June 29th, 2006

Browncoat party

Tribal Politics

Arnold Kling captures a problem that I've been trying to verbalize:
I believe that the main reason that non-verifiable ideas survive is that they serve as trust cues. People still need to demonstrate their commitment to membership in groups, and recitation of dogma is a low-cost method of doing so.

[P]olitical beliefs serve primarily as trust cues. For example, those who favor an increase in the minimum wage are sending trust cues to people on the Left, and those who oppose an increase in the minimum wage are sending trust cues to people on the Right. The actual consequences of raising the minimum wage are rarely discussed.
I'm finding it steadily easier to predict people's political opinions by where they live or work. It's normal for most people to take sides to stick with their friends rather than going to all the work to research it. What's been scaring me is seeing people who had been taking independent stands suddenly becoming vehement partisans of one faction. I guess it's a symptom of the increasing tensions between the political "tribes". As the tribe feels more threatened there's less tolerance of non-conformity among the fringe members. They need to prove their loyalty or be cast out. I saw that kind of behavior among Republicans in the 2000 primaries and it boggled me. Now the Democrats are out of power and feeling threatened, so they're demanding proof. Or more specifically some Democratic-aligned groups--academics, gays, Unitarians--are demanding it of their members.

A Democratic win in 2008 would ease the pressure on the left, but that would be a zero-sum move for the country because we'd see the right-ward groups go nuts in the same way. I wonder how a third party win would change it. Ideally it would let everyone relax since they don't have to worry about their traditional enemies oppressing them . . . but if we wind up with everyone going to extremes it'd be a hell of a rough four years.
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