When you boil life down to its bare minimum, all of life, for every living organism on the planet consists of two tasks: (1) finding something, killing it, and eating it; and (2) reproducing — forgive me for not using a crude parallel construction to the first task… or maybe, thank me. You decide, and let me know, in the comments!
For human beings fulfilling these two primary objectives involves working as a group. To succeed, our groups need to have several things: (1) We have to have a shared culture — belief systems that bind us together as a group. (2) Widespread agreement in the social contract, or the normative (normal) behaviors that we all practice in the same social situations. And (3) the ability to distinguish between fellow group members and non-members.
The first two allow for cooperation between members and the third for protection against threats. All three are important if the group is going to have a chance at thriving.
Group Cooperation: the Secret of our Success
Biological Basis for Small Group Cooperation
We have evolved biological and psychological mechanisms to help us achieve all of these things. Biologically, we release oxytocin and dopamine in our brains when we are around people that we love and when we are accomplishing things as a group. We even feel the same pleasure watching members of our group — the in-group — succeed as we do when we succeed — Thanks, mirror neurons! This explains why we root root root for the home team! When our team wins, we feel good. The good old mesolimbic reward system gets kicked into gear and the dopamine flows.
Our self-esteem can piggyback on the esteem of our group. Our team wins, we are winners, even though we didn’t really do anything to contribute to the win other than trash talk the other side.
The Psychological Forces Behind Small Group Cooperation
Psychologically, it becomes important to recognize the members of your own group and realize that this other guy over here is not a member of your group. We’ve gone to great lengths to sharpen the boundaries between our group and all the others to make it easier to recognize us as a group. Think of the bizarre cultural dress that you’ve seen undeveloped tribes using or the outlandish styles of dress of subgroups like punk rockers or hip-hop has developed in our own society. Think of the red MAGA hat and political buttons that people wear.
We also use lots of ways to make sure that everyone in the in-group are acting and behaving in the “right” ways. We need the group to agree. We punish those who do not behave correctly. Ask any autistic kid you can find — okay, you can ask me, in the comments! — it’s okay to bully and pick-on the kid who acts weird. It is a very human response that can only be overcome with real cognitive effort.
The fear of ostracization and exclusion is deeply embedded in the human psyche. Nothing is more terrifying that being expelled from the group. As hunter-gatherers it would mean certain death. As individuals we are vulnerable to any passing lion, hyena, or crocodile. As a group, we can drive them all to extinction.
Once the line between an in-group and out-group is made, people begin acting in big ways and small to favor the in-group and disadvantage the out-group. In fact, there are studies that show, we will give fellow in-group members less of a reward if it means we can hurt out-group members more! When the in-group is feeling badly about itself, they will discriminate even more against the out-group.
Ye Olde Blogge has covered the dysfunctional ways that groups will achieve conformity through gaslighting, groupthink, and cognitive dissonance. The end result of that dysfunction is what we’re seeing now on the right: disastrous and immoral decisions and mass psychosis.
While the GQP may be successful in creating their long-coveted single-party pseudo-democratic minority-rule autocracy, it will be as flawed as all of them have ever been. It will succeed in making the rich richer, the poor, poorer, the miserable, miserabler, and the oppressed, oppresseder, but in the not too distant future it will implode in a bloody — literally — conflagration.
The Sporstification of our Politics
Also, we have to realize that it will leave a vacuum in world leadership that (a) another country — likely China — will fill, and (b) we will never be able to get back to, at least not in La Petite Fille’s lifetime.
This divisiveness and grievance politics goes further in neutering the body politic of the US. It reduces our electorate to fandoms. We think we’re being politically engaged and informed and active when we watch the politically aligned cable “news” shows, swap memes and one-liners with like minded fans on social media, and argue with trolls and lay them low with sick one-liners either on social media or IRL.
Increasingly, this stuff is moving to IRL as in this example of an anti-masker mouthing off and bullying what seems to be weaker people and gets punched in the face:
As satisfying as comeuppance and Schadenfreude are, it is never okay to resort to violence. It is what the forces of oppression are counting on. It was what was hoped for during the 6 January Insurrection so the Ol’ Pussy Grabber could use the Insurrection Act and stop the election going forward.
When we sportsify politics and all become fan nations of one political party or another, we cease trying to convince the other side of our position and find common cause in governing the country. We simply hate the other side the way Steeler Nation hates Cowboys Nation and Raider Nation hates everyone and I don’t know sissy football or baseball well enough to use examples from there.
Politics is about getting policy and law enacted that you support. To do that you need to convince people to support them, too. If that means convincing your favorite drunk uncle to vote for the Democratic candidate, that’s what you do. But, we’re not doing that. Instead, we’re trash talking the folks on the other side like they’re some common Red Sox fan. We’re chasing likes, shares, and followers on social media like that’s politics and high school parlor games.
That’s what divisive politics has done to us: reduced our politics to the equivalent of a sporting event where only one side can win. Sure only one person can win an election, but that’s where the analogy breaks down. Once elected to office, we don’t get to do the goal line dance or go on a ticker tape parade and visit Disneyland, we get to govern, which in a democracy, means compromising with the other side. Working together for the common good.
By making everything political, divisive, and a zero-sum game, we make it so that we can’t work together as a cohesive group. Without dissent, we begin to make very bad decisions that lead to disaster. We need the opposing sides of an issue to hash it out and come up with an acceptable compromise.
Reaching MAGA Nation
By making everything political, divisive, and a zero-sum game, we’ve cut ourselves off from our greatest strength as a species — working together.
It also points us in the direction that we need to go to recover from this episode in our history…. um, that is assuming that the GQP does not succeed in creating its single-party, pseudo-democratic, minority-rule autocracy, you know, assuming that. But, should the 2022 elections succeed in knocking the GQP off its authoritarian track, we need to end the divisiveness.
Bonus: these ideas will also help deny them voters by peeling people off of the base.
First, don’t engage in trolling and arguing with folks in MAGA Nation. You won’t convert them and conversion is what we need. Arguing is antithetical to our goals. Emotionally satisfying perhaps, but not productive.
Second, don’t engage in violence, no matter how tempting. If someone is being bullied, talk to the person being bullied. Ignore the bullies. Compliment them. Take them by the hand and lead them away while chatting with them.
Third, in addition to sending those sick-burn memes that lay the GQP low and explain everything so clearly, do real politics: volunteer with a campaign, join the Democratic party, join an Indivisible group, call and email your members of Congress weekly. Most importantly, get involved in LOCAL politics. Go to city council and school board meetings.
Fourth, find common ground with the folks who are in MAGA Nation. We all have something in common that we are concerned about. Talk about that. Demonstrate how THAT issue drives your politics: preserving our democracy, mitigating #COVID19, climate change action. Don’t quote statistics and facts, talk from the heart.
And fifth, find a common problem that you can solve together. It doesn’t matter whether it is repairing a fence or the car or fixing dinner. Something where you have to work together. That type of interaction to achieve a goal builds community and a much more trusting group.
If you do any of these things, please let us know in the comments. We’d all like to know how it goes.
One last thing, though, we need to divest ourselves from national politics. These ideas are about the rank and vile of MAGA Nation. These people have succumb to those cognitive shortcuts that we evolved to build a group. Now, we have to use those same cognitive tendencies to mend the divide. Otherwise, we will not have a nation to heal. We will divide into two nations, literally and figuratively.
Whether you agree with my recommendations or analysis or not, please let’s engage in dialogue. You can contribute to that dialogue by doing one or more of the following:
- Comment: What do you think is the solution for bridging the divide between right and left? What have your experiences been with MAGA Nation and obnixious members of the left coalition?
- Life: A like speaks a thousand words… okay a few hundred, but still, that’s economy, right?
- Rate: A rating really does speak a thousand words! Use the five-star rating buttons right after the title up top.
- Share: Get your social media folks in on the action. Share it with them. Encourage them to participate in politics and our discussion.
- Join: Never miss a post with a timely email sent after each one is published. Just add your email to our growing list: