Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Slip Knot of Tribalism

I've been bouncing around a libertarian democratic strategy in my head. I've kind of run the gamut on views regarding voting, from self-compromise to refusal to vote for the lesser of two evils; from believing voting is a duty to believing it to be almost a crime; from thinking it makes all the difference in the world to thinking it's virtually meaningless at the margin. But I'm brushing these unuseful devils aside for the moment.

The fact is that we live in something that resembles a democratic republic - and we are not likely to succeed without doing one of two things:

  • convincing the majority of Americans to withhold their political consent
  • convincing Americans to vote for someone to dismantle things from the inside

Unfortunately (or maybe even fortunately depending on how you look at it), these two conditions are almost mutually inclusive - it's hard to imagine one without the other. Or, at the point that you have one, of what use is the other? In either case, achieving one or both of these conditions would be the ultimate pragmatic goal for libertarians if they want to see their vision(s) come to fruition.

Given the libertarian track record for convincing the larger population of the main tenets of libertarianism - this would seem almost impossible. But I think I have good reason to believe that a single prominent politician (from either side) managing to get his foot in the door (in terms of public image) could be just enough to turn the demographic tide for libertarians. And, even more interestingly, it could be due to a human trait we've been known to loathe; tribalism.

My argument goes something like this:

As humans, we tend to break ourselves off into various factions - geographically, politically, economically, religiously, etc. Our least fractious divides (ie: standards by which we have the fewest over-arching divisions) are probably geography and politics. In these two areas we are fiercely tribal. But the number of large groups are few - and they represent the vast majority of Americans. There are few people who don't feel tied to this country in a national sense...this seems to transcend almost all other divisions to some degree. And on the political side, although we often disagree vociferously, we generally have found ourselves behind one of two groups - Republicans and Democrats. Igniting support for the libertarian cause in any of these groups would be the best bet to realize one of the two conditions for libertarian victory.

Ok - so far so good. But this is obvious; where does it get us? Well, we're often not fighting conventionally on these fronts because we see no hope of personally persuading so many people to "switch sides" so to speak. But I think we can bridge that impossible gap (just maybe) with the help of that tribalistic pull we lament so much.

A few years ago, I would have fancied myself a neo-conservative. I was defending one George W. Bush against a sea of detractors from the left. Right or wrong, I was burning rubber in that direction. The things that drove me were a sense that the people on the other side hated this country....and that my "team" was bent on saving it. We were heroes (haha - I know trust me!). So what turned a die-hard supporter of the Iraq War into an anarchist? It's simple. One Republican - Jason Lewis.

Jason Lewis is an FM talk-radio personality who occasionally fills in for one Rush Limbaugh - whom I used to listen to quite frequently in those days. Jason Lewis was of a different caliber though. He seemed well educated in the areas of history and economics. His logic seemed particularly unforgiving - utterly destroying dissenting callers and their arguments. Of course, looking back now, he doesn't seem to deserve the altar I'd placed him on. But some very compelling arguments from one of "my guys (Republicans)" inspired me to acquire the same knowledge that he had - so that, I too, could make such devastating arguments.

I proceeded to snag some books off his reading list; among which were Milton Friedman's FREE TO CHOOSE and Henry Hazlitt's ECONOMICS IN ONE LESSON. Those books, in turn, led me to the works of scholars of the Austrian school of economics - Hayek and Mises. That led me, in turn to Rothbard, and so on and so forth. When I try to think back to how I felt before all this happened - I couldn't have imagined sliding down the political slope so far as to eventually hold views almost antithetical to those I held at the time. The leftists, whom made similarly compelling arguments, didn't budge me at all. So what happened?

At the heart of it, everything boiled down to one guy who was on my "team" who pointed me in the general direction of liberty. Once pointed in that direction, there was no turning back. My tribalism (that is, my red vs. blue mentality) almost acted as a slip knot securing the path I would ultimately take regarding my political philosophy. It took one prominent man in my corner (or what I perceived to be my corner) to throw me a bone - and that was all she wrote.

In light of that revelation, maybe the efforts of people like Ron and Rand Paul aren't futile (or maybe similar people in the opposing party - I'm not currently aware of any). Maybe if one of them wrangled their way into the position of being "our guy" going up against "their guy" our tribalism would take hold. That's not the right reason to support anyone. But maybe support for the wrong reasons would lead us to support for the right reasons - as it did with me. Maybe the political cheer-leading would force people into positions where they would have come to understand and support the views of "our guy"...and that would be enough to spark the flame so to speak.

As to getting one of these people into such a position - that, I suppose, is the tough question. I'm not sure what the best way to affect such a role change would be. But judging from recent elections and the mood of different factions on the Right as of now, it seems further from impossible than it ever has before. Maybe some of the supposed front-runners will have such a rough time in this fractious political environment that someone who is more marginally supported would have a real chance. Ron Paul has certainly proven (with the CPAC straw-poll) that his views resonate with at least some people on the Right. If he could manage to make it to the fore-front, and Republicans found themselves defending him, is it possible that we might bear witness to a true paradigm shift?

It's a strategy worth considering - one that is much easier to implement as well.

No comments:

Post a Comment