a Christian.
        I have high respect for both guys. They have different wiring, both make sense.
        Both of them are open to discussion, both believe in the scientific method.
        There is room (and demand) on this planet for different lines of thought.
        When wrong thoughts become crime, the society is on the decline.

        • D.B. Cooper says

          @Jay Salhi
          Um, no. That’s the argument from ignorance fallacy. “I see no convincing evidence for the existence of a god or gods” is a claim. Any valid claim requires premises; premises, which, by the way, you are assuming to be true. Ultimately, any claim you make is grounded on a belief, or set of beliefs.

          @MCA
          Thank you for the information. Your explanation does a much better job of explaining the problem that I originally hoped to express. It’s likely the problem stems from a lack of well-defined terms as anything else.

          @martti_s
          Well said, Sir.

        • Rob says

          Actually, I don’t think Peterson is a Christian. He has commented that he’s not sure he believes in God. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t go to church. He does, however, see the value in Christian allegory.

          • J.Ryall says

            If faith is a central feature of religions, then I’d argue that Atheism is a religion. Since the Atheist makes the claim “God does not exist”, the onus is on them to prove it. However, we have yet to do so. The best we can say is that the Bible and other religious texts are wrong. Since D.B. Cooper usefully pointed out the argument from ignorance fallacy above, let me be clear: that doesn’t mean God exists. It simply means that we don’t know. And, since we can’t prove it one way or the other, taking a stance either for or against God’s existence must be predicated on faith.

            Relating that back to the article, I think Harris is wrong and that he is a member of a tribe, as Atheists tend to be pretty evangelical in telling others how wrong they are for believing in a God or a pantheon of gods.

          • peanut gallery says

            Yeah… To use JBPs terminology, I think he’s rescued the “father” from the texts. He’s found the useful stuff and discarded the rest. When I look at the modern faith, both from my experience in it as a young man and outside it as an adult, there is a lot of useless crap that people have added to make themselves feel good. Christianity could use it’s own reform. Good luck going to a local church and being all like “Hey, you guys suck at this, let me tell you how to do it.”

          • dirk says

            That’s a good question Rob, is it necessary to believe in God (something supernatural? Personal? Cosmic?) to call yourself a christian. For Jews, this does not seem to be necessary. For my father, it was. For a priest I once explained, he said it was not absolutely so, it could also be a cultural, social issue. I am an old man now, and still don’t know. But I certainly belong to the christian world, and if on holiday in Spain, I just enter a church there on Sunday, and am amazed to be able to sing with the crowd the ritual songs (in Latin) I still remember from my youth. Incredible, but true!

  6. Kessler says

    I’d rather pick “Freedom Tribe” identity. You can see the strongest modern divide is between people, who support freedom of speech, freedom from government interference, freedom from mob rule and those who believe that speech, non-criminal conduct and thoughts should be policed and coerced by government and mobs. It’s Freedom Tribe vs. those, who believe that their choices, values and opinions should be enforced upon everybody, without proper democratic process or national consensus. Now, the important part here is that this identity should include freedom to suffer consequences – if individual’s poor choices are ignored due to religion, color or political identity, then that person isn’t treated as a free individual.

    • Rob says

      Agreed. The religious right and identarian left are mirror-images of one another. People who are terrified at a genuinely free and diverse society, who need all-encompassing dogma to build their lives around, and who attack anyone who strays from their own notions of an ideal society. Frightened, conformist, and pious.

    • TarsTarkas says

      Better to call what Harris and Peterson promote Individualism. Calling it Anti-Tribalism is letting the Tribalists define the parameters of the conversation. When you let your opponent dictate what words you can use and what they mean, you’re always in the position of having to defend the odious.

  7. dirk says

    The battle is an old one. Since the universality of the Enlightenment and Human Rights (of Voltaire, Rousseau and Pinker, Hirsi now) and the tribal, nationalistic cultural needs as described by Herder and other German romanticists (the Blut und Boden, but in a positive, pre-Nazi Heimat sense). I fear that nobody can do with a zero need of one of the two. It’s more like; I bet more than you on this, or that other inclination, let’s see where we come with that mixture. Therefore also the inconclusive discussion between Harris and Klein.

    • martti_s says

      Any ideology that accepts violence as a means to achieve Utopia, is equally dangerous.

  8. Outgroup preference just seems like another word for “altruism.” Which, if voluntarily expressed, is called “charity”, but if forced upon a population, is called “tyranny” (or plunder, theft or redistribution or wealth). Unfortunately, the identity politics left would have our country go down the latter path.

  9. MCA says

    A fundamental problem with accusations of tribalism like Klein lobs at Harris is that, without clear diagnostic criteria, you can label any group of 3 or more people who all disagree with you as engaging in “tribalism”.

    Don’t get me wrong, it’s a powerful and useful concept, but it’s prone to expanding to point of meaninglessness, like many other terms, especially because it can provide a rhetorical boost when cornered.

  10. Emblem14 says

    “identity politics had already started the game with lopsided percentages”

    Interesting exercise but you gloss over why identity politics came to emerge as the primary animating force of leftist (and far-rightist) politics in the first place. You identify the strategic value of privileging an identity with the authority to peg the “correct” stance on a subject relating to that identity – but it begs the question of why people feel the need to set up this framework in the first place.

    Left wing identity politics is a festering wound of America self inflicted by the sordid history of hegemonic white supremacist christianity’s past treatment of various marginalized groups. Modern identity politics was born out of the reaction of human beings with immutable characteristics being persecuted for their unchosen, socially imposed identities. The strategy of reappropriating those identities as a foundation of common interest and solidarity for the acquisition of political power was a predictable consequence.

    If someone from a “marginalized group” wanted to be a C-Amer for most of American history, on the basis of WASP and racist social and moral hierarchies they were denied access, equality, respect and were instead branded with an unchosen identity marker that brought with it various unfair social penalties. it’s not surprising that as a way to reject the majority’s theory of their identity’s inferiority; indeed as a rejection of the majorities’ very power to define the social meaning of their identity without their input, they both rejected this framing and, with understandable resentment, the majority itself insofar as it represented or resembled the identity group that was responsible for their subjugation.

    This is why “associations with whiteness” is such a powerful rhetorical trump card on the left – even if the abstract principles of the majority culture are objectively beneficial to everyone included under the rubric, those who were previously excluded and treated with cruelty will see assimilation into its norms as a form of self-abnegation and self-abasement. If one has any pride, honor or dignity whatsoever, one will not willingly seek to join a club whose members treat them with disdain.

    Ironically, this is the very same critique one hears from centrists about how the left is alienating white males by promoting a worldview that holds them in contempt. After all, one can’t be expected to identify with a culture that dislikes them for their immutable characteristics and imputes immorality to their very existence.

    People who are already committed to a tribal worldview do so out of a sincere belief that power operates through conflict between identity groups, and coalescing around their own group, arbitrary and socially constructed though it may be, is a necessary act of self-preservation and deterrence against domination.

    It does however fall to those who wish to promote an alternative to our identity tribalism to find a way to cut off its fuel source. That fuel is fear of conquest by an opposing tribe. Our political system of majority rule, coupled with the strength of the modern state to impose the preferences of the majority on unconsenting minorities, makes this an ever present source of anxiety and conflict and verifies the stance that identity-based conflict is an intractable reality of our social order.

    For this to meaningfully change, people will need figure out a way to either change the rules of the game (unlikely), or figure out a strategy to nullify those on all sides who are committed to uncompromising zero-sum conflict. All who enact a conflict posture in the world justify all of their counterparts in doing likewise through a tragic feedback loop.

    One way to counter this is to have an alternative on offer that nullifies the threat of the conquering Other by being powerful enough to suppress or out-compete factions which support conquest. It will have to acquire this power primarily by making the case that it is more capable of protecting and defending what most people value than competing factions who sell similar promises but merely make matters worse through escalation. People prefer an idiot they can trust to protect them no matter what to a genius whose loyalty can be compromised, even if the idiot leads them off a cliff. What’s needed is a message that combines an unyielding commitment to protection with a principled opposition to conquest.

    If conquest becomes unrealistic or morally taboo, there is an opening for moderation and rationality. Only when people feel confident in their own security and safe from oppression will they feel they can afford to allow their reasonable members, with their propensity for compromise, diplomacy and deal making, de escalate from a war footing. When both sides are in stalemate, (or have an equally large amount to lose through conflict) the peacekeeping logic of “live and let live” aka Detente, appears feasible. Otherwise, the fear of impending oppression by hostile forces at the first sign of vulnerability makes compromise self-defeating and naive.

    • MjM says

      I just had to acknowledge the wisdom that I found in the last paragraph. We are wired by evolution for tribalism but also for cooperating. Our feelings that our group is safe and is protecting us can lead to “compromise, diplomacy, and deal making . . .”.

    • This argument is not convincing. You cast tribal identity as a sort of rational necessity posture of victim groups that is tragically unavoidable due to the instinct for self preservation.

      This makes sense on its face as a theory, but does not hold up under the weight of historical experience, a far more reliable source of wisdom than rational choice theory.

      If your “necessary for self preservation of group” argument is correct, then we would expect to see that a group whose economic, social, and political status has skyrocketed, by all metrics, over the last 40 years to be less tribal and more willing to identify with the larger American project. As a group, blacks in America have made larger gains in every sphere than any other group, even having one of their own elected and then re-elected by a supposed racist white majority. From a rational “self preservation” perspective, the fear of dominance and oppression that may have motivated tribal world-views in the past should have gradually decreased.

      Unfortunately, the exact opposite has occurred. The more power and status accorded to blacks, the more tribal the group becomes. Your rat choice theory cannot account for this bizarre outcome. This result is best explained from a power-politics perspective, one that takes into account the human desire for revenge. One of the great innovations in the Western tradition, an innovation not shared in primitive tribal societies, is the ability to establish non-tribal institutions founded on the principle that the individual is the most fundamental political unit, not the tribal group. This innovation has been key to the superior development of western societies because it provides for the possibility of a society to emerge from endless cycles of perpetration and revenge of groups by reorienting the political towards the ideal of individual liberty and responsibility.

      • The above was a response to Emblem14, not the author of the article.

      • Just Me says

        “the exact opposite has occurred. The more power and status accorded to blacks, the more tribal the group becomes. ”

        Evidence please?

        I don’t think so.There is a small group of very vocal extremists, activists and cultural leaders that are always pushing Black nationalism, just as there are for other groups, but do they represent all or even the majority? I don’t think so.

        There is more intermarriage now than ever before, for example.

        What has changed now is that these are part of a whole coalition of other extremist activists representing other groups, too, and supported by the leaders of previously moderate politicians, i.e. the Democratic Party in the US.

        • Bill says

          I’m confused, if there’s only a small group of extremists pushing Black nationalism, hence why it’s not tribal, why is a small group of extremists pushing White nationalism evidence that all white persons a racist tribal members?

          • Just Me says

            Bill-

            It isn’t. All white persons are not racist tribal members.

        • @just me

          Are you kidding?

          We can start with the empirical fact that blacks, despite the fact many have benefitted from conservative policies, continue to block vote for the Dems.

          Then, we can observe that any influential black figure who dares to speak out against the tribal mentality and stand up for free thought is castigated by millions on social media and by so-called black ‘thought’ leaders such as Coates.

          Add to this that it has become leftist orthodoxy to organize their most important claims around the victim status of racial groups. And this tribal ethic has gained such wide acceptance that it now seems reasonable to call people racist if they don’t support tribal political activism such as BLM.

          You need to face up to the fact that radical leftists have taken over and are controlling the agenda with the implicit support of many who won’t speak out.

          • Just Me says

            AA-

            “radical leftists have taken over and are controlling the agenda with the implicit support of many who won’t speak out.”

            That’s *almost* what I said.

            Radical leftists have taken over and are controlling the agenda with the support of the MSM, who make it sound as if they are speaking for the majority, but like all “silent” majorities, those are people who just don’t care enough, but figure it is easier to reap the benefits of having other people fight for you than make a fuss and tell them they are going too far.

            Race, gender, class, etc….same thing happens.

            That,s why all it takes is a small number of determined people to take power and change the world, for good or bad. (cf Margaret Mead)

      • Emblem14 says

        @AA,

        There’s an interesting psychological effect that has to do with calibration of expectations. In a very unjust society that makes no pretense about representing ideals of justice or equality, the oppressed may hate their plight, but they have no reason to expect anything different, so their angst manifests a particular way, usually more fatalistic and resigned.

        On the other hand, in a society in which there is a declaration of ideals, and progress has been made toward them, any remaining unfairness or injustice is cast in stark relief against the contrasting ideal. As injustice decreases, those that remain become all the more outrageous and cause for indignation. An improving society shines a spotlight on the problems yet to be resolved, and people become more impatient, not less.

        Also, minor unfairness among peers (horizontally) is often more infuriating than major unfairness between classes of people (vertically) given how our social minds work. The more people see themselves as peers, the more sensitive to mistreatment they will become.

        As for the group dynamics you bring up, you might consider that many/most black people don’t share your sanguine perspective about progress – in fact they’re quite a bit more paranoid. Perhaps for good reason, perhaps not.

        Remi Adekoya wrote about this just last week: https://quillette.com/2018/07/08/the-fear-of-white-power/

        • @Emblem14

          Calibration of expectations is a plausible explanation; though I’m unaware of any studies corroborate it. In the first place, once you start carving a society up into the oppressed and oppressors, you have made so many assumptions about the political reality that results are necessarily suspect.

          Horizontal and vertical? This seems to be another theory that works great in the experimental setting but nearly impossible to demonstrate as a real-world force that shapes political behavior.

          In general I think psychology is the wrong level of analysis to explain the sudden spike in racialized tribal behavior. If you insist on the psychological explanations, Nietzsche’s theory of the slave revolt in morality is probably much closer to the mark.

          • Just Me says

            AA-

            Here’s corroborating evidence:

            “As demonstrated in a series of new studies, researchers show that as the prevalence of a problem is reduced, humans are naturally inclined to redefine the problem itself. The result is that as a problem becomes smaller, people’s conceptualizations of that problem become larger, which can lead them to miss the fact that they’ve solved it.”

            https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/06/180628151752.htm

        • augustine says

          @ Emblem14

          “On the other hand, in a society in which there is a declaration of ideals, and progress has been made toward them, any remaining unfairness or injustice is cast in stark relief against the contrasting ideal. As injustice decreases, those that remain become all the more outrageous and cause for indignation. An improving society shines a spotlight on the problems yet to be resolved, and people become more impatient, not less.”

          Thank you for this, an elegant way of observing that the more successful [liberalism] is, the greater the intolerance among [liberals] that they have not succeeded completely. Not only in the success of their ideas but in the defeat of their opponents. They miss the point that the tension between people and ideas is where we live and develop. Unilateral success usually means tyranny.

    • D.B. Cooper says

      @Emblem14

      Left wing identity politics is a festering wound of America self-inflicted by the sordid history of hegemonic white supremacist Christianity’s past treatment of various marginalized groups. Modern identity politics was born out of the reaction of human beings with immutable characteristics being persecuted for their unchosen, socially imposed identities. The strategy of reappropriating those identities as a foundation of common interest and solidarity for the acquisition of political power was a predictable consequence.

      Logline: Left-wing identity politics is the fault of white supremacists.

      Are there human beings without immutable characteristics? Similar to the words we use to describe them, aren’t all identities social constructs and; therefore, are socially imposed, by definition? Throughout the entire comment, you seem to slip between the two concepts with a suspiciously worrisome ease.

      If leveraging identities for the acquisition of political power is a predictable consequence, would leveraging identities for the maintenance of political power also be a predictable consequence?

      If someone from a “marginalized group” wanted to be a C-Amer for most of American history… both rejected this framing and, with understandable resentment, the majority itself insofar as it represented or resembled the identity group that was responsible for their subjugation.

      This would be valid if you were discussing some point in American history where an identity group was responsible for subjugating a marginalized group, but I’m not sure what your example has to do with contemporary society, today. Are you aware of anyone being subjugated? That is against the law, right?

      Is it true that “the majority” by which you mean white males, theorize about other identity groups inferiority? I’m not aware of a group meeting on the subject matter. Maybe, I missed the convention. But, you’re a white male, do you remember who called the cloture vote on that decision? What is the epistemological tipping point for making this opinion a ‘true belief’ – 50% of white male opinions, 60%, 75%, 90%?

      This is why ‘associations with whiteness’ is such a powerful rhetorical trump card on the left – even if the abstract principles of the majority culture are objectively beneficial to everyone… those who were previously excluded and treated with cruelty will see assimilation into its norms as a form of self-abnegation and self-abasement. If one has any pride, honor or dignity whatsoever, one will not willingly seek to join a club whose members treat them with disdain.

      Surely, you’re not suggesting that the wholesale rejection of beneficial cultural norms and values is preferable to the perception that one’s reputation might diminish. I’ve heard of the importance of ‘keeping it real’, but I’m not sure masochism is an acceptable course of action follows. Jesus, why didn’t you just encourage full on illiteracy, since the written word wasn’t a part of their ancestral culture. With friends like that, who needs white males.

      Ironically, this is the very same critique one hears from centrists about how the left is alienating white males by promoting a worldview that holds them in contempt. After all, one can’t be expected to identify with a culture that dislikes them for their immutable characteristics and imputes immorality to their very existence.

      No, it is not the very same critique. The former (“associations with whiteness” à la Left-wing identity politics) is a front for group self-interest – a Faustian power grab substantiated by the echoes of historical grievances, while the latter (from centrists) is a legitimate rejection of racist behavior, which defines much of today’s political Left.

      People who are already committed to a tribal worldview do so out of a sincere belief that power operates through conflict between identity groups… is a necessary act of self-preservation and deterrence against domination.

      In your zealotry to excuse – and when necessary, defend – the tribalistic worldviews of non-white male identity groups (the historically marginalized), you’ve simultaneously rendered valid, by virtue of the transitive property, justifications for the very same tribalistic worldviews held by white male identity groups (the currently marginalized). It would seem that both groups are on equal footing with respect to the justifications you’ve supplied.

      It’s not clear whether this is utterly self-defeating for someone professing alternatives to such tribal thinking, but it’s not a good look, to be sure.

      It does however fall to those who wish to promote an alternative to our identity tribalism to find a way to cut off its fuel source…

      This is a great question. One solution to this problem, might go as follows:

      Consider we know that tribalistic tendencies are hard-wired into human behavior (evolution). We even find in-group preference in very young babies – Paul Bloom seems to be the authoritative figure on the subject (I can also recommend his book Against Empathy). In short, tribal behavior reflects conduct that is in some sense closer to our evolutionary default than behavior that reflects non in-group preferences. Given that’s true, we can assume that individuals who display lower levels of tribalism (in-group preference) as adults – relative to the mean – are more likely than not to have experienced some level of operant conditioning either against tribal behavior or for non-tribal behavior. I would guess personality profiles would also play a measurable role in this process.

      In any event, the most obvious stage in life for psychosocial development would be during childhood and adolescence. In short, your family conditions you. Everyone seems to agree that tribalism is on the rise, and if the family unit is what conditions you against tribal tendencies, what correlation would we expect to find? BINGO!

      Statistics on the intact family unit (two parent households) looks like smacked ass. It’s hard to imagine one’s family not playing a role in preventing (or mitigating) their social – and for some, sexual – deviancy. With Nuclear family’s now becoming something closer to the exception than the rule, it’s hard to imagine it hasn’t affected our ability to navigate a socially diverse environment.

      It’s worth mentioning not only the positive correlation between tribal behavior and single parent homes, but also the prevalence of Left-wing tribalism (relative to right) and Left-wing single parent homes (relative to right). The trend line is looking good, no?

      coupled with the strength of the modern state to impose the preferences of the majority on unconsenting minorities, makes this an ever present source of anxiety and conflict and verifies the stance that identity-based conflict is an intractable reality of our social order.

      Here, I would agree with you insofar as our form of government (democratic republic) privileges the majority, by definition (voting). These privileges are marginally constrained by our guiding principles (Constitution), but even then, the constraints are ultimately subject to the vagaries of a super-majority (legislative amendments).

      You’re right to claim that this would create an ever-present source of anxiety and conflict, and yes, it does verify the stance that identity-based conflict is an intractable reality of our social order… BUT…

      But, identity-based conflict would only be intractable, if and only if, the collective body politic were unable to recognize and solidify (cultivate a connective tissue) under the same, or very nearly the same, cultural norms and values. Yes, unfortunately, this would almost certainly result in the cultural norms and values of the majority, but as distasteful or self-abasing as this may seem to you or the non-majority Left-wing identity groups, the alternative of not assimilating (by which, I mean, accepting, practicing & promulgating) comprehensive norms/values on a national scale (I would guess at a rate of something close to 75%, but possibly >85%) risks implicitly accepting the retrenchment of our national solidarity and, likely, incentivizing the cannibalization of our national health.

      And make no mistake, the intellectual Left’s – and I’m including you in that – central endorsement of identity politics is an act of self-sabotage that is virtually infinite in its dynamos. Well-demarcated identity groups are relentlessly self-interested – as we can see – to the point of being incompatible with functioning societies, most especially those that are not monolithic in their demography. Having stated the obvious, I would like to know just, exactly, how you expect this to end?

      I ask, because regardless of your preference for overcoming them, you quite obviously are continuing to tacitly endorse/excuse/defend identitarian movements arising from one side of the isle. But surely, you can understand the perverse incentives this creates for an identitarian “arms race?” Surely, the Left can appreciate the ineffectual indulgences that mutual recriminations will ferment? Whether you endorse Left-wing identity politics or excuse them, it matters not.

      So, I ask, again. How exactly do you expect this to end? What is the endgame, here? Because, the capitulation of white liberals on the Upper East Side is not an appropriate analog for how white males in middle America react when introduced to the demands of an identity group’s emotional jihad on crimes they never committed, and the group never suffered.

      What’s needed is a message that combines an unyielding commitment to protection with a principled opposition to conquest.

      The framers equipped America with just such a message: the U.S. Constitution.

      Only when people feel confident in their own security and safe from oppression will they feel they can afford to allow their reasonable members, with their propensity for compromise, diplomacy and deal making, deescalate from a war footing.

      We must distinguish between correct appearances and incorrect appearances. We can only work towards ensuring a person or group of persons’ security and safety. Expecting society to disabuse the person or persons of any illusory appearances or false emotions may be a bar to high.

      • Just Me says

        The history of the US makes black vs white the basic social identity dividing line, at least in many parts of that country.

        And since identities can only be built in opposition to other identities, that creates a vicious circle: the more one identity is stressed, the more members of the other one will react by identifying with their own.

        I doubt that white identity is normally as salient to white people living in areas of the country that are overwhelmingly white, as it is to those living in areas that are significantly or majority black, and vice-versa (although there are fewer of the latter).

        It becomes so when mainstream politicians and activists make it so, which they certainly are doing now.

      • Emblem14 says

        @D.B. Cooper

        very valuable response!

        “…Throughout the entire comment, you seem to slip between the two concepts with a suspiciously worrisome ease.”

        As you know, there are objective, immutable human characteristics, like skin pigment, and then there are the social and moral meanings we ascribe to them (maybe not literally “we”, but humans, historically). When I’m talking about people being oppressed for their identities, I’m generally referring to the practice of taking some physical or behavioral difference between groups of people that does not have any intrinsic moral content and using it as a basis for a value/status judgment in a social context. The justifiable stereotyping you talked about in our last exchange is not usually the premise for these social constructs.

        “If leveraging identities for the acquisition of political power is a predictable consequence, would leveraging identities for the maintenance of political power also be a predictable consequence?”

        Of course. Identitarianism creates feedback loops whether it originates with the dominant group or the minority group.

        “This would be valid if you were discussing some point in American history where an identity group was responsible for subjugating a marginalized group, but I’m not sure what your example has to do with contemporary society, today. Are you aware of anyone being subjugated? That is against the law, right?”

        I think a recurring theme in my posts is to highlight that much of the leftist narrative on race depends on material and metaphysical notions of “historical trauma” and claiming that the past has a stranglehold on the present until there is some vaguely defined “reckoning” with our historical baggage of “isms”. This is one of the central pillars of Social Justice – aka Collective Restorative Justice, and what differentiates it from “regular” justice. You acknowledge this with your subsequent comment about “echoes of historical grievances” which is intended to dismiss as illusory what many people feel is an intolerable drag on their self-determination.

        “Is it true that “the majority” by which you mean white males, theorize about other identity groups inferiority? I’m not aware of a group meeting on the subject matter. Maybe, I missed the convention. But, you’re a white male, do you remember who called the cloture vote on that decision? What is the epistemological tipping point for making this opinion a ‘true belief’ – 50% of white male opinions, 60%, 75%, 90%?”

        Don’t be facetious. Everyone here knows that a minority with extreme beliefs can have an outsize impact on social atmospheres and policies (through their rigidity and ability to expose the cowardice of “civility” through intimidation), that does not implicate the attitudes of most people. This is not the space to discuss at length how big a kernel of bigotry has to exist somewhere before its victims notice the radiation.

        “Surely, you’re not suggesting that the wholesale rejection of beneficial cultural norms and values is preferable to the perception that one’s reputation might diminish. I’ve heard of the importance of ‘keeping it real’, but I’m not sure masochism is an acceptable course of action follows. Jesus, why didn’t you just encourage full on illiteracy, since the written word wasn’t a part of their ancestral culture. With friends like that, who needs white males.”

        Of course I’m not endorsing this standpoint; I’m merely attempting to illustrate what I think is an interesting aspect of psychology that manifests in, among other things, allegories about prideful feelings being a leading cause of self-sabotage. People have been choosing pride or honor over material self interest since time immemorial – it’s archetypical. I agree with you – it’s an unbelievably stupid, self-defeating attitude to unnecessarily associate something useful with some kind of sacrilege, when you could just rebrand it and call it your own – cultural appropriation if you will.

        “No, it is not the very same critique. The former (“associations with whiteness” à la Left-wing identity politics) is a front for group self-interest – a Faustian power grab substantiated by the echoes of historical grievances, while the latter (from centrists) is a legitimate rejection of racist behavior, which defines much of today’s political Left.”

        Here you’re engaging in the common tactic of attributing cynicism to people you dislike and sincerity to people you like. Selective charity. I’m sure some left-wing agitators are cynical, but most are authentically possessed by the spirit of their social justice crusade – the great march of history. That it happens to justify political power-grabbing is its functional purpose, but not the driving force. Power for its own sake, absent some deeper ethos, is the MO of cartoon villains. People filled with zeal and passion generally have strong beliefs beyond naked self-interest, and in this sense, Social Justice is anything but a “front”. It’s a proselytizing, dominionist pseudo-religion.

        “In your zealotry to excuse – and when necessary, defend – the tribalistic worldviews of non-white male identity groups (the historically marginalized), you’ve simultaneously rendered valid, by virtue of the transitive property, justifications for the very same tribalistic worldviews held by white male identity groups (the currently marginalized). It would seem that both groups are on equal footing with respect to the justifications you’ve supplied.

        It’s not clear whether this is utterly self-defeating for someone professing alternatives to such tribal thinking, but it’s not a good look, to be sure.”

        You mistake me, sir! I neither excuse nor defend – my intent is merely to describe and dissect. I’m trying to steelman an ideology that is unnatural to me, and get inside the heads of its’ advocates by listening to their most articulate output – taking them at face value – so I can maybe uncover some insights into its success as a meme and/or a potential achilles heel. I do NOT want to live in a society dictated by identitarians. I’m trying to elucidate these things (mostly for my own edification) and hopefully contribute to the community knowledge-base, so to speak, so those of us who value the fragile accomplishments of liberalism can build a better repertoire to defend it going forward.

        Your theory on the breakdown of the nuclear family leading to increasing identity based tribalism is interesting – I don’t have the background to expound on it.

        “But, identity-based conflict would only be intractable, if and only if, the collective body politic were unable to recognize and solidify (cultivate a connective tissue) under the same, or very nearly the same, cultural norms and values. Yes, unfortunately, this would almost certainly result in the cultural norms and values of the majority, but as distasteful or self-abasing as this may seem to you or the non-majority Left-wing identity groups, the alternative of not assimilating (by which, I mean, accepting, practicing & promulgating) comprehensive norms/values on a national scale (I would guess at a rate of something close to 75%, but possibly >85%) risks implicitly accepting the retrenchment of our national solidarity and, likely, incentivizing the cannibalization of our national health.

        And make no mistake, the intellectual Left’s – and I’m including you in that – central endorsement of identity politics is an act of self-sabotage that is virtually infinite in its dynamos. Well-demarcated identity groups are relentlessly self-interested – as we can see – to the point of being incompatible with functioning societies, most especially those that are not monolithic in their demography. Having stated the obvious, I would like to know just, exactly, how you expect this to end?

        I ask, because regardless of your preference for overcoming them, you quite obviously are continuing to tacitly endorse/excuse/defend identitarian movements arising from one side of the isle. But surely, you can understand the perverse incentives this creates for an identitarian “arms race?” Surely, the Left can appreciate the ineffectual indulgences that mutual recriminations will ferment? Whether you endorse Left-wing identity politics or excuse them, it matters not.

        So, I ask, again. How exactly do you expect this to end? What is the endgame, here? Because, the capitulation of white liberals on the Upper East Side is not an appropriate analog for how white males in middle America react when introduced to the demands of an identity group’s emotional jihad on crimes they never committed, and the group never suffered.”

        Aside from your misunderstanding of my standpoint in all of this, I thought this section was excellent. You’ve summed up the dilemma of post-modern pluralistic democracy in a nutshell. We’re in a system that is shaking itself apart at the seams of its contradictions. Without some culturally or economically contrived centripetal force keeping all of these diverse and competing interests together through some kind of shared stake in productive coexistence, the deep centrifugal forces of our evolutionary baggage will snap the connective tissue that makes a free society possible.

        We’re going through a bizarre, confusing, kafkaesque episode of ideological revivalism right now, Left and Right, the causes of which would require a volume of books to properly understand. Crazy assholes have always been and will always be among us But the social capital that extremists on both sides have been able to accumulate simply by being loud and stubborn and finding the soft underbelly of the milquetoast middle – phobic aversion to social conflict – has been agonizing. To resist these forces, we need something that’s equally powerful, equally adept at memeification but resistant to corruption. You say “The Constitution”. It’s a piece of paper whose only power is derived from a tinkerbell like belief in its authority.

        This is a culture war, and the culture with the best “why” will win.

        • D.B. Cooper says

          @Emblem14

          In my environment, insightful discourse is seldom readily available, so as always, I appreciate the feedback.

          I think you’re cognizant of this, but it still may be worth stating explicitly: it is not, nor is it ever my intent to misrepresent your views or anyone else’s (aside from the occasional colorful jab, I’m fond of taking in jest) on a given topic, and to the extent that I do or have: my apologies.

          I will say, however, in my defense, at times it is difficult, if not outright impossible, to accurately discriminate between the positions you do hold (that actually represent your views), and the positions you take/express as a Devil’s Advocate and/or as a representation/description of the Left’s actual views (in your estimation). Not to suggest there is an inordinate degree of bleed over at hand, but it’s not always obvious if and where that delineation occurs from one view to the next.

          As a rule, steelmanning should always carry the day as it provides the greatest opportunity for progress. Undoubtedly, you agree. And while I can’t say, I’ve always granted the most charitable view possible (who has?), I do make – and expect others to make – a good faith attempt to take a person’s words at face value. We are not heathen sophists after all.

          I have no doubt there is much I could respond to in your last rejoinder, but I will save my thoughts for the next article, whatever that may be. Be well.

        • Centrist Gal says

          @Emblem 14

          For the record, I understood that you were explicating a position, not adopting it. You said:

          “People have been choosing pride or honor over material self interest since time immemorial – it’s archetypical. I agree with you – it’s an unbelievably stupid, self-defeating attitude to unnecessarily associate something useful with some kind of sacrilege, when you could just rebrand it and call it your own – cultural appropriation if you will”

          As I said down below, a prominent Indigenous man who would fit the Citizen America profile, has just been insulted with the racial slur “Uncle Tom” by a leftist, white ideologue for displaying ideological impurity. A teacher commenting on the incident noted that there can be pressure on Indigenous children to NOT learn to read and write because that is the white man’s way. It’s bad enough when the pressure comes from within the Indigenous community; it’s downright evil when it comes from white, wealthy leftists.

          “But the social capital that extremists on both sides have been able to accumulate simply by being loud and stubborn and finding the soft underbelly of the milquetoast middle – phobic aversion to social conflict – has been agonizing.”

          #WalkAway shows there is some hope that the milquetoast middle is waking up.

        • D.B. Cooper says

          Thank you, Sir. I’ve quite enjoyed a number of yours as well. I hope to continue to see you, here. Maybe in the near future we can find something interesting to disagree about (I hate echo chambers) and then we can really stretch our thought bubbles.

          Until then, double A…

      • @D.B. Cooper
        This is one of the best summaries of our current political moment that I have ever read. As a matter of fact I think Quillette should publish this as an essay in and of itself.

        I’m taking this quote with me “identitarian arms-race” I have never read or heard this iteration in describing the identity politics movement but it’s fantastic and I’m totally appropriating it!

        I know is that I’m stuck having to label myself a “white” female, mom, middle class, educated and lives in a smallish college town in “fly-over USA”.
        I would prefer to check off a box that says “100% pure American Mutt” which means while my skin color is beige-y(ish) I’m really a mix of all kinds of nationalities with a dash of Native American thrown in, more importantly I really don’t care about any of those things. I’m truely a C-Amer, I love the idea of assimilation and amalgamation. I’m all for race mixing or whatever people want to do. I would just like an American (USA) to come out of it. I still naively buy into the whole E Pluribus Unum thing (I know silly of me).

        I would also request an ala-cart menu for policy preferences instead of having to choose a pre-packaged deal. Meaning if I’m pro-choice that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m anti-second amendment ect… I would like to choose these things individually.

        Also, I have 2 sons who were born in 2006 & 2009. They should not be saddled with the sins of slavery, patriarchy, misogyny ect, et al.
        Besides the left can’t blame the white males for everything while giving them credit for nothing. In blaming them for all the wrongs of the universe they’re inadvertently giving them an extraordinary amount of power at the same time.

        • D.B. Cooper says

          @KDM

          Thank you for your kind words and, of course, you can appropriate anything you would like. I do the same.

          We are in a very strange place it seems. I sincerely hope we can turn the ship. Unique people such as yourself give me hope that we can. I’ve always enjoyed hearing what unique and interesting people have to say. So, thank you, again, for your kind words and for sharing your story. Be well.

  11. John AD says

    Isn’t this article based on a misreading of Klein (perhaps even a straw man)? Klien was not claiming that Harris was intentionally arguing from a tribal position, but that his thinking is inevitably [subconsciously] biased. To quote the article’s quotes “You have that bewildering experience because you donʼt realize when you keep saying that everybody else is thinking tribally, but youʼre not, that that is our disagreement” and “I have all kinds of identities that you can call forward. All of them can bias me simultaneously, and the questions, of course, are which dominate and how am I able to counterbalance them through my process of information gathering and adjudication of that information”. Klien’s claim is that Harris doesn’t see his own biased thinking. THIS is the problem. It’s the trump card that identity politics players can use, and without justification. Harris calls this the reading of minds; the critic can understand more of the other person’s motivations than the person themself. The rebut to this can only be to get the accuser to go back to the actual arguments and demonstrate the flaws and to point out where the logic broke down under the influence of motivated reasoning.

    By the way, are there any experienced editors who might be able to comment on the following observation. This article, though well constructed, seems to contain some self centered parts. e.g. from the 3rd paragraph “I approach…”, “I think…”, “I wish…”, “I cannot…”, “… In my view”, then the next paragraph “I wish…”, “I hope to prod…to think a bit more”. Is this stylistically off-putting? Is there an editorial wisdom that eschews such self reference in favour of a less personal style (this is not a human interest story)? I’ve a suspicion that Quillette is missing a seasoned editor that could address such faux-pas – Quillette is sourcing material from academics and the like who are not professional writers other than in their academic papers (and let’s not start with that as a source of clear, engaging writing).

    • OleK says

      I prefer to take the view that Klein is just a disingenuous hack. I listened to the whole Sam Harris podcast. Klein’s whole mode of speaking is patronizing and Klein-splaining.

      But your charitable explanation of Klein is well put.

    • @john AD

      “The rebut to this can only be to get the accuser to go back to the actual arguments and demonstrate the flaws and to point out where the logic broke down under the influence of motivated reasoning.”

      You must have missed the last breakthrough in the intersectional sciences: it turns out that logic is actually racist, a conspiracy of klansmen and Nazis to oppress the marginalized.

      Not to worry, leftists are very busy stamping out all forms of rationality where they can find them. They started with the universities and media, now they are going to take your straws.

    • Paolo says

      This is a very relevant objection. It doesn’t improve Klein’s position in this exchange, but shifts the focus to another problem with his objections to Harris. It is indeed ridiculous to counter an opponents position on the sheer ground that -as everyone- he’s got generic identity-based bias. Harris addressed this explicitly when he explains that his politics are vastly left and that so that Murray’s data don’t look pretty to from his left side. But then Klein cuts him a pretty tight identity-jacket when he identifies him as someone who’s afraid of mobs. Basically he identifies him as someone with X thought, so that any time he proposed the X thought he can say ‘you say that because you are not aware that your are biased to the X though because your identity is of someone with a X thought’, which is insane.
      In any case, it sounds funny that Klein should remind Harris, a scientist, of the main idea behind science: that people are biased in all ways and research needs to take this into account in all manner of ways.

      • John AD says

        Well said, particularly this – “cuts him a pretty tight identity-jacket”. Nice.

    • Centrist Gal says

      @John AD

      I thought the piece went around in circles. All the author was suggesting was the creation of a nominal identity group whose loyalties are towards the nation, but who define themselves as individuals first and foremost. It’s a sleight of hand that still doesn’t solve the central problem because each of those individuals during any encounter with an identitarian will still be accused of belonging to a smaller identity group (a tribe within a non-tribe!), and carrying biases, which is Klein’s point about Harris.

      The #Walk Away movement I think fits into that Citizen America group – blacks, whites, working class, upper class, men, women – who are walking away from the Democrats because they don’t like identity politics. So maybe a new Citizen America political party needs to form? However, at some point individuals will have to vote on actual policy issues, and at that point, their individual views will still be accused of carrying bias, or they will simply be accused of being traitors to a gender or race tribe, defined by others. For example in Australia recently, a highly prominent Aboriginal man who would fit the Citizen Australia profile, was called an “Uncle Tom” by a white, leftist commentator.

      I have had similar arguments with friends; I insist that there are non-tribal, non-identity, non-partisan truths or solutions to problems that can be arrived at rationally; they insist that the ‘truth’ cannot be separated from personal/cultural/political biases. As you say “It’s the trump card that identity politics players can use, and without justification”. It is incredibly frustrating! I think I may have found a key flaw in that argument. I am currently working through it, but I think I can undermine those claims.

  12. Steve Sailer says

    The Democratic Party is a Coalition of the Margins of American society: blacks, gays, the unmarried, billionaires, grad students, immigrants, renters, the transgendered, welfare recipients, etc.

    In contrast, the GOP is the party of the traditional core of American society: the married, homeowners, Christians, soldiers, etc. The exception that supports the tendency is the one highly Republican fringe group, Mormons, who are unusual today in trying to be seen as Normal Americans.

    There is very little to hold together the components of the Democratic coalition other than stoking animosity toward the cisgender straight white male bogeyman. So, that is done over and over. Not surprisingly, the people who are being demonized to hold the Democrats together are starting to get tired of it.

    • LAW says

      Yes, exactly. I am naturally liberal/progressive, but I refuse to support a party or politicians who use me as a foil. That is a prerequisite to be a straight*, white male Democrat these days – sit in the corner silently, feel bad about yourself, and jump up and be an “ally” when we tell you it’s OK to speak. Not on board with that, sorry. It doesn’t matter how well-aligned my policy positions are, I’m not signing up to be part of the Democratic underclass.

      *I refuse to use the word “cis” as anyone who does invariably hates me before even meeting me

      • Bill says

        Don’t like being called the C-word eh? I don’t either.

      • TarsTarkas says

        You left out of your required contributions the three most important ones: Your time (unpaid, of course) and your cash, and your gratitude, for being allowed to sit in the corner of the big tent.

        And the DNC wonders why 2016 happened and why #Walkaway has become viral . . .

      • Centrist Gal says

        @ LAW

        If you haven’t already, you might be interested in watching the testimonies for the #WalkAway movement. There are thousands of them…personal stories of why they ‘walked away’ from the Democrats, and they very much fit the description of the Citizen America described in this article.

    • Susan says

      @Steve Sailer
      “Not surprisingly, the people who are being demonized to hold the Democrats together are starting to get tired of it.”
      Also the mothers, etc. of the people who are being demonized.

      • @Susan
        “Not surprisingly, the people who are being demonized to hold the Democrats together are starting to get tired of it.”
        Also the mothers, etc. of the people who are being demonized.

        YES! THIS! 100X!
        Any mother of an elementary school aged child right now knows that the (gender formerly known as female or girls) are anything but marginalized in the classroom. As of right now I have not seen any of the current politics reverberate in the classroom and I have been quietly watching for it.
        I was shocked last year when my sons 6th grade middle school Social Studies teacher (who was a white male shockingly enough) actually taught the truth about communism and the USSR and how truly horrific if was.
        When he came home and told me about it, I found myself very hopeful (lol, doesn’t take much anymore).

        Of course I live in a college town of about 50K in a very red state so that might have something to do with it.

        (Interesting antidote; the public school system in the town where I live has started a “Watch Dog Group for Dads” where-in the dads in the community are getting involved in school safety issues. I.E. gun violence, drugs, ect…
        It’s interesting because it’s explicitly for dads and not moms which is exciting to me. It’s kind of like a male version of PTA but with guy stuff. All is not lost for the future of this country if there are more communities like mine doing this kind of stuff.)

    • D.B. Cooper says

      @Steve Sailer

      Can you expound a bit more on your understanding of how Mormons exist within the Republican party.

      “The exception that supports the tendency is the one highly Republican fringe group, Mormons, who…”

      I found the above statement provocative because (1) after reading it no less than five times, I’m still not entirely sure what you were trying to say; and (2) I thought your conceptual phrasing of the sentence was unique.

      At any rate, Growing up, I had a number of close friends who where Mormon and I found similar patterns.

  13. C Young says

    The project of the ‘contextualisers’ can not succeed for a rather obvious reason.

    Its entirely relativistic and thus subject to the usual flaw. Who is to say what the all important context is ? Is it objective ? If yes, you are a decoupler under the covers. If it is not, then your ‘contextual’ judgements can not be supported with reason. They are a matter of taste.

    Here’s a concrete example. I have a friend who is a working class black Brazilian woman in the UK. She loves the Brazilian culture of samba, and dancing in feathers, make up and high heels. I’ve noticed that the dour sort of academic feminists are very suspicious of her.

    What’s her correct context ? Pseudo-lap dancing shill of the patriarchy [very bad], strong woman asserting her echt black identity [very good]. Contextualisers can’t answer.

  14. LAW says

    Great piece.

    I’m here as part of a subset you touch upon – white, straight, male Sanders voters who don’t feel comfortable within the Democratic Party anymore. All of my actual policy positions run liberal – universal health care, higher minimum wage, more progressive taxation, much smaller military, pro-choice, etc. But none of this mattered in the current Democratic Party – what mattered was that I was a “Bernie Bro”. And not only that, but people in my demographic were (and are still) openly mocked and reviled by many in the party. And heaven forbid I try to give an opinion on any important social matters – I am just told my “white male privilege” precludes me from having valid feelings on things.

    So I stepped out of that world. I have zero interest being in a party where I’m a second class citizen due to my improper demographics. As a bonus, these identity Democrats, who actively push white people and men away from the party, call *others* racist and sexist when someone asks them why their party is struggling. God, I hate those people so much. They brought us Trump, and I have little hope that they won’t continue this idiotic strategy and bring us four more years in 2020.

    • ga gamba says

      And if you voice an objection you’re mocked as being fragile.

    • Just Me says

      Nice, but then who do you vote for, the Democrats you now hate, or the Trump Republicans?

      • LAW says

        That’s a fantastic question. I’m weirdly a swing voter, torn between a party that doesn’t like people like me and one that has policies I dislike. It really depends on who wins the Dem nomination. Sanders, Warren, and Biden all are relatively free of identity politics bullshit, and I will almost surely vote for them. Kirsten Gillibrand I absolutely loathe and will 100% vote for Trump. Everyone else, I guess I’ll wait and see.

    • I agree that the present Democratic party, drunk on intersectional identity politics, is practically inviting young men like yourself to desert it. What young man with any self respect would accept second class status in all crucial political discussions?

      • peanut gallery says

        @KS
        People filled with resentment and anger.

  15. Promoting group identification encourages white identification. The proponents of identity politics created “white privilege” in order to combat white identification by stigmatizing white identification as identification with white supremacy. They also confuse an absence of negative reactions with privilege. It is inevitable that whites will have a certain standing in their own civilization, just as the Chinese have a certain standing in their civilization. There is no way to eliminate the resentment of identity groups that have created no signficant civilization.

  16. dirk says

    Something I would like to throw in here at Quillette, for Keith and commenters. In my youth, I think I was pretty much a universalist and something like a C. Amer. (not literary one, because from Europe). I know, almost all my friends felt like that, whether from a European nation, Egypt, Irak,Palestine, Iran, Surinam,Indonesia, Philipinnes or any other country where I met these colleague students in the so called International Club of our University. I remember the indignation when somebody reminded them of their origin (e.g., the bush of Surinam). That has changed a lot the last 10 years or so, with me, as well as with those colleagues, to my surprise I read about the metamorphosis of some of these old colleagues in my newspaper, but am not surprised, because my own development is not much different.

  17. Manzell Blakeley says

    While I ‘agree’ with the Harris stance, I think he’s fundamentally wrong. We all have ‘tribes’ and identities and biases.

    I think, the question as it applies to this modern version of Identity Politics is, “will that identity inculcate me from “. I think for many of us here, who have the outsider mentality and don’t believe we have a tribe (yet here we are, of course), we get frustrated when we see the foibles of the Social Media Justice exposed, yet their adherents refuse to hold their own accountable and will back them regardless of anything (very much like Trump fans in this regard. I attest that Sanders and Trump supporters were responding to the same emotional notes and that Trump’s team correctly read that Americans as a whole were very much in the mood for a new Us vs. Them War and just needed to be told who were the new Us and the new Them). Meanwhile, they’re ready to pounce on you for the slightest of mistakes (say, misgender a non-binary person, for eg). It feels unfair, and of course it is. But that’s the power of being part of a tribe.

    But on the whole, the biggest problem with saying “I’m not a tribalist” is that it’s smug and can be used to protect yourself from inquiry, and I think that’s against the ethos of “Rational” thinking. Overall I’m excited that more of us are finding each other and supporting each other, but I really want to avoid the traps that (at least from a baseline liberal perspective, which I suspect most of us come from) other left wing sects have fallen in to.

    • Manzell Blakeley says

      Quillette formatting ate a small bit of my post. The first line of the second paragraph should read:

      I think, the question as it applies to this modern version of Identity Politics is, “will that identity inculcate me from (inquiry, criticism, etc)“.

    • chowderhead says

      If you’re not a tribalist, what are you? Who and what are you “for”? The corollary to C Amer is h sapiens. Is there a h sapiens tribe? If there is, what does the h sapiens tribe’s democratic republic look like when its members are presented with binary choices every two years?

      Perhaps the appeals to tribalism made by both parties are marketing tools made necessary by the extant political system. Is it possible that tribalism isn’t hard-wired into us but instead is a product of our culture and society?

      What is extreme anti-tribalism? Anarchy?

  18. Filius Roma says

    Interesting that the writer brings up globalism in this article. One thing I have never understood about people that tend to be both anti-identity politics and anti-globalism is that wouldn’t globalism being the ultimate end to identity politics and tribalism? Where do you draw the line in the sand as far as identity politics goes? So if identity politics by race, gender, and sexual orientation are bad, what makes identity politics by nationality inherently good or better than the former?

    • @Filius

      There are light years of difference between basing your political decisions on your immutable characteristics and basing them on your free will as an individual.

      Citizenship is NOT a tribal identity because it is not based on an immutable characteristic. In America, you can actually expatriate yourself and renounce your citizenship if you don’t like being American, it is a free choice.

      Tribalism is BAD because it precludes the possibility of carrying on politics based on the principle of rational deliberation. In the tribal society, thinking and choosing is not what matters, only mindless loyalty to a group you ended up in due to circumstances outside your free will.

      Tribal societies are not free societies and do not even come close to positing freedom as a legitimate goal. Just look at many African countries where tribal identities based on immutable characteristics and loyalties are the organizing political principle. Is that really how you want to live?

      • Filius Roma says

        I understand the argument on the immutable characteristics, I’ve heard it many times before, but I completely disagree with the idea that citizenship is not a tribal identity. Simply because you can gain or renounce citizenship does not mean that it cannot be tribal. In fact, the way Trump and the anti-globalists want people to think is in a tribal manner with the US being one tribe, Germany being another, etc, etc. Saying that tribal identity based on choice is okay because you choose it, doesn’t necessarily make the outcomes any better in my opinion. Especially if the goal is to truly eliminate tribal thought.

        • @Filius

          If you still insist on equating citizenship with sub national ethnic group identification than you need to perhaps learn more about life in a country that has yet to emerge from a more primitive tribalism (ie many African countries) or one that has descended into tribalism (Bosnia). Learn more about life in these countries and then try to tell me there’s no meaningful difference.

          You sit in your cozy corner of the developed western world, in a country with a national identity many fought and died for, and wonder to yourself if your national identity is the moral equivalent of the primitive types of identity it took generations of blood sweat and tears of your ancestors to overcome.

          Tribalism is always going to be a threat to those societies that have figured out how to overcome such atavistic instincts with forms of political organization that hold individuals responsible and secure their liberties.

          • Filius Roma says

            @AA

            I’m not sure why you assume I’m American. Sorry but you’re argument is just very unconvincing to me. Saying that nationalism is an accepted form of identity politics because it’s chosen doesn’t really sway me to think it’s better than the other forms of identity politics. Nationalism is identity politics taken to a global level and the results of that can be devestating because it can and has lead to war. This has been historically proven througout the history of the nation-state. So I don’t know why anyone who says they hate and reject tribalism would embrace a very historically dangerous form of it in nationalism.

            So then my questions to you is, why do you want nationalism? Why do you think globalism is wrong?

      • dirk says

        Tribalism is an evolutionary stage, you can’t go around it, even if you wished, but you can overcome it.
        In African nations, it still works , democracy there simply is too early. From my maid I heard the story of voting there in the village. You had to queu in a line, thus no secret ballot. My maid said that some of the villagers, by stupidity, were standing in the wrong line, the line of the opposing tribe (it was a party of course, but with members of only one tribe).

    • Rob says

      It’s a good question. People are often more tribal and irrational about their nationality as they are about other identities. And the same blinders, conformity, and blaming of the Other is found among nationalists.

      However, I think nationalism is different in two ways:

      1) It promotes universal civic virtues. We pay taxes and abide by laws because we have a common interest in roads and schools and hospitals and policing. We encounter many people every day who we don’t have much in common with, but we recognise our common interests and engage on collective enterprises in spite of those differences.

      2) It is not necessary for your identity as a citizen of your country to be defined by enmity or opposition to another country. Someone can be proud to be Australian and derive a sense of community belonging from it, without fostering antagonism to Indonesians or Japanese.

      • Filius Roma says

        @Rob

        All good points and I agree with the two you made. Let me focus on the second one though. One could make the argument that identity politics based on race, gender, and sexual orientation doesn’t have to be based on antagonism either, but certain people have used their identity politics to foster antagonism. The same could be said of nationalism. Sure, one doesn’t have to be antagonistic to other nationalities to be a nationalist, but you can use nationalism as a way to foster antagonism in the same way.

        Then, of course, you have to ask, how much nationalism is good until we start to diverge into other more dangerous forms of nationalism? As we have seen in Europe, it’s not that difficult for nationalism to become ethnonationalism.

        This again leads me to my main question from before. Why are those that seem to be against anything remotely tribal, seem to embrace tribal practices like nationalism but are against globalism? Because from where I stand, it seems to me globalism would be the ultimate way to eliminate tribalism, identity politics, etc. But the resistance against it from these corners seems confusing to me.

        • derek says

          You have it backwards. The further away the seat of power, which in a globalized world would be very far away, the more the necessity of strong and vigorous tribal affiliation simply for self preservation. The more diverse the political economy, the more tribal.

          Germany doesn’t give a darn about Greece, for example, and likely Germany would have more say in any decisions. For Greece to raise a defense would require solidarity and a vigorous nationalism, even to be heard let alone their interests taken into consideration. And that is a situation across nations; what about the more localized interests of one region vs another.

          • Filius Roma says

            Yet nationalism was at it’s strongest before the advent of globalization and before the EU. There’s a reason two World Wars were fought.

  19. Jeff York says

    I’m at work and my brain is fried but I like this: “My tribe is: the citizens of America for whom their identity as a citizen is more important than any identity that derives from demographic categories (race, sex, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, SES, etc.). I will call this tribe: Citizen American, or C-Amer for short.” When my brain is un-fried I’ll have to give it further thought.

  20. Mark Beal says

    “An AIS is free to say that an OIS must declare an identity bias. But the AIS does not get to assign that identity bias. Open-mindedness on the part of an OIS who agrees to speak from an identity perspective does not necessitate letting the AIS dictate an identity perspective for the OIS. Many AISs act as if they have that right, thus revealing the authoritarian edge concealed behind the social justice façade.”

    Last time I checked, AIS’s were really keen on people “self-identifying”. An AIS who denies an OIS that right, or assigns them an identity, is quite simply guilty of gross hypocrisy – though I suspect that in the peculiar mindset of AIS’s, pointing out this obvious self-contradiction is a basically a patriarchal conspiracy, or some such.

    Of course this hypocrisy is clearly visible in thinly veiled pejorative newspeak like “cis”. Does anyone know of anyone who identifies thus?

    • Correct. It is hypocrisy. If you self identify into one of the traditional groups of identity politics and vote Democratic, that’s OK. But if you self identify into something other than the approved intersectional categories, that is not allowed. The essay is inviting people to unashamedly reject this rigged game.

      • OleK says

        You mean Dave Chappelle playing the Black White-Supremacist is not OK? LOL!

        • Bill says

          I’m trying to figure out how any black individual or homosexual or transgender voting for (R) is bad, but cis-white males voting for (D) are not bad. Aren’t those cis-white males all racist homophobic Nazis? Surely the (D) candidates don’t want their support. Are the MSM types going to demand 30-40 disavowal statements at every turn? I would actually find that a quite entertaining press conference.

          • OleK says

            Bill, but YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND! The “cis-white males” who vote (D) are “allies” and “woke”, so therefore they’re not Nazis! See how easy it is? LOL!

          • peannut gallery says

            Bill, rolling over and exposing your soft underbelly to your betters means they’ll spare you (for last).

  21. Steve says

    “My tribe is: the citizens of America for whom their identity as a citizen is more important than any identity that derives from demographic categories”

    — Keith Stanovich, 2018

    “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion . . . Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

    — John Adams, 1798

    Your definition of America differs profoundly from the definition of those who founded it.

    • The essay does not attempt to produce “a definition of America”. It is an attempt to articulate an identity stance to use in opposition to the AIS who will not argue without declared identity stances.

    • OleK says

      His (Keith’s) definition? It is a hypothetical definition for an article to use for the sake of argument. Talk about straw manning!

  22. X. Citoyen says

    The author has offered many things to ponder in this piece, but the Harris-Klein debate is not one of them. I can see why he used it, but it doesn’t illustrate the identity politics worldview so much as one of the many ways to derail a debate you can’t win. Klein couldn’t win on the facts so he set up a sophistic mantrap baited with ego-preservation, and Harris stepped right into it.

    A quick review of the debate for those who (fortunately) missed it: Harris invited Klein to justify his (Klein’s) claim that the IQ-race correlation was spurious and that Murray was a racist and, thus, that Harris should not have invited him on his podcast. Klein opened with a moral argument: Harris should’ve contextualized the debate on IQ and race, given American history; Harris explained that he’d been castigated (by an African American in an earlier podcast) for doing just that. Klein pivoted to how Harris was blinkered by his own identity. None of this had anything to do with the debate. Yet Harris tried to prove he wasn’t, and the debate circled the drain for another hour until exhaustion set in.

    The ugly mess had little to do with identity politics. Klein avoided the substance of the debate by invoking tribalism to “poison the well,” a type of ad hominem argument best explained by its origin. Charles Kingsley had insinuated that Cardinal Newman’s reasoning couldn’t be trusted because, as a Catholic, Newman’s first loyalty was to the Church and not to the truth. Newman protested that Kingsley had “poisoned the well” in that anything he (Newman) said could be dismissed as Catholic dissimulation. Harris wasn’t so astute when Klein demanded that Harris acknowledge his tribalism, which, in this context, amounted to admitting that everything he (Harris) said was a product of his ethnocentric perspective. Instead of pointing out that Klein was trying to avoid the facts by attacking the man, Harris tried to defend the man—which, of course, can’t be done because it involves proving a negative in an adversarial debate.

    Naturally, Klein’s victory was a pyrrhic one. He did nothing to advance his claim against IQ research, Harris, or Murray; he succeeded only in avoiding being directly exposed as dissembler and smear-artist by pressing Harris into a futile attempt to prove his innocence.

    • AC Harper says

      Well said indeed. There’s a difference between tribal allegiance (which may include compulsory behaviours) and social networks which may influence people’s behaviours but involve no compulsion. Typically people might ‘belong’ to one tribe but membership of a social network is not formal and a person might be exposed to many social networks.

      Does Harris ‘belong’ to a tribe? I’d say not. Is he influenced by his many social networks? Almost certainly to a greater or lesser extent, but his behaviours are not compelled.

    • I see both sides says

      Klein’s claim was not that the IQ-race correlation was spurious. The racial IQ gap is a fact, and Klein knows this; he was arguing that the gap is entirely the product of historical, environmental and sociocultural factors. Harris and Murray argue that there unfortunately appears to be a genetic component too.

      Yes, all the data points to the fact that IQ is highly heritable. It may be very likely that Harris and Murray are right. Yet, it is also not out of the question that Klein and co are right. This is a complicated issue, and one that needs discussion and debate. Harris is right in that he and Murray shouldn’t be vilified for daring to bring up the other side. But I want to pay more attention to what Klein is saying.

      Klein’s core argument is that where one falls on this debate is, in large part, motivated intrinsically by their identity and the biases that come with it. I 100% agree with this.

      Think about it: how many black people would agree to the idea that his people are genetically inferior in intelligence? This is fundamentally the same race realism that inspires the far-right, and the validates the centuries of oppression they’ve had to endure. The identity-protective, self-concept-preserving belief for a black person to have is clearly the other side of the argument. I would wager that 99% of African-Americans, if surveyed about this very debate, would lean towards Klein’s position. Is this because 99% of African-Americans have faulty critical thinking abilities, as Sam Harris – arbiter of logic and rationality – would have you believe? No, it’s because identity-motivated cognition is a powerful force particularly pertaining to an issue so inexorably linked to your self-concept. If you want to learn more about identity-protective and motivated cognition, Daniel Kahan at Yale is doing some amazing work on this topic right now.

      White people – or any other race, for that matter – have fewer qualms related to falling onto the other side of the debate. Indeed, there are clear motivations for it. Harris, along with many of the IDW, have made a career as of late railing against the social justice, identity politics left. Could it be because the theoretical framework of the radical left fundamentally scorns white identity? Could it be that white people are sick of being told that they’re privileged oppressors whose opinions are devalued? Perhaps if we found out that black people had a genetic component to their lower IQ, society would stop blaming white people for systematic oppression…

      This is exactly what Klein is arguing. As much as Harris and other anti-tribalists scorn identity politics, they are playing it. As much as they want to believe everything they believe is the product of meticulous logic and rationality, it is not. Identity, race being prime among them, drives intuition, and then rationality.

      • You may be underestimating the power of science to create a platform for the adjudication of knowledge claims. The conundrum you describe here is why we agree to abide by scientific outcomes. You are right, it is hard. But many scientists who have done research finding substantial heritability for intelligence have been left leaning.

      • X. Citoyen says

        On IQ and race, Klein uses the excuse-and-alibi tactic. Just as the guilty man swears he wasn’t there (alibi) and that the victim had it coming (excuse), so Klein claimed across his several Vox pieces that race-IQ correlations are pseudoscience dreamt up by racists (alibi) and IQ differences come from historical oppression (excuse). It’s one or the other, not whichever happens to work.

        You say we should be paying “more attention to what Klein is saying,” but he isn’t saying all that much: He’s insisting that all cases of black-white differences in outcomes be attributed to white racism and historical oppression. Full stop. No genetic component allowed in public discourse.

        You say this has merit, first, because blacks wouldn’t want to accept that they’re “genetically inferior in intelligence.” But the research doesn’t show they’re “genetically inferior,” which is a value judgement, and it’s a logical mistake to associate the average IQ of a group with the IQ of its members. I also find it a little patronizing to suggest that blacks can’t handle the facts about the white-black difference when whites seem to be able to handle the facts about the white-Asian and white-Jewish differences.

        The second defense is an argument from consequences that relies on indefensible assumptions about racial homogeneity. Americans of African descent are at least as heterogeneous as whites and more so than a lot of other cultural groups (e.g., Japanese). Outside basic morality, any 99% claim about blacks in the U.S. is as dubious as a 99% claim about whites. I encourage you to take up your “self-concept preserving” thesis with Thomas Sowell. Come to that, I expect you’d get about the same response from John McWhorter and even Cornel West. No self-respecting intellectual is going to agree that science should be suppressed or falsified because it hurts his feelings. Once again, I find this double-standard patronizing.

        As for the consequences, both history and current events shows suppression and distortion have exactly the opposite effect of the intended. Trying to quarantine the facts and demonizing anyone who asks about them only encourages even wilder claims. Ideologues don’t care what the facts are anyway because they’ll invent their own. And then there’s the wider problem: Suppressing research only undermines public trust in the institutions they pay for when the truth comes out.

        Finally, this position is not as caring and compassionate as it seems. It’s IQ fatalism. In agreeing to pretend it doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter, we’re implicitly agreeing for all time that IQ shall remain destiny. But what if, as Klein’s own environment explanation assumes, average black IQ or its effects turn out to be ameliorable or some wholly new understanding arises? For all we know, average IQ is affected by some as yet undiagnosed but common and easily treatable condition in childhood. We’ll never find out, however, if we make IQ research so controversial that no one touches it. Are you willing to accept that possibility, all in a vain attempt to get ahead in a political fight? If so, you’re political identity is blinding you to your political ends.

        • I see both sides says

          Well, I meant pay attention to what Klein is saying in terms of identity politics and tribalism, which is the whole point of this article.

          Klein’s point is that Sam is playing identity politics, whether or not he wants to admit it. The fact is the science on race-IQ and genetics is unsettled, and there are two camps. The camp in which you fall is in large part motivated by your identity.

        • I see both sides says

          I agree wholeheartedly with the idea that a universalist scientific approach without regards for feeling is the best way to seek truth. As far as I’m concerned, Harris and Murray are probably closer to the truth. I myself fall on that side of the argument. But then again, I’m also not black, and I have enough awareness to see that my identity and experience allows me to be in this camp, and why it might be difficult for blacks. This is my fundamental argument: your identity in large part motivates your cognitive appraisal of issues, particularly issues this closely tied to your identity.

          Even though I agree with Harris’ actual view on the issue, I am highly opposed to him and other anti-tribalists of his ilk when they try to say that their positions are anti-tribal and uninformed by their identity. This is clearly not the case, which is all Klein is trying to point out. You cite Sowell and McWhorter as black intellectuals who might veer towards the genetic argument side, but they are far and few between; the fact is most blacks will side with Klein and those who side with Harris will be mostly white (or any non-black race for that matter).

          • X. Citoyen says

            Your last comment is inconsistent for the same reason Klein’s tribal claims are. You claim one’s appraisal of an issue is influenced by one’s identity and that you’re not black. Then you turn around and assert that “most blacks will side with Klein” and you, not with their fellow tribe members, Sowell and McWhorter. Say what? I wonder by what magic you and Klein have access to the true and authentic perspective of another tribe and Harris does not, even while Harris was following advice given to him by a black person on another podcast. This bears repeating: Harris tells Klein he didn’t preface his discussion with black history because a black guest had told him not to. Klein then carried on telling him he should have done so in the name of sensitivity to the black perspective!

            Just as Klein ignored Harris’s black guest, so you have booted Sowell and McWhorter out of their own tribe. How is it, in other words, that you two white people can claim to know better about how blacks feel about race and IQ than two black people while simultaneously claiming that tribe shapes perspective? I think you already have your answer: You and Klein are projecting your own ideological views onto black people, and then committing the no-true-Scotsman fallacy with blacks who disagree with you. Your imagining how “it might be difficult for blacks” is not knowledge of their feelings or their identity speaking—it’s yours. You’re playing gatekeeper for a tribe you’ve created from your own ideological premises.

            This is why I said in the beginning that the debate did not break down along different perspectives on identity. Klein merely tried to shame an ideological opponent into silence by pretending to represent the black perspective, presumably because he couldn’t make the scientific and ideological case. Now, I doubt you’re not the nasty type Klein is because I suspect you probably care. But you are presuming to speak on behalf of people who you’ve created and that, for all we know, might only exist in your mind.

          • cardiffkook says

            Game set and match go to Citoyen. Extremely well argued.

  23. David Doyal says

    “Identity politics” is just a new way to talk about “interest-based” politics. The goal, in the case of identity politics, is to get members to commit to supporting the interests of the majority of the identity group, first and foremost. A black rental property owner is expected to support rent controls because it might be in the interest of most blacks that rent……rather than opposing controls because controls hurt his individual interests…..

  24. Joe Bobbles says

    “The illogic of victim identity categories reaches the lunatic level when applied to a category such as women, where the split is as close as 55-45 percent. It is ludicrous to speak of a category that splits 55/45 as if there is uniformity within it. But this was done prominently during the 2012 campaign when the Democrats accused the Republicans of waging a “War on Women.”

    As Ryszard Legutko articulates in “The Demon in Democracy”, when many progressive Liberals use words like “women”, “LGBT”, “blacks” etc. they typically aren’t using them to refer to real people. These labels are stand-ins for abstract political concepts, exactly how the Communist Party spoke of their love for “the proletariat” while they were imprisoning, starving and executing actual blue-collar workers.

    Progressive liberals like Klein think they can speak for “blacks” or “women” because in his ideology, these are just abstract political categories divorced from real people to be employed in an ideological war. The fact that many actual blacks and women vehemently disagree with Klein makes no difference.

  25. Nick says

    This was unexpectedly the stupidest thing I have read all day. I came to the site after being told it was incredibly conservative, but the title of this article looked to be very intelligent: that the claim to neutrality and the claim of bias via tribalism are mutually exclusive. One cannot tell their ideological enemies that they are subject to tribalism, but that they are not members of such a tribe and are speaking freely.

    Of course, I found the exact opposite, complete with a pseudo-philosophical argument (of Harris’ variety no less; astounding that the author should be of said tribe eh!) advocating for the specious ontological position of “C-Amer”: a non-Tribe-Tribe.

    What a bunch of semantic, sophistic horse shit.

  26. David Lloyd says

    The reason the C-amer identity is so powerful is because this is also the level where most political power exists and where most dialogue takes place. It is also the lowest common denominator. For better or worse, our societies are organized along national boundaries.

    This is also why the idea of being a ‘citizen of the world’ currently makes no sense. The world does not have a coherent cultural, political or legal structure you can be a citizen of.

    You can only throw national borders open to the extent that you can assimilate those entering to become cultural, economic and civic equals. The reason the C-amer label scares an AIS is because they have been working so hard to weaken the core component of citizenship, shared basic cultural values, by replacing them with multiculturalism.

    As a European, I find listening to Sam Harris pretend he has no tribal identity puzzling. He has so clearly been shaped by growing up in the US (no criticism implied by that observation) and went through a phase of denouncing Trump and interviewing Trump detractors at every opportunity. I presume that he considered this his civic duty.

    He wears his passion for America on his sleeve, the recent re-election of Putin certainly didn’t have him frothing at the mouth in the same way. He wants to be rational, but many of the topics that most exercise his mind are clearly chosen based on his identity as an American citizen. Again, no criticism implied, this is simply what it means to live your life in a particular place.

  27. Adolph says

    Calm down Nick. You appear to be pooping your own array of semantic sophistic gobbledygook.

    Really enjoyed the article, certainly gave me another way to thank about and participate in such discussions.

    There is a muppet further up “AA” I think who appears inadequately impressed with the editorial quality of this article..I suggest he/she/it & Nick go roll around in the paddock.

  28. Paolo says

    Great perspective. My two cents:
    I think the experiment would stop at stage 2, i.e. it will not really start. The Klein-type will never allow a C-amer identity because this is not playing the identity game at all. Identities, in this game (as the author mentions) are by birth, demographic, not based on persuasion. The game is not even starting then.
    As I see it, an interesting hypothetical conversation would be that the Harris-type consents to really play the game, and put himself in the box that corresponds to him according to the typical rules: white, american, male, Jewish (maybe rich, maybe highly educated – it doesn’t matter much). Then they can talk about stuff, from their identity perspectives.
    This would be interesting, because I suspect, if the Harris-type succeeds in playing his role coherently, that they will soon find that there is no common ground for discussion of any topic for which these identities, as per the identity doctrine, have a bearing.
    Take the topic ‘discussion’ of IQ distributions across demographics (e.g., race, nationality, sex):
    Klein: ‘We should not look at Murray’s data’
    Harris: ‘Of course we should, it shows clearly that people with my identity have higher IQ, it is important to stress these findings.’
    Kein: ‘But this is racist, it marginalizes groups, it is pseudoscience’
    Harris: ‘You only say that because you are a sellout to another group, you have betrayed your white Jew male etc group for your personal gain. The science is good, because it is favorable to our group’s prestige.’
    And so on.

    • TarsTarkas says

      To the Tribalists everything is based on birth and demography, except when it’s not (a good example being the whole transgenderism situation). Then it’s entirely based on personal subjectivity. They cannot logically or coherently deal with or explain those who self-identify as something besides the political niche the Tribalists have assigned that person’s demographic to. Thus the continual cries of ‘you are a traitor to your XXX identity group. When a significant portion of the population are labeled as traitors to their assigned roles as voters, then nobody’s a traitor.

  29. Paolo says

    Two more cents on that very interesting passage:
    There are two main problems I see with Klein’s position.
    1) He assigns a pretty weird identity to Harris ‘I think that your core identity in this is as someone who feels you get treated unfairly by politically correct mob.’
    Note that he says ‘in this’, implying that relevant identities change depending on the topic at hand.
    Klein, supposedly, in this, is ‘someone who thinks Harris is fairly treated by mobs’ or ‘someone who thinks there are no real mobs’ or something anyway different from Harris.
    So once he has established these identities, and should Harris agree on them, as Klein would supposedly wish (since he tries to convince him that they are the valid ones), what can they do? They can just clash, because Harris will have to say ‘I think X, because my position is admittedly of someone who thinks X’, and Klein will say the same just using Y. End of conversation.
    Pretty stupid rhetorical technique. Strange that no one calls it out explicitly.
    Klein will have to acknowledge that the only way to move ahead in the exchange is for each participant to move away, to any extent possible, from the stances dictated by the identities he assigned. Which leads to the second problem:
    2) Klein recognizes the latter necessity already! ‘I have all kinds of identities that you can call forward. All of them can bias me simultaneously, and the questions, of course, are which dominate and how am I able to counterbalance them through my process of information gathering and adjudication of that information.’
    Why would he counterbalance at all, if he didn’t believe himself that it is necessary to move away from his identity-based stance? He’s calling out Harris for doing explicitly what he implicitly recognizes is important. It makes no sense to me. I still don’t understand whether Klein knows this contradiction in his heart or not.

  30. derek says

    I think there is something basic that has been missed. I couldn’t listen to the whole debate; i find Ezra Klein insufferable, and frankly life is too short to waste it like that.

    When Klein speaks of tribe he is describing something that he is attempting to lead, yet at the same time desperately avoiding saying anything that would unleash his patent slander mob on to himself. Harris had no risk in the conversation; he was already an outcast and didn’t want in. Klein was at risk of saying or even not saying vigorously enough things that could lead him to be part from his tribe.

    That came across loss and clear in the opening back and forth, including the obligatory incantations, then the tedious expositions on his moral superiority.

    He was successful because the episode ended with his desperately desired position in his tribe intact.

    He has to say that Harris is in a tribe, only as a way to remove the necessity of actually considering the absurdity of his modus operandi, maybe even the evil nature of the way he goes about things.

    • OleK says

      I DID listen to the whole podcast, but you’re spot on here. And I also find Klein insufferable.

  31. Martin28 says

    Excellent article! I do believe Stanovich has hit upon the best political answer to the left’s identity politics game. Very well thought out and reasoned. I like the responses to the main objections: That it is not a valid stance, that it is a cover for white supremacy, etc. The Democratic Party has been mine for 40 years, I am still a member. But I fear the party is way too far down the rabbit hole to pull out before it suffers a complete collapse.

  32. dirk says

    I just read here in my European newspaper something I immediately recognize. Gideon Rachman wrote yesterday in the Financial Times that, for the first time in history, an american president chooses to be a non-universalist: a no to international institutions (like UN), a no to human rights all over the globe, democracy and free market? very nice, in our own backyard, but no longer over the whole planet, why should we? we agree on things from nation to nation, no longer under the umbrella of those useless organisations. The Krim, after all, is the world of Russia, of Putin, not of international human rights.
    Trump the tribalist!!

    In another local newspaper I read: in fact Donald Trump is the most lefty one you can imagine: against the FBI, the NAVO and the international trade agreements, just like the far left in my youth.

  33. I’ve got a question and I’m hoping for some insightful input.

    It seems the default position among people here is that tribalism is so engrained in our evolutionary trajectory that it is almost akin to a law of nature. From this perspective, any non-tribal inclinations are achieved only through a rational process of careful negotiation and deliberation, if at all.

    I can see how this reasoning is attractive, but I’m always suspicious of buying evolutionary arguments wholesale.

    Here’s my question: what if there is just as natural an impulse toward individualism, isolation, privacy, and autonomy from the group?

    The trump card that Klein holds is if you concede that the natural inclination to tribalism is not checked by an equally, if not more powerful, natural inclination to be an individual and maximize individual autonomy.

    Individuality is the natural law that can be discerned through reason and calculation of self interest; Groupism is the natural law made manifest through feelings of loyalty and pride. In every society these are dueling ethics, each competing for the upper hand in structuring the grounds over which political conflict transpires.

    In Western culture then ethic of individuality has been dominant, producing innovations in government that start and end with the rights and duties of the individual.

    The main point being that we should not stop at pointing out the natural force of he tribal ethc without also considering the natural inclinations that mitigate against it and which can be seized on to rescue Western political achievements from an intersectional hellhole.

