Ethics Essay Of The Month: Andrew Sullivan

I used to read Andrew Sullivan’ blog regularly: he was smart, gutsy,a good writer, and willing to buck conventional wisdom> then the gay marriage controversy heated up—Sullivan is gay– and Andrew lost it. His focus and once-reliable rationality became distorted by anger, bias and emotion. He eventually gave up blogging because he determined that it was emotionally unhealthy; maybe he finally recognized that he needed a break. By that time, I had stopped reading him.

His brilliant essay in New York Magazine suggest that Andrew has his groove back, which means that his observation are thoughtful and worth pondering. The topic is tribalism, and he writes in part,

Over the past couple of decades in America, the enduring, complicated divides of ideology, geography, party, class, religion, and race have mutated into something deeper, simpler to map, and therefore much more ominous. I don’t just mean the rise of political polarization (although that’s how it often expresses itself), nor the rise of political violence (the domestic terrorism of the late 1960s and ’70s was far worse), nor even this country’s ancient black-white racial conflict (though its potency endures).

I mean a new and compounding combination of all these differences into two coherent tribes, eerily balanced in political power, fighting not just to advance their own side but to provoke, condemn, and defeat the other.

I mean two tribes whose mutual incomprehension and loathing can drown out their love of country, each of whom scans current events almost entirely to see if they advance not so much their country’s interests but their own. I mean two tribes where one contains most racial minorities and the other is disproportionately white; where one tribe lives on the coasts and in the cities and the other is scattered across a rural and exurban expanse; where one tribe holds on to traditional faith and the other is increasingly contemptuous of religion altogether; where one is viscerally nationalist and the other’s outlook is increasingly global; where each dominates a major political party; and, most dangerously, where both are growing in intensity as they move further apart.

Sullivan goes on to explain that this development is antithetical to the model the Founders intended for their new nation:

The project of American democracy — to live beyond such tribal identities, to construct a society based on the individual, to see ourselves as citizens of a people’s republic, to place religion off-limits, and even in recent years to embrace a multiracial and post-religious society — was always an extremely precarious endeavor. It rested, from the beginning, on an 18th-century hope that deep divides can be bridged by a culture of compromise, and that emotion can be defeated by reason. It failed once, spectacularly, in the most brutal civil war any Western democracy has experienced in modern times. And here we are, in an equally tribal era, with a deeply divisive president who is suddenly scrambling Washington’s political alignments, about to find out if we can prevent it from failing again.


Sullivan explains the evolutionary basis of tribalism and why it is so deeply rooted in the human psyche. Then he writes,

Successful modern democracies do not abolish this feeling; they co-opt it. Healthy tribalism endures in civil society in benign and overlapping ways. We find a sense of belonging, of unconditional pride, in our neighborhood and community; in our ethnic and social identities and their rituals; among our fellow enthusiasts. There are hip-hop and country-music tribes; bros; nerds; Wasps; Dead Heads and Packers fans; Facebook groups. (Yes, technology upends some tribes and enables new ones.) And then, most critically, there is the Über-tribe that constitutes the nation-state, a megatribe that unites a country around shared national rituals, symbols, music, history, mythology, and events, that forms the core unit of belonging that makes a national democracy possible.

None of this is a problem. Tribalism only destabilizes a democracy when it calcifies into something bigger and more intense than our smaller, multiple loyalties; when it rivals our attachment to the nation as a whole; and when it turns rival tribes into enemies. And the most significant fact about American tribalism today is that all three of these characteristics now apply to our political parties, corrupting and even threatening our system of government.

What follows is a fascinating historical and political analysis of the forces that have led to the current tribal divide. Read it: the int here is to salute Sullivan’s work, not co-opt it. After that long, spot-on discourse, Sullivan writes,

One of the great attractions of tribalism is that you don’t actually have to think very much. All you need to know on any given subject is which side you’re on. You pick up signals from everyone around you, you slowly winnow your acquaintances to those who will reinforce your worldview, a tribal leader calls the shots, and everything slips into place. After a while, your immersion in tribal loyalty makes the activities of another tribe not just alien but close to incomprehensible.

This all sounds familiar.

Sullivan claims to be a conservative, and this tough (but accurate) assessment of the Left in 2017 is certainly the kind of bluntness that few liberals could muster:

In America, the intellectual elites, far from being a key rational bloc resisting this, have succumbed. The intellectual right and the academic left have long since dispensed with the idea of a mutual exchange of ideas. In a new study of the voting habits of professors, Democrats outnumber Republicans 12 to 1, and the imbalance is growing. Among professors under 36, the ratio is almost 23 to 1. It’s not a surprise, then, that once-esoteric neo-Marxist ideologies — such as critical race and gender theory and postmodernism, the bastard children of Herbert Marcuse and Michel Foucault — have become the premises of higher education, the orthodoxy of a new and mandatory religion. Their practical implications — such as “safe spaces,” speech regarded as violence, racially segregated graduation ceremonies, the policing of “micro-aggressions,” the checking of “white privilege” — are now embedded in the institutions themselves.

Verdict: true.

Andrew gives us much, much more, including an equally tough diagnosis of how the Right has exacerbated the problem from its end. Finally he provides some guidance, some hope, writing in part,

As utopian as it sounds, I truly believe all of us have to at least try to change the culture from the ground up. There are two ideas that might be of help, it seems to me. The first is individuality. I don’t mean individualism. Nothing is more conducive to tribalism than a sea of disconnected, atomized individuals searching for some broader tribe to belong to. I mean valuing the unique human being — distinct from any group identity, quirky, full of character and contradictions, skeptical, rebellious, immune to being labeled or bludgeoned into a broader tribal grouping. This cultural antidote to tribalism, left and right, is still here in America and ready to be rediscovered. That we expanded the space for this to flourish is one of the greatest achievements of the West.

Perhaps I’m biased because I’m an individual by default. I’m gay but Catholic, conservative but independent, a Brit but American, religious but secular. What tribe would ever have me? I may be an extreme case, but we all are nonconformist to some degree. Nurturing your difference or dissent from your own group is difficult; appreciating the individuality of those in other tribes is even harder. It takes effort and imagination, openness to dissent, even an occasional embrace of blasphemy.

And, at some point, we also need mutual forgiveness. It doesn’t matter if you believe, as I do, that the right bears the bulk of the historical blame. No tribal conflict has ever been unwound without magnanimity…If societies scarred by recent domestic terrorism can aim at this, why should it be so impossible for us?

But this requires, of course, first recognizing our own tribal thinking. So much of our debates are now an easy either/or rather than a complicated both/and. In our tribal certainties, we often distort what we actually believe in the quiet of our hearts, and fail to see what aspects of truth the other tribe may grasp…The actual solutions to our problems are to be found in the current no-man’s-land that lies between the two tribes. Reentering it with empiricism and moderation to find different compromises for different issues is the only way out of our increasingly dangerous impasse.

All of this runs deeply against the grain. It’s counterintuitive. It’s emotionally unpleasant. It fights against our very DNA. Compared with bathing in the affirming balm of a tribe, it’s deeply unsatisfying. But no one ever claimed that living in a republic was going to be easy — if we really want to keep it.

Do read the whole thing. Then post it on Facebook, and e-mail it to anyone you think has the capacity to comprehend it. It is a brave, important essay, and the more Americans who read it, the better.

I guess I have to start paying attention to Andrew Sullivan again…


Pointer: Amy Alkon

36 thoughts on “Ethics Essay Of The Month: Andrew Sullivan

  1. Tribalism has never been the model what the founding fathers envisioned American to become. However, assimilation into a country based upon the freedoms and rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and the assent of those citizens living here to protect those rights is essential. At this time we need to reaffirm those rights and freedoms for everybody. This goes against the grain in those who would shout down people with dissenting opinions and beliefs and seek to curtail them.

    • The founding fathers feared the corrosive effects of factionalism, which they rightly feared as the human behavior potentially most dangerous to their democratic experiment. Our government is built to force different factions to work together if they want to achieve their own ends, bringing together those who would otherwise never agree. Unfortunately, the competing philosophical factions in our society have found ways to work around that need for compromise. Presidents legislating by executive order, judges opposing legislative intent via court order (when legal standing in their jurisdiction is tenuous at best), legislators manipulating the committee system to prevent opposing parties from even bringing their bills to the floor of Congress: All these things undermine the cooperative basis of our republic.

  2. “And, at some point, we also need mutual forgiveness. It doesn’t matter if you believe, as I do, that the right bears the bulk of the historical blame. No tribal conflict has ever been unwound without magnanimity…If societies scarred by recent domestic terrorism can aim at this, why should it be so impossible for us?”

    The difficult bit is keeping on trying that in the face of failures in the past. That it is difficult doesn’t mean we should give up.

    Neither does it mean we allow ourselves to be played for chumps by those on either side who see goodwill and willingness to compromise as signs of weakness to be exploited with redoubled efforts at obnoxiousness. Not indefinitely. We have to allow it though as the beginning of the process, the only issue is when we say enough, no more. That should be much further down the track than it has been so far. We’ve given up too soon.

  3. Yes Jack, wonderful article and thanks for posting. I shall try to follow Andrew Sullivan. Your ethics seems generally uncompromising, more like Inspector Javert than Jean Valjean (Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables). How do we adjust to seek consensus without compromising our principles: and without dying in the Seine? Good luck to all.

  4. Agree – Andrew Sullivan was originally a very thoughtful and passionate writer, who then wandered. Glad to see he’s back with such power. Great review.

    • Yes, I stopped reading Sullivan when he became obsessed with promoting birther theories about Trig Palin. He did so in response to the Obama birthers, using the “tit-for-tat” rationalization. I also felt that his choice to identify himself as a “conservative” when nearly everything he wrote at the time was fairly liberal was done for attention.

      But the excerpts here are very good, and remind me why I liked him in the first place. I’ll try to find time to read the whole thing today.

  5. “Every time I think I’m out they pull me back in again.” 😉

    First, I apologize for being what I am and thinking as I do. Trigger-warning! As everyone knows I am a thoughtcriminal. I assume that you do not want just bland agreement — so boring! — and that the purpose here is to probe ideas. There is more to be gained — much more — from taking a contrary stance to what Sullivan has written than in aggreeing with it. To take a contrary stance involves character and assertion; merely agreeing to what seems largely a sentimental ballad as an entire culture slides down into the mud of decadence and dissolution, seems to me a necessary stance.

    Tomislav Sunic wrote: “Communism kills the body, but Liberalism rots the soul.” I prefer the term ‘hyper-liberalism’ because the liberalism of 100-150 years ago, despite that it contained the seeds of rot, arose in a strong people. But first the News! In today’s NYTs there is a celebratory article and quite long video on just-died Hugh Hefner. It is amazing to me that the most important American periodical, effectively, honors such a man. There is no barb in what they write. There is no mention f the destructiveness of his national business of sexual seduction nor, it appears, any understanding of how powerful oligarchic forces employ perversion and seduction to weaken a people at a moral plane. Now, today, and effectively, no mention can be made of this, the reason being that most everyone has themself been seduced at a sexual level.

    I do not take moral advice from sodomites, myself, and I prefer the term that actually defines the *behavior* as it is called. And a mushy-minded hyper-liberal sodomite, less so.

    So, liberalism rots the soul. Yesterday, on the post where you attempted to reconcile people who seem to be at each other’s throats, the whole mob went after some mentally-ill person who it would be impossible to take seriously at any level. I thought it was all quite peculiar really. Underneath the position of Steve and Valkygrrl, if indeed there is real opposition there, there should be more than just blind and inarticulate anger. But that is all that is expressed. It is just sentimentalism, emotionalism, devoid of Idea. And there was no — zero! — discussion of Idea, just an absurd pile-on as if the posters have nothing better to do with their time, indeed their incarnation. Thus: Communism kills the body but Liberalism rots the soul. And Sullivan’s piece is dripping — literally drenched — in perverse hyper-liberal sentiment. In his case — as in the case of many I have discerned — there is a sort of spiritual weakness because of the sexual proclivity but it is not entirely because of his sodomism. The culture has been weakened by a concerted program, a culture-wide sexual seduction. ‘You cannot simultaneously masturbate and pray to God’. You cannot succumb to hyper-liberalism and hope that your soul will not be scathed. But as I say this, I am quite certain, I have alientated 85% who read here.

    All these things connect together.

    This man, Sullivan, is presenting me with an ideological position disguised in cheap ‘democratic’ pleading. But he himself is evidence of the rot. He has become rotted and yet does not see it that way. He presents his ideological position as a ‘strength’ and as a ‘good’. And many will come forward to ‘agree’ in maudlin declarations. But what I think is that one has to really make an effort to dissect what he has written, to break it down into its various parts, to make an effort to see what underlies it, what ideas underlie it. I refuse to be seduced!

    What he is *selling* is the underlying and huper-liberal docrines of Walmart America. This is the American Product now and it is sold on the intallment plan in franchises world-wide. It is the State doctrine of the Americanopolis. It is post-Americanism, just as America has become post-Christian. It is the lamentful strumming of a dying man, whose soul is perverted, and who asks others to come and gargle with him in a choir. And then everyone will break-down into tears, hug each other, and maybe one things will lead to another.

    Sorry. I can’t go along with it.

    The culture is coming undone. It is unraveling day by day. Emotionalism and sentimentalism is a symptom and a contributant to the falling-apart and is not its cure. A cure for the soul requires a strong, motivating idea and a metaphysical agent. Sorry, but this is not philosophical Pride Day and I am not interested in sentimental rainbow colors nor hyper-liberal warm tears.

    I can go right through Sullivan’s Sermon and demonstrate (or at the very least suggest) why it is corrupted. Perhaps I will. Yet the essence of what I would desire to communicate is in a critique of ‘liberalism’ and a sketching-out of how it tends to weaken and dissolve the individual and the individual’s connection with strong, motivating idea. My view of things is based in this sense that America (and Europe too) is sinking into a hyper-liberal and decadent phase and, if only at the level of the individual, it needs to be contronted, arrested, reversed.

      • [laughing] Jack and I think a bit alike. I recognized the line and the movie it came from. Alizia’s use of it set me up to worry that I was about to read of her confession of killing a sibling.

        Alizia, I’m still studying what you (and Sullivan) wrote. More later. I hope you won’t feel insulted that I did manage to read all the way through one summary of the late Hugh Hefner’s life today. To which The Voice that speaks to myself on the inside said: “Complex, my ass.”

    • “the liberalism of 100-150 years ago, despite that it contained the seeds of rot, arose in a strong people.”

      Thought provoking, as usual.

      While I’m Conservative enough to make that handsome Devil (Zoltar Speaks!) seem like a New Dealer, I’m eerily drawn to the Classical Liberalism of Claude Frédéric Bastiat (~ 100 years earlier) which is hell-n-gone from that of the Post-Modern Neo-Lefty.

      To wit:

      ”Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.”

      “Everyone wants to live at the expense of the state. They forget that the state wants to live at the expense of everyone.”

      “When goods do not cross borders, soldiers will.”

      ”GO BADGERS!!”

      Maybe that last one wasn’t his…

      • I had not heard of him but looked him up:

        Bastiat asserted that the sole purpose of government is to protect the right of an individual to life, liberty, and property, and why it is dangerous and morally wrong for government to interfere with an individual’s other personal matters. From this, Bastiat concluded that the law cannot defend life, liberty, and property if it promotes “legal [or legalized] plunder,” which he defined as using government force and laws to take something from one individual and give it to others (as opposed to a transfer of property via mutually-agreed contracts, without using fraud nor violent threats against the other party, which Bastiat considered a legitimate transfer of property).

        In The Law, Bastiat explains that, if the privileged classes or socialists use the government for “legalized plunder,” this will encourage the other socio-economic class to also use “legal plunder,” and that the correct response to both the socialists and the corporatists is to cease all “legal plunder.” Bastiat also explains in The Law why his opinion is that the law cannot defend life, liberty, and property if it promotes socialist policies. When used to obtain “legalized plunder” for any group, he says, the law is perverted against the only things (life, liberty, and property) it is supposed to defend.

        It is interesting that corporatism is tied to socialism. I notice this pretty clearly where I live now (in Colombia). Everyday that goes by it seems that the State asserts itself more while concurrently an array of corporate interests gets more settled in. They come together, oddly.

        The origins of the ‘corporate fictitious person’ and its effect on the Republic is telling. Did you by chance see in the Times today that someone is emploring that if there can be a legal fictitious person, why cannot a river or a mountain gain a staus as a person and be defended?

        “Good day, Sir. I represent the ‘great grey-green, greasy Limpopo river’ and YOU are violating my client’s rights!”

        • The thing that resonates with me about Bastiat is he came along shortly after the French Revolution (you know, Liberté, égalité, fraternité and what have you), the Reign of Terror, and the rise of that little shit.

          He, “Economic Sophisms,” et al, did for economics what the Colonel did for chicken.

          Focus on “consumers” rather than on “producers?” What could possibly go…right?

          Though not a weed in the bunch, my fave is “The Candle-makers Petition.”

        • It is interesting that corporatism is tied to socialism. I notice this pretty clearly where I live now (in Colombia). Everyday that goes by it seems that the State asserts itself more while concurrently an array of corporate interests gets more settled in. They come together, oddly.

          Or not so oddly. The State has been used by the ‘socialist’ elite (wealthy political class) to pick winners in the marketplace, and through elite control of those corporations, have subjugated the great unwashed. Rules are made that benefit those corporations (and their masters) at the expense of competition and fair play. Our national politicians (all of them, it seems) gain great wealth from their ‘service’ to those who elected them, using means sometimes illegal for the electorate, by exempting themselves from the same laws they impose upon the public. A simple look at the net worth of a candidate before and after holding office will go far in proving my assertion.

          The rules and proliferation of executive regulation mean that everyone violates the law on some level, likely every day. This mechanism allows the elite to destroy opposition without seeming to do so, showing ostensibly ‘clean hands’ when inconvenient matters must be dealt with. Research “Everyone is a criminal” and “Civil Asset Forfeiture” to see this in action.

          ‘Fast and Furious, the IRS targeting, and the EPA ‘Waters of the United States’ are all scandals that simply showed this pattern openly. All sought to subjugate segments of the public, to advance the power of the elite, and/or to allow great wealth to be created for that class.

          The elite thought they were closer than they were to absolute power, and the melt down of the past year is a result of being told they cannot have the toy they thought was theirs. Their plans to negate the American Experiment, to run the USA like every other country in the world, have been derailed for now.

          Franklin once remarked that we have a Republic, if we can keep it. The Republic hangs in the balance every day, and there are very wealthy fingers on the scales.

      • Heeheeheee…always well-said, Paul!

        More seriously: I am trying to complete an essay on some tribalism that so far in this thread, as far as I can see (I have not read all of Sullivan’s, or Alizia’s latest), has not been discussed or considered. If what I think I am trying to say does not become pre-empted by the other usual (and almost always, easier-to-understand) commenters, I will post it.

    • The NYT *also* published a *scathing* column about Hefner and his legacy by Ross Douthat, and another by Susan Brownmiller, which kind of undercuts your reactionary rant, Cassandra. As for not taking moral advice from ‘sodomites’, I guess that counts out the whole classical Greco-Roman crew?

      • I will be sure to look it up. Brownmiller was a pretty influential feminist, I think? Nevertheless, I think that if you consider the general movement in culture from the 50s till now — as represented in film for example — it is safe and fair to say that a very dramatic shift has taken place in sexual morality. I would say that that is the real issue and the thing that would need to be focussed on.

        I am indeed a reactionary. It is a conscious choice to define positions that react against. I think you mean it as an insult though, something bad. But in my view what is required, in so many different areas, is the establishment of sound reactionary positions.

        Part of a reactionary posture, in my own view, is to reclaim terms and also the right to use certain terms which are now illegal phrasings in our present. I desire to be a thoughtcriminal. I desire to think, feel and act against the current of *normalcy* which I see as having been attained through coercion: moral coercion, ethical and emotional coercion. I think the term ‘sodomite’ is a good one. It is a highly improper metaphysical act to deposit one’s life-giving fluid into the rectum of any other person. You can look at it in aesthetic terms if you wish. Or in a language of symbols. I think Dante place sodomites and userers in the same level of hellish error. It has much to do with ‘barren investment’. 😉

        Homosexuality in Athenian society (I gather this from my rather limited reading on this specific issue) was never fully accepted despte what some say. But none of that is really to the point. I critique ‘the homosexualization of society’ in our modern day as one tool in a tool-box of dramatic social control and manipulation, political, economic, moral. I can present a case on this. If this is something that concerns you or anyone, then it can be discussed.

        Please notice that I said, because it seems true, that homosexuality has and will always exist. It must be tolerated to one degree or another. But that is not the issue. It should not be encouraged.

        In terms of the sexualization of culture, or the homosexualization of the same, the issue is the employment of sexuality as a way to break into the sovereignty of the individual, or to manipulate children and young people, and (I do believe this) to weaken and deform the family. The ramifications of this are large and they are visible, in my view. The purpose of these psychological manipulations — this can even be said about much advertising — is to weaken the individual’s sovereign self so to be able to enforce an external will not his or her own, be it to purchace something or what-have-you. Sexual manipulation, in the sense I critique, is a tool of control. These are issues that need to be seen, and thought-through.

      • Brownmiller’s article was weak and had little effect. But Douthat’s had far more bite:

        “But in every way that mattered he made those changes worse, our culture coarser and crueler and more sterile than liberalism or feminism or freedom of speech required. And in every way that mattered his life story proved that we were wrong to listen to him, because at the end of the long slide lay only a degraded, priapic senility, or the desperate gaiety of Prince Prospero’s court with the Red Death at the door.

        “Now that death has taken him, we should examine our own sins. Liberals should ask why their crusade for freedom and equality found itself with such a captain, and what his legacy says about their cause. Conservatives should ask how their crusade for faith and family and community ended up so Hefnerian itself — with a conservative news network that seems to have been run on Playboy Mansion principles and a conservative party that just elected a playboy as our president.

        “You can find these questions being asked, but they are counterpoints and minor themes. That this should be the case, that only prudish Christians and spoilsport feminists are willing to say that the man was obviously wicked and destructive, is itself a reminder that the rot Hugh Hefner spread goes very, very deep.”

        And I guess it I guess it figures that he became a Pentecostal and then a Catholic. Because he is speaking, obviously, from a Christian-moral platform. The essence of Christianity is in its reform-orientation, in its reaction. If you want to have a dramatic and shocking experience, read ‘The Catechism of the Council of Trent’. Despite its numerous imperfections, it is a metaphysical program for weaning a soul from mutable pleasures and establishing that soul on a higher plane. It is as simple as that.

  6. Some observations about the Sullivan essay, which was very thought-provoking and, as you say, much more useful than what we’ve seen out of him for the last decade plus.

    I’ve left out most of the first half of the essay because it’s mostly used to set the table, full of liberal platitudes and pretty much too many words to describe too few concepts. I forgive him for that, God knows I’m guilty of the same thing many times over. So, to wit:

    Total immersion within one’s tribe also leads to increasingly extreme ideas. The word “hate,” for example, has now become a one-stop replacement for a whole spectrum of varying, milder emotions involved with bias toward others: discomfort, fear, unease, suspicion, ignorance, confusion. And it has even now come to include simply defending traditional Christian, Jewish, and Muslim doctrine on questions such as homosexuality.

    This is incredibly trenchant. I’m not sure I agree that it’s all tribal, but he’s certainly descriptively correct about how it’s being used.

    [Ta-Nehisi Coates] is entitled to shift perspective. What’s more salient is his audience. He once had a small but devoted and querulous readership for his often surprising blog. Today, his works are huge best sellers, and it is deemed near blasphemous among liberals to criticize them.

    Sullivan, I think, suffers a blind spot here. He underwent a similar metamorphosis, albeit a more dramatic one, when he flipped “tribes” and went full liberal instead of moderate conservatives because of one and only one issue — his sexuality. He went from a broad and enthusiastic audience to a narrow and indifferent one.

    Coates has made a much smaller (barely even discernible) ideological shift — more a shift in tone, really — and has gone from an interesting writer to a leftist icon. Do I detect a touch of professional jealousy there, or is it just me?

    Perhaps Sullivan sees this essay as an opportunity to rehabilitate himself with a larger audience in the middle where Coates’ accolades come from the far left. If so, I’d say he has made a case for himself, although he still has a long way to go. Sullivan is such a practiced leftist after the last decade plus that he struggles to question his own tribalism, and that shows up here, although to a lesser extent than I would’ve expected.

    There is no divide [Donald Trump] doesn’t want to deepen, no conflict he doesn’t want to start or intensify. How on earth can we not “resist”?

    I don’t actually think this is true, but I can see why he might believe it. Trump is certainly willing, even eager to join any conflict, to assail anyone who opposes him in the smallest matter. But I don’t think his actual intent, if one is actually discernible, is to divide, but his insistence to unite only on his terms have that effect.

    But if Democratic leaders choose to de-escalate our tribal war rather than to destroy their political nemesis, would their base revolt?

    Does he seriously think they would not? Anything is possible, but given where we are right now with both sides as near violent struggle as at any time since the 1960’s, it seems unlikely to be otherwise.
    One good sign that maybe they might de-escalate is some of the Democrat leadership rejection of Antifa, by far the most violent faction on the left. They initially embraced them with a kind of “hold your nose” lack of enthusiasm, but it seems that they are backing away from that.

    But most of the Democratic base is not inherently violent, so they might not see that as a sign to back away from demanding their leadership go for the throat. Many may not believe that actual hostilities are possible in modern America, and may be willing to risk it to win. I think conservatives probably think the same way.

    And if the Democrats try to impeach a president who has no interest in the stability or integrity of our liberal democracy, and if his base sees it, as they will, as an Establishment attempt at nullifying their vote, are we really prepared to handle the civil unrest and constitutional crisis that would almost certainly follow?

    Good question. I really don’t know. So far, we’ve escaped much bloodshed, but it just feels like it’s out there, ready to explode. A crisis like he describes feels to me like it would be the match that lights a conflagration, the results of which I am not wise enough to foresee.

    And, at some point, we also need mutual forgiveness. It doesn’t matter if you believe, as I do, that the right bears the bulk of the historical blame.

    Signature significance, pure passive-aggressive Sullivan. What use was that second sentence? In a call for reconciliation, the next words out of his mouth is, “but it’s all your fault, you know.”

    Unintentionally, Sullivan has just showed us all why it is so damn hard to reconcile. We can’t let go. If we are going to sing Kumbaya together, the first thing we have to do is stop assigning blame.

