Everybody's Got One
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Saturday, June 05, 2004

Iron mixed with tile  

David Brooks, Circling the Wagons:
Over the next few months, I hope to write a fair bit about the dominant feature of our political life: polarization. I hope to figure out how deeply split the nation is, and what exactly it is we are fighting about ... [P]artisan loyalties have a pervasive influence on how people see the world. They reinforce and exaggerate differences of opinion between Republicans and Democrats.
The overall impression one gets ... is that politics is a tribal business. Americans congregate into rival political communities, then embrace one-sided attitudes and perceptions. That suggests that political polarization is the result of deep and self-reinforcing psychological and social forces.
This theory doesn't explain how the country moves through cycles of greater and lesser polarization. Still, I have to say, depressingly, this picture of tribal and subrational partisanship does accord with the reality we see around us every day.
The important point is the effect on basic perceptions. Debates on Iraq reveal a profound divergence between opposing sides, to the point that others' arguments seem preposterously naive or transparently deceptive (with the real reasons confidently ascribed). People don't even agree on what the facts are, or what pertinent facts would be, much less how to interpret and frame them. The two sides inhabit fundamentally different realities.

Roger Simon suspects this may have structural causes, as the two Big Tents attempt to differentiate themselves (a typically good comments thread), but David Warren notes something more global:
[I]n the U.S. there is a huge constituency that thinks just like post-modern Europeans. ... The loyalties are no longer to nations. Instead, an Italian who votes for Berlusconi has more in common with an American who votes for Bush, than either of them has with his own countrymen who vote the other way.
Brian Micklethwait at Samizdata reviewing a Natalie Solent posting:
[B]ad things continue to be done to the world, but ... they are soon liable to be done with equal relentlessness everywhere, spread around the world evenly, in a way that will make it much harder to notice and complain. Time was when evil was done with maximum ferocity in country A, but hardly done at all in countries B and C, and the evil done by the evil was eventually obvious to all, even to those at first most inclined to support it.
This is an undernoted aspect of globalization: as the world grows closer together things intermix but maintain their characteristics. The growth of first world enclaves in third world countries is matched by the existence of third world enclaves in first world countries, of disconnected Gap communities dispersed throughout Core lands. A society's prospects can be gauged by the extent to which it recognizes this and absorbs and integrates the alien Other (as distinct from the brother Other.)

Is it possible that the separate but equal realities of red and blue America (and old/new Europe) are a reactive internalization of the intransigent (but stable) political dichotomy of the Cold War, now that it's gone from the external world? (What's the state of politics in the former red bloc? As violently schizophrenic as here? Or do they not miss the stability so much?) Maybe culture - or psychology - follows geopolitics rather than leading it.

If that's so - how long will it take for our politics (and our psyches) to begin reflecting the considerably messier realities of the 21st century?

posted by Kelly | 4:30 PM link
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