Your Monkey Brain is Showing: tribalism and ideology

Time magazine glibly nailed it when they named Donald Trump their Person of the Year and included a caption that read, "President of the Divided States of America."

Whatever camp you side with, this is likely a shared sentiment.  On one side you have the elitist feckless snowflakes who want to open the borders and let terrorists and rapists overtake the country and kill our way of life.  On the other side you have racist xenophobic rednecks who literally want to establish concentration camps and impose a theocratic society.  Things are pretty heated right now in the ol' U.S. of A.

So where is this coming from? I would argue that it's the newest development of tribalism which has become prominent in the Information Age.  Tribalism is a social construct of organizing into tribes.  It makes sense.  Humans are social creatures.  In the stone age, groups that had a predisposition to protect their own people would be more likely to succeed.  If you invade, plunder, and kill another tribe, you are be more likely to pass on your genes, and the next generation will have similar psychological traits, and so it goes.  It is at the core of who we are.

So in the beginning, a human was more likely to sympathize with and support their own tribe, ie. the people who you look and act like you.  The people who think the same way you do.  And everyone else who looked, acted, or thought differently than you was the enemy.  This certainly isn't exclusive to the stone age.  Basically any war has used some form of tribalism.  It played a role in Nazi Germany.  It played a role in the anti Japanese sentiment of the United States in the Second World War.  It's playing a role in Islamophobia right now.  But that's not what we're going to talk about today.

The implications of tribalism are spilling into our enlightened Age of Information, and they are informing the way we think about ideology, and our ideological opponents.  

Let's start by looking at Donald Trump's 2016 campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again."  In case you were wondering, according to Trump, America was Great in the 1950's. This slogan was much maligned by left leaning critics who correctly pointed out that the 50's were a time of racial segregation, normalized misogyny, and nuclear armament, so no, socially speaking, things were not good.

But what else was happening in the 50's?

Let's look at the economy.  As foreign as it seems now, America was a manufacturing giant in the 1950's.   At this time manufacturing and agriculture employed 1 in 3 Americans and accounted for more than 30% of America's economy.  Unions were strong.  American consumerism was hitting an all-time high.  Basically, with only a high school diploma, you could get a job, buy a house, raise a family, and afford amenities.  

Fast forward to 2016.  Manufacturing only accounts for 20% of America's economy, and mining towns are losing their livelihood.  Its one thing to hear about it, it's another to experience it first hand.  America is the country of New York City and San Fransisco, but it is also the country of the Rust Belt and the Appalachians.  The people who live there can physically see and touch their despondency.  They live it every day, and they don't have a voice like the "Liberal media" has in LA or New York.  The closest thing they have is Fox News, a network that screams about how badly the country is doing under Obama, a sentiment that coincides with their visceral experience.  

Look, I denounce Trump and his administration.  I feel that he is guiding the United States in a very troublesome direction, and that, yes, in my perspective he has duped all of these people.  But I think it's important to understand their plight.  Nothing in real life is black or white.  Maybe a lot of Trump voters are racist, and long for the days where women, "knew their place," but maybe a lot of people feel that they've been betrayed by the system, and that the only way to make a change is to put a true outsider in the White House.  

I think it's very important to recognize the parallels that exist between these disenfranchised Middle-Americans and the typical city dwelling liberals who struggle to pay rent.  The people who have degrees and still have difficulty finding jobs.  People who are forced to live with three roommates just so they can afford food.  The people who are the most vehement opponents of Trump.  Both of these groups just want decent paying jobs where they can afford decent living spaces and live their lives.  Both recognize that there is something very wrong with the American system.  

Yet despite all of the similarities, there are two tribes at war.  Each furiously typing on their keyboards about who is to blame for the current state of America.  The Left, typically, shifts the blame towards corporate greed.  The Right, again typically, points to government corruption.  Yet both fail to recognize that these problems are inherently intertwined.  The government is corrupt because of powerful corporations.  Powerful corporations use their influence to corrupt governments.  Your problem is their's too.  While you type and argue with the other side, the 1% is undoubtedly counting on your division, your tribe mentality, and they have no plans to quit.