    Overall, a worthy piece from a writer who, to be fair, arguably got me interested in blogging. I used to read Andrew Sullivan every day, until he went off on the sexual identity sleigh ride to the Hell of irrelevance on either side.

    His observation about the tribal nature of America now seems right to me, but obvious — I’ve spoken about it many times here and elsewhere, and I’m certainly no intellectual. Having said that, I have always been willing to meet in the middle on most things, and I honestly believe that most people, taken away from their “tribes” and placed one-on-one with another person, would also do so.

    The problem is, the more cohesive the group or “tribe,” the harder it is for individuals within it to assert themselves. Groupthink is a real thing, as we have seen, and even on here we see elements of tribalism raise its head.

    I hope to see more quality work from Sullivan. I’m not holding my breath, but I’m also willing to give him a chance.

  7. That essay by Andrew Sullivan is really good! It covered many things that I’ve been talking about for a long time, I’ve just been using the word division instead of tribalism. As far as I’m concerned tribalism a relative equivalent to division.

    Here are some of the things I’ve written about division over the last few years with a little bit of additional commentary.

    “The political left has been intentionally dividing the population into ‘oppressed’ groups and using propaganda and the media to manipulate the thoughts of the population thus actively reducing critical thinking, promoting the suppression of free speech, all under the guise of social justice.” The political right did a pretty good job of staying away from using this tactic for a long time; however, the emergence of Trump shows that the corrosive acid of division has overtaken much of the population.

    “Divisive rhetoric is no longer just a political season problem, it’s constantly in our faces, it has taken up ‘permanent’ residence and become a predominate tactic in politics and general incivility across our society. Our society has not been this socially divided into unique subgroups displaying illogical morally bankrupt behavior in many, many years!” The media has been a huge part of this permanent residence problem!

    “Division might temporarily make some of us feel stronger than those we oppose, but in the end, division will destroy the initial reason that drove the founding fathers to structured our nation in the manner in which they did; our freedoms rest on the heavy laden shoulders that We the People are better together than we are apart.” Until we as a United States citizens again see our neighbors as fellow citizens, with relatively the same goal that our nation and its people should prosper and for that to happen there must be compromise, these divisions will grow much deeper setting neighbor upon neighbor.

    It seemed appropriate that I change this one a little bit to fit the tribalism discussion; “There are no chasm walls created so distant by tribalism that are not bridged by the solid foundation of underlying human commonalities that support those tribes.”

    I view division/tribalism that’s being pushed by social justice warriors across the nation as a corrosive acid eating away at the freedoms and protections of the United States Constitution which in-turn will cause the “inevitable” downfall of the United States of America. The ones promoting the division are either ignorant to this potential outcome or that is their end goal.

  8. “In a new study of the voting habits of professors, Democrats outnumber Republicans 12 to 1, and the imbalance is growing. Among professors under 36, the ratio is almost 23 to 1. It’s not a surprise, then, that once-esoteric neo-Marxist ideologies — such as critical race and gender theory and postmodernism, the bastard children of Herbert Marcuse and Michel Foucault — have become the premises of higher education, the orthodoxy of a new and mandatory religion.”

    That’s true, Andrew. But it’s old news. And it’s a massive tragedy. The American Academy is the font of all the Authentic Frontier Gibberish. Unfortunately, short of disbanding every college and university in the country and letting them lay fallow for a few years or decades, I don’t see any way to rectify this situation. Who other than a masochist is going to want to be the single non-lefty among twenty-three rabid liberals in graduate school and then in the workplace? The inmates are running the asylum, er, the academy. And they’re multiplying like rabbits.

    • Bastiat sort of reminds me of Rand Paul and the current crop of libertarians. I appreciate his thinking a lot more than Sullivan, who would probably characterize America as one big tribe which uses its military and economic power to inevitably oppress its neighbors. I’m sure that he believes that an international organization like the UN is the solution to America’s problems. We can see in Rwanda, Bosnia, and in the Ukrainian Republic how well that has worked out.

  9. I don’t have a title for this – only sub-section titles. I beg pardon in advance for unreadability. Maybe it should be titled “Lucky’s Madcap Mangled Manifesto #1 of 2017.”

    I post this also with gnawing anxiety that my HTML marks will contain a ruinous error…

    Andrew Sullivan, in his essay “America Wasn’t Built for Humans” (alternately titled, “Can Our Democracy Survive Tribalism?”) did not address two particular opposed tribes. I will discuss them, giving them my own choices for labels. I will blame one of the two tribes entirely for the current state of human affairs. I cannot envision any resolution of the conflict, other than the virtual annihilation of one or both tribes. Make no mistake: The conflict and its impacts are historically cyclical, humanity-wide, and universal – not some uniquely American problem.


    In one tribe are the “governists.” One might be more comfortable with calling that tribe “governmentalists.”

    Members of the governist tribe view governance and its machinations – created, continually reformed, and sustained by an ever-omnipresent government, a source and repository of ultimate power – as the sole institution that is essential to the fulfillment of human needs. To the governists, governance must embody ultimate means of power and control over all people, over all other life forms, and over all resources known to be required for (1) sustainment of the lives that are subject to control, and (2) sustainment of the needed means for such power and control.

    In the tribe that is irreconcilably at conflict with the governists are the “ownwayists.”

    Ownwayists view themselves, as individuals, as sources and repositories of need-fulfilling power – power independent of the powers of government. Ownwayists view their individual power largely as sufficient for need fulfillment, but, limited by their own individual human limitations – where that power is not additionally limited by external forces. Thus ownwayists are unavoidably and eternally conflicted within themselves, over the need for government – powers external to themselves – to combine and orchestrate individuals’ powers synergistically.

