|Tribal politics in the 21st century|
My friends see this story as part of a larger context: for them, an individual killing another individual isn't just one data point, it's part of a trend. They see mounting evidence of their hypothesis about what's going on in this country racially and politically. I do the same thing with many news stories, but I didn't with this one — my brain did not contextualize it. It broke my heart, but it didn't make me globally angry. Turns out, my reaction and theirs may both have been predetermined by our political leanings.
When my friend asked, "Where is the outrage?" she meant, "from the left." The right is providing plenty. It's a fair question, though: Why isn't the left reacting to this story the way it did to Trayvon Martin's death? Why does the right seem to find the Spokane story more upsetting? There are a number of potential explanations, virtually all guaranteed to cause further upset. I have one paradigm, however, that should avoid that pitfall.
My husband is a big fan of Russ Roberts' podcast EconTalk*, which I also recommend. In June, Roberts interviewed Arnold Kling, who discussed a new (to us, anyway) theory about how progressives, conservatives, and libertarians look at the world. Each viewpoint becomes an organizing principle of that political tribe. Kling's approach breaks down these "tribal interpretations" into three axes:
• Conservatives look at issues along an axis of civilization vs. barbarism
• Libertarians look at issues along an axis of freedom vs. coercion
Suddenly, the reason my friends were upset made sense to me: they saw the awful story in Spokane as evidence of barbarism vs. civilization. This story was salient to that dichotomy, and triggered their tribe's emotional buttons, leaving them outraged. For me, a progressive, those buttons (there, but much smaller) were not pushed. In contrast, the Trayvon Martin case pushed all my tribal "oppressed vs. oppressors" buttons. It fit a bigger political story for me, became evidence of something pernicious rather than a dismissible anecdote.
If I can understand that my conservative friends are not wired to see the Martin case the way I do, but feel just as upset about the Spokane case for their own intuitive reasons, I can let go of my vexation. There is a reason why we see things differently, and it's pretty deep-seated — whether we are conservative, progressive, or libertarian tends to be innate, not taught.
We think of ourselves as reaching all our conclusions after careful thought, or at least based on excellent intuitions: we are progressives because we are smarter and more compassionate than everyone else. We are conservatives because we are smarter and more resolute than everyone else. We consider all sides to an issue and come to a thoughtful synthesis. This is pleasant to believe, but in fact we're mostly going on programming: once you understand the three axes, and you know a person's political affiliation almost guarantees a certain reaction to political events. We are as predictable as the sun. With great effort, we can overcome the programmed responses and entertain alternative viewpoints, but it doesn't even occur to most people to try.
|Resonates with progressives|
People are much more politically engaged now than they were even a decade or two ago, but that comes with a downside: we have a harder time getting along with people who don't share our ideologies. I know this is true for me — though I have friends across the religious, political, and economic spectrum, I'm most comfortable with people who are like me. Some friendships have been strained nearly to the breaking point due to political differences. I don't think Kling's paradigm is going to magically make our discourse argument-free, but I do think the more people who understand where "the other side" is coming from, the more peaceful Thanksgiving dinners will be.
*Interesting side note: while my husband is conservative-ish, and I am progressive, we both like EconTalk — and Russ Roberts is a libertarian. Kumbayah, people!