One of the more difficult ideas for me to wrap my head around is how polarized our political environment has become in the U.S. There are many reasons we can point to for how we have gotten to this point, but from my perspective it all boils down to tribalism. The innate need for social acceptance to the point that it allows a person to be willing to view a topic in such a way that it brings them in line with their social circle over basing their view point on logic, evidence, and rigorous thought is something that has perplexed me for a long time.
It is not at all uncommon for one to take on the political stand point of their social circle growing up. A child being raised in an environment with limited competing evidence on a topic and still learning to develop more rigorous intellectual skills has a legitimate reason to have a political view point that aligns with their social circle. This is an issue that can be remedied as one is exposed to more information and develops mentally. Yet, all to often this doesn’t happen.
In my experience, I’ve noticed that people have a tendency to do mental gymnastics in the face of arguments and evidence that contradict their stance on a topic in such a way that allows them to continue to hold a position that aligns with their social group. There seems to be a general fear that changing their position my result in some kind of ostracization. I find it confusing that a person would choose maintaining their social position as the primary criteria for what is true versus logic, empirical evidence, and rigorous thought. That is not to say that some people won’t ever find those things important, but it seem, that for many, they will use it if it leads to a conclusion that supports their social circle’s position, but abandon it when it doesn’t.
The current state of political polarization in our country seems to start here. How can we ever find a common ground if we aren’t willing to hear an opposing viewpoint and be willing to change our mind in the face of a more cogent argument? Throughout my life I found myself arguing positions that my social circle didn’t agree with. I’ve been ostracized for it at times and just made people really mad other times. I’ve had people try to make sure that I don’t talk about certain topics before a gathering, but listened to other people in the gathering discuss the topic, making it seem that I was the only one who was to be silent about it.
If social position and acceptance are so important that it can have the effect of people abandoning individual thought, and perhaps individuality to some extent, then how genuine are those social connections? It seems to me, that while the majority value tribalism and group think over seeking the arguments that bring us closer to the truth, there is no hope for an end to extreme political polarization. I would sooner lose relationships than accept anything less than the best understanding of a topic I can get. Changing my mind is not painful for me and I don’t fear losing people for changing my mind. Perhaps I am socially disabled to some extent, but I think I prefer that to the alternative.