    A PAUSE: A reader might perceive that statists and individualists are synonyms for governists and ownwayists, respectively. I would have used those terms, if I had felt confident that they are accurate for the tribalism I am aiming to discuss here. I leave to others smarter than myself the resolution of any issue about the best, or correct, labels for the two tribes. In this essay, I will proceed using forms of governist and ownwayist.

    The conflict between governists and ownwayists is exposed when ownwayists perceive (correctly or incorrectly) that governists are creating, or have created (knowingly or unknowingly) what I am calling Synergy Despoliation (SD). I could elaborate further here on that specific phenomenon, but have chosen not to. SD can evidence itself in, for examples, inefficiencies of governance; failures of governments to enable the meeting of human needs; and impositions of insufficiencies upon governed individuals which often, but not always, stem from excessive government control of the powers of those individuals.


    Taking of power from individuals by governments happens, whether those so deprived are ownwayists or governists, and whether those with the power to deprive are ownwayists or governists operating within governments. Acquiring, holding and wielding of governance powers is not necessarily more coveted by any given governist than by any given ownwayist. Nor are there (yet) any inherent obstacles to access to governance powers that completely preclude any ownwayist from holding a position in government that is coveted by any governists. Any given individual can be conflicted internally, between co-opting oneself to governism and relying tenaciously and exclusively upon ownwayism, and on what extents one would embrace both.

    Governments will hire from both tribes. In some cases governments will “spawn,” even transition and transform, governists and ownwayists such that some individuals re-set, and even switch, tribal affiliations. In the long run, however, any given government and its governance will eventually favor the existence, pre-eminence, and ways of the most “pure” governists.

    In the final outcome, throughout history, governments and their governance continue to rise and fall, regardless of their tribal demographics. The conflict between the two tribes continues throughout history, too, regardless of the forms or tribal demographics of governments.


    Where individuals realize that they are not alone and in a state where their individual powers are insufficient (or viewed as insufficient) for meeting their own needs (whatever the actual or perceived cause of the insufficiency), they naturally will tend to congeal into “interest groups.” Leadership of a group will naturally tend to strive (or to appear to strive) to synergize the power of group members – doing so naturally, generally, and typically, in a governist manner.

    In a large and diverse society, the governistic nature of interest groups naturally leads to conflicts with other interest groups. The need for resolution, or at least, reduction, even minimization of those conflicts, leads to dependency on some overarching government. Naturally, such government is ultimately going to attract the interest of – and as a result will eventually be controlled principally and most of the time by – people who are, for the most part, governists.

    As a result of the aforementioned “natural selection” of governists to control governments, ownwayists tend to be marginalized in society – inhibited from efforts to synergize their powers, even excluded from having powers of governance and status of authority within governments. Governists need the ownwayists and the ownwayists’ powers – but, being governists, their priority is typically on control of the ownwayists’ (and everyone’s) powers. Thus governists generally fail to achieve effectiveness of control of the means for achieving synergy through the optimal uses of ownwayists’ (and fellow governists’) powers.

    SD is thus a natural and typical outcome of the strivings of governists and governments.

    Typically, the ownwayist’s priority is on maintaining as completely as possible the control of one’s own powers. Even so, a negligible few ownwayists will utterly reject and eschew all benefits enabled, offered and conferred by government and governance (the so-called “off the grid” people). Coupled with their natural tendency to be marginalized, the vast majority of ownwayists set themselves up for having control of their own powers taken from them by government, and for being forced into dependency on government for the fulfillment of whatever needs that the government permits ownwayists to exercise their “own” powers to fulfill.

    Ownwayists are thus culpable for Synergy Abortion (SA): most ownwayists choose for their government to have a monopoly of control over the synergizing of individuals’ powers. It is no surprise, then, that collectivism (and its inherent SD + SA) is a chronic symptom of “democratic” governments. As an alternative, “elitism” or “plutocracy” is merely the outcome of certain ownwayists’ near monopolization of government power while occupying stations of governance. As I have implied, there is no “polar opposite force,” as with a magnet, which keeps ownwayists and governists forever separated and never intermingled, and which inherently repels and prevents ownwayists from acquiring and exploiting power just as governists do, and vice-versa.


    After self-examination, I have concluded that I am a “hardcore” governist. Virtually all of what circumscribes my life– my education, my employment, all the nice things of my existence – would not exist without the existence of, provisioning of, and my dependency on, government. Governists, and the government they have sustained, have made possible my life as I know it. I daydream of being a true and pure ownwayist. But that is only dreaming. I’m typecast, stuck.

    Clearly (in my opinion, anyway), the governist tribe has become so predominant, so overpowering in its predominance, that at this time the extinction of the ownwayist tribe is a virtual reality – of a fidelity indistinguishable from actual reality. I am reminded of one of the laments by the madcap “newscaster” in the movie “Network,” Howard Beale. In his on-air rants, Beale said (I am distilling) that the madness that had overtaken his society – namely (my interpretation), boredom, and the need for the business of television to kill that boredom – had rendered everyone “as replaceable as piston-rods,” and, that “it’s the individual who is finished.” Finished, as in defeated, no longer relevant – for all practical purposes, dead. Beale further muses (paraphrasing): “Is dehumanization a bad thing?”

    For fun, here are links to “Network” scenes, which follow the plot of the 40-plus year old masterpiece in chronological order:

    (“I’m mad as hell!”)