    • dirk says

      Such an impuls towards privacy and isolation, autonomy, AA, is socially, culturally useful, but not natural. In nature, the group has an enormous advantage (in rights on land, material, sea, fishing, wild, wood, women, or what else), read Yuval Harari on that. The use of an autonomous individual is, historically spoken, very young, just only since the renaissance and humanism. But, of course, meant great strides ahead on such cultural fields as science, art, law, politics, human rights. Maybe, the iceman Otzi paid the price for that autonomy, 5000 yr ago. But that mobbing and tribalism still keeps mooving us. Good that police exists, and a law and order system (at least, in the civilised nations).

  34. The argument that a group of people that share an anti-ID politics view is still tribalism, is farcical. Yeah they share a collective view, and are thus a “tribe”, but as the thought experiment points out, your birth characteristics have nothing to do with your “membership” to the C-Amer “tribe”. It’s not the idea of grouping that being anti-identity politics is rejects—groups are good; they help us function, e.g. a saturday fishing enthusiasts group is all good. What’s at the core of an anti-identity politics worldview is the rejection of assigning value or points to a specific birth characteristic—something immutable, something you can’t change. I thought we already figured out that stuff didn’t work. It’s a bad game. Rather than reject the game completely and just see everyone as equals—as late, great civil rights leaders inspired us to do over and over again—the SJW/ID Politics agenda seeks to continue playing the game in what they deem to be the most “just” and “fair” way possible, and in many cases, tilt the game in such a way to make certain groups pay for the wrongs of those that have gone before us. But it’s just not going to work. In keeping with the left’s propensity to think utopia can be achieved, they will keep playing the game thinking a time will come when it can yield nothing but victory for all. But as is the nature of games, someone always loses. So let’s not play at all.

  35. ga gamba says

    The argument that a group of people that share an anti-ID politics view is still tribalism, is farcical.

    Indeed. Look what identitarians call whites (or males) who are their supporters. They are merely allies. You can’t belong fully. By default the tribe of immutable characteristics is exclusionary. Further, when some blacks (or females) declare they’re opting out of the identity group they’re denounced as fools and traitors.

  36. dirk says

    What few people will realize (especially the younger ones) is that, not very long ago ( elderly will certainly remember), that tribalism didn’t exist, wasn’t an issue. Because, there was only one superior civilized tribe (so I call it now, with knowledge of now) that mattered, the western, christian tribe, the other nations and 3rd world regions were backward, and had to be developed (I was a small part of that, but don’t feel shame because of it). Convincing these backward people (as they themselves, citizens and politicians alike, also felt, and tried often to modernize= westernize, so that the West would no longer laugh at them) was the way, but brute force, if needed, was not shunned. Cultural relativism still had to sprout from the brains of progressive intellectual scholars. Some forms of tribalism existed, but on a lower scale, and had to be eradicated, by reason, coercion or education. I wonder whether someone here can imagine this, or has lived through it. It was a complete different time. With different challenges and perspectives. It was the time of the supreme white western male.

  37. In academic circles you will be pilloried and figuratively tared and feathered for so much as suggesting that we need to have a serious intellectual discussion about possible superiority of Western culture and its traditional values.

    The argument that the West is without culture and just appropriates other cultures is sheer idiocy of the first degree. The truth of the matter is that Western culture has been the most appropriated and mimicked than any other in world history. Ok, I’ll give you your curry and rap music back if you return my liberal democracy, light bulb, telephone, mass produced car, and iphone…the list goes on ad infinitum.

    When you stop and think for one moment about it, the big lie perpetrated by postmodern academics is that we can’t objectively evaluate cultures to determine the better from the worse and in doing so derive better and worse ways of living and pursuing human flourishing. Of course the next big lie is that Western culture is by and for the sole interests of white males. The irony of the fact that the Western patriarchy produced the only form of government known to man dedicated to equal treatment of individuals regardless of race or gender is entirely lost on them — so much so that many on the left have decided Islam is the perfect antidote to the evil whiteness. I find it infinitely amusing that the hatred of male whiteness has convinced the inter-sectional superiors on the left that putting women back in burkas is a fabulous idea.

  38. Sam’s tribe is Jewish people in the national sense. That is why Sam “End of Faith” Harris is friends with Ben Shapiro, a religious orthodox right wing Jew, but Sam would never be friends with an orthodox right wing Muslim.

  39. dirk says

    To inflate the issue by throwing more gasolin on it: yesterday, our minister of foreign affairs said something stupid (as a politician), he said that, of course, to go out hunting, to build the community of a small village, you prefer to be on your own, with your own people and culture (he even drew the race card). Within an hour, he apologised already for these words, because an outcry followed not only from the opposition, also from his own rightwing party. The funny thing is, this is what everybody knows, and tells one another in bars ,social meetings and on terraces, I never hear something different. But’…… but……. it is highly politically incorrect, so, what you say (whether as a politician or any other newspaper or TV personality) is not what is, but what should be, the political ideal, the perspective we have to go after. This seems very strange, but I fear, it has always be the same, the only difference is, the perspectives change all the time (roughly every half century).

  40. Rainer Möller says

    A while ago I had some fun with cosmopolitans to whom I told that they were a tribe as well – the rather little cosmopolitan tribe which certainly ought to have his own particular nation state as any other tribe but which should not try to impose their life choices on everybody else.
    The cosmopolitans were not enamoured. Nor would Mr. Stanovich be, I suppose.

    What I miss in his plea for science is a distinction between critical rationalism and dogmatical rationalism. Dogmatical rationalists are in the coming as an answer to the monstrosities of cultural relativism and deconstructivism. Dogmatical rationalists are people who believe in reason, progress and the results of science as things who are infallible and must not be critized. They believe this, among others, because it allows them to design their own political and social ideas as scientific and infallible, too. So it is only logical that they think we have to believe the ruling ideas because of the authority of professional scientists (and journalists), and this authority must be “protected” against dissenters. Dogmatical rationalism was the ruling ideology in the French Third Republic and in Bolshevist Russia – the link which united the leftist bourgeoisie with the Communists.

    • I hope you are not lumping Stanovich with the dogmatic rationalists. Those courses in the 1970s that I referred to were pure Popperian critical rationalism, and I’ve also taught using David Miller’s updated Popperianism in his book: Critical Rationalism: A Restatement and Defence.

    • I’d like to think one can be a dogmatic rationalist without at the same time believing there are scientific answers to enduring political questions. It seems whenever we consult science for answers to the political problems a lot of people end up getting slaughtered; after all it just makes more sense than those pesky natural individual rights that never had a rational basis anyway.

  41. Quiddam says

    I don’t believe you are fair to Klein here, because this idea of tribalism is actually Harris’ spin on this, in order to justify what people that disagree with him on what he misrepresents as “facts” and solid science. Klein simply refuses those accusations of bias and turns it back on Harris. It’s a common tactic Harris uses anyway, this idea that he is somehow impassionate and impartial. This is clearly far from the truth, and him interviewing Murray was clearly not about science, but about politics, and he says it himself. So now, he has to play in the political realm, which is not the realm of science.

    So Klein denies Harris’s claims that this book is scientifically accurate, and from the little I saw, he is correct in saying so, or at least it is highly controversial, and from a biological and evolutionary perspective, mostly false. Character traits are mostly environmental, it is the difference, that is sometimes innate, but it would be like looking at 1% of difference, and fine combing it, and even then, it is never completely innate. His interpretation, is that it is a really important issue that needs to be addressed and talked about. Klein responds it is not, and that the only reason to talk about it would be political, and has historically been done for those reasons, and points out accurately that this book is only used for that reason. It’s pretty simple and quite valid to ask Harris his reason, and now we know. Simple as that.

    Also, speaking of science, there is a difference between something that is clearly physical, and mental processes or habits. Making analogies between skin color or athletic abilities that are clearly genetic, and it is scientifically accepted, is different than claiming how people think or know is genetic. The biology is pretty clear on that, and Harris using those rhetorical devices is simply false, whether he knows it or not. So he is not being factual or even reasonable in that debate, which is not a surprise.

    Also I am not sure your solutions to identity politics would work, I just don’t believe there is possibility of dialogue here, at least not with ideologues of that kind, but I don’t see Klein in that way, the way he presents himself here. He is actually addressing the issue and makes valid points. He does seem to be doing bigoted politics though, but it does not invalidate what he said. There was possibility of dialogue in that podcast. From what I know of intersectional feminism though, what you call the tribe of C-Amer, would simply be called white supremacy, and color blindness, so it would not make a difference. Easier to just insult them or sue them, if they go that route. That’s what you do with antisocial people.

  42. Florin says

    Sorry two Jews debating tribalism and the tribalism of Jews does not come up?

    I mean, is this not because it might involve criticism of aJewish ethnocentrism Klein clearly displays?

    Jewish ethnonationalism is okay. Any sort of European nationalism is ‘hate’ (ie Sweden for Swedes).

    That’s quite the glaring double standard. Will the Jewish editor of this website ignore it?

    I don’t mean to poke, I mean to point out an elephant.

    • Fess says

      The way ahead for mankind is to view the discussion as between two people. It’s the ideas that are contested. Their Jewishness is not the point. Never mind the irony of asserting the importance of their (presumed) identity in a discussion of identity politics. What happened to judging a man by the content of his character? I fear Martin Luther King would be vilified by identity politics.

  43. Fess says

    I was born in the 1950s. When I was young conservatives were the moralising, finger-wagging scolds – often hypocrites in the process. Left-wingers challenged the conservative orthodoxy. Now it’s exactly the opposite. At least the old conservatives could point at a moral framework based on “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and so on. The new left wing quasi-religion has the moral framework that murdered over 100 million people in the 20th century in the name of ideas like equality. Antifa is only distinguishable from the Nazi Sturm Abteilung (brown shirts) by their uniform. This website, and articles such as this, offers me explanations for the reversal and hope that the ideological mess everywhere in politics and the media can be unravelled. There was a long struggle to create our modern society where there could be a free, robust contest of ideas. Left wing politics and political correctness is reversing that freedom. Identity politics is a death spiral for civilisation.

    • dirk says

      Maybe Fess, but it is among us, and we have to deal with it. David Brooks did a good moove by trying to understand why, in his piece ” Understanding Students Mobbists”. It’s not something to comfort one. But it’s a start to moove forward.

  44. Tribes compete for limited resources.

    The current attempt at creating the new victim tribe is an extension of socialism. Once the victim tribe gets power it will get the resources at the cost of other tribes.

    The difficulty for the victim tribe is its long-term composition and hierarchy. Is it racial, gendered, ethnic, religious, and economic at the same time? As this essay demonstrates, the wider the net the more difficult it becomes to form a unified voice that members can identify with consistently. And what happens to members who are no longer victims by economic measures?

    America’s original brilliance is how narrow its tribal definition can be: “if you love personal liberty, join us.”

  45. Ex Psych Grad says

    I’ve read some of prof. West’s (et al.) papers on reasoning in my undergrad studies, and was heavily influenced by their work my Master’s thesis. It was a nice surprise to find he’s on point on this issue too.

    • Me again says

      Haha, I meant prof. Stanovich. I had him switch places in my mind with his frequent co-author Richard West while writing.

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