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The Costs of Tribalism

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorNovember 5, 2011 10:25 AM


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That is the title of this trenchant Kevin Drum post, which nails an unfortunate dynamic that is corroding U.S. politics and public debate. The first important point Drum makes is about

the dangers of spending too much time on the web, where the loudest and most extreme voices actually do have a disproportionate influence sometimes. That can lead you to believe that their beliefs are far more widespread in the real world than they really are.

His second is this admission:

Speaking just for myself, there are very definitely times when my preferred policy position is some kind of melding of left and right...but I'm not really willing to say so because the American right has become so insane that it simply won't lead to anything constructive. It will just be viewed as a preemptive compromise that's immediately seized upon to move the conversation even further to the right. Supporting compromise positions only makes sense when that might actually lead to both sides compromising.

Just to be clear, Drum is not talking about the climate debate here. But he might as well be, in which partisan, tit-for-tat dueling is a dominant feature of the climate discourse. Anyone who follows it knows that the lines in the sand are drawn: Neither side gives an inch, for fear the other will pounce on it and gain an advantage. The main antagonists (who largely shape the climate conversation) wage a ceaseless battle of one-upmanship. In this super-charged environment, where tribalism is also enforced, there is no room for nuance, much less common ground. Drum's actual post is more a critique of present-day conservatism in the United States, but his main points have wider application. At the end of the day, he says,

 Tribalism makes fools of us all.

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