    (“TV isn’t truth! Turn it OFF!”)

    ([Beale’s CEO] “The world is a business!”)

    (“The individual is finished.”)

    Andrew Sullivan (perhaps a Beale for today) writes about a need for respect for individuality. For a society that has “progressed” toward dehumanization as far as has the one he is addressing (thanks to…wait for it…governism), there is not reason to hope for very much respect being given to being so respectful as he exhorts. Why? Because the individuality about which Sullivan writes and exhorts to be respected is already irrelevant – dismissed, cast aside, as good as dead – atomized, using his word. The overwhelming governism of identity groups has fully and permanently suppressed the ownwayism and its attendant potential societal benefits that are inherent to, and arise from, individuality. To borrow (out of context) what another historical figure said at another pivotal moment in history – be he real or fictional, or only thought to be either of those: “It is finished.” Ownwayism has been crucified at the altar of governism.


    The truth is: shit is happening; the shit is morphing (or, being morphed) only to become more shitty, and it is almost entirely, inexcusably stupid, calamitously destructive SHIT! To wit, using just one example: THREE THOUSAND PAGES and more of federal law – ostensibly intended for every member of the society subject to that law to be as healthy as they could possibly be, from cradle to grave – combined with what will surely, eventually become ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND PAGES and more of irreplaceable, irreversible “implementing regulations.” Governance like that is simply collectivized self-suffocation! Madness!

    Bastiat Strawman Time!: The governists may as well craft law and regulations according to a “ration” for a known or projected total population: say, just to begin with, 10 pages of law and 500 pages of regulations per person – each ration of law and regulation customized to apply uniquely to each of 350 million individuals – but also subject to continual “reforms” (i.e., expansion), in perpetuity, person-by-person, whatever the population now and in the future.

    I submit that there haven’t existed over all time enough physicians, attorneys, and government bureaucrats, on earth plus in heaven and hell combined, were it possible to have them all alive in one society, to make effective either such monstrosity of governance.

    Whatever “government-free” powers exist, and whatever synergies and needs-fulfillment any individual ownwayist might offer and provide through exercise of such powers, have been effectively marginalized, aborted, and even nullified, and perpetually so. To illustrate: impromptu and voluntary, “non-professional” (ownwayist) emergency rescue assistance to Hurricane Harvey flood victims has been acknowledged and ostensibly appreciated via many media – but, with a not-subtle air of dismissal and derision – with a hint of actual racism, even.

    One way to summarize media coverage of volunteer disaster response to Harvey is: “Awwww, just look at those poor, helpless helpers helping the needy! Isn’t that sweet? Isn’t that quaint? THIS is a job for SUPER-GOVERNMENT! (Let’s switch now to the Disaster Response Center, and hear the planners of The Plan for deploying their press kits and holding press conferences, in the run-up to the decisions that will be made on deployment of resources to aid storm victims.)”

    Yeah. Let’s see if anyone has trustworthy hard numbers in answers to these two questions:
    1. How many Harvey flood victims in most imminent peril had their rescues provided to them by FEMA?
    2. Same question…but, by the so-called “Cajun Navy?”

    The difference is that governists will lie about their inefficient numbers – even make them up – while in contrast, the ownwayists will be just efficient enough to “git ’er done,” insofar as their own powers make possible, and won’t even keep a count of what, or how much, they’ve done.

    So which is better? Unquantified, unquantifiable, unaccounted-for, ownwayist tribal culture-enabled, mission-focused success? Or cleverly mis-counted failure that is spun into deceptive narratives of poor (at best), unaccountable, governist institution-focused “success?”

    Yeah. Governments are going to fix climate change, too. Count on it.


    Andrew Sullivan pleas to conflicting tribes and their members to turn to mutual forgiveness. His is a sweet hope, a sweet wish for possibility – but, he hopes for a reality that simply is not going to happen. The tribes’ conflicts are irreconcilable. Therefore, the conflicts will continue, and will continue intensifying real damage to people through continued mutual resistance of each tribe against the other, until one or both tribes are annihilated, at least figuratively if not also literally (and as I have said, annihilation of ownwayists appears virtually complete already).

    Therefore, despite my own hardcore governist “orientation” or socialization, I fix blame for the current conflict between governist and ownwayist tribes squarely and fully on the governists. So I blame myself, too, in part. My attempt to make peace, serve reparations, and pay penance, is to increase my personal, direct, “hands-on” support to “mostly ownwayist” people whom I know (or whom I can access directly, personally). That is, I am behaving at least in some ways more like an ownwayist, and less like a governist, toward others who are willing to exercise their ownwayism and benefit from mine. What I am doing, I am not asking (and will not be asking) anyone else’s prior permission to do. But, the moment such permission becomes mandated by, or even just “moderately” controlled by, governance (and it will), I will be as good as dead, and the support I once provided, and any benefit it might have provided, will quickly cease and vanish.

    Multiply that governist “co-opting” of my personal ownwayism, and the impacts of that, across the population of a locale…state…region…country…continent…country group.

    Even an “all politics is local” approach will fail. It’s a grim outlook.

    Ultimately, governists will “win” – until, they (and everybody) lose. Societies fall to anarchy.

    But ownwayists (never fully immune or alien to governism) will survive –
    thus only to re-start the Cycle of Human History.

    It’s a vicious cycle. It’s the Human “Civilization” Cycle. “Praise The Lord!”

    Enjoy what you can of life, everybody, in whatsoever place you may be in that Cycle.

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