Thursday, June 11, 2020

Uniforms and Uniformity

The opposite of tribalism is uniformity, which has its own horrors.

In a previous posting, I was musing about how we wear the markings and clothing of our tribes, as well as mannerisms, language, and accents.   We do this to identify ourselves as part of a tribe and to differentiate ourselves from "the other" in our society.

The opposite effect, to some extent, is the idea of uniforms and uniformity.  Yes, tribes all have uniforms, whether is the "colors" of a gang, or the informal uniforms of each generation of teens (and each generation has their own uniform, I wore one too, at the time).

But suppose everyone wore the same uniform?   That we all had the same values and beliefs?  This seems to be the dream of many, whether they are religious extremists (of every religion) or fascists or communists.   Or are all three the same thing, really?   It doesn't matter if the uniform is that of the Nazis, or the Soviets, or the robes and beards of the Taliban, the effect is the same - the idea to identify everyone as being of the same mindset and thought, and unified in one direction of action.

Sounds like a neat idea, and initially, it is very impressive.  All those soldiers marching in unison!  People all working toward a common goal!  It is amazing what people can get accomplished, when they all work together.  Pyramids get built (and no, aliens didn't build them, just determined people - and not slaves, either), mankind lands on the moon, and so on and so forth.

Most of the time, however, what results is horror.  Those not marching in step are often slaughtered. And an army of people marching in unison quickly needs a place to march to, and invade.  While initially, it seems this uniformity is more efficient and expedient, over time, it turns out to be a really bad idea.   Because if everyone is marching in lock-step, you have to hope whoever is directing this march knows what the hell they are doing and not just marching people off a cliff.

The track record seems to be that armies always end up marching off a cliff.

Our messy Democracy may seem less-than-optimal in terms of efficiency.  The allure of fascism and communism - with a strong, central government telling everyone what to do - sounds appealing in times of disruption and disunity.  Oddly enough, though, the same voices calling for a totalitarian state are often the same voices decrying the existing government as too powerful.  Whether it is neo-nazis, antifarts, democratic socialists, or outright communists, they all say the same thing - our current government is telling everyone what to do, and should be stopped and replaced with our idea of a government that will.... tell everyone what to do.

We used to call it "the loyal opposition" - the idea that for every ruling party, there is a minority voice that calls into question what is going on.  And if enough people agree with this minority party, it becomes the majority and the former majority the opposition.   This is a healthy democracy and a healthy form of government and yet so many today see it as the problem, not the solution.  "If only," they say, "our party took over, everything would be fixed!"   But it rarely works out that way, even when one party controls both houses of Congress, the White House, and the Courts.   And that is a good thing, as absolute power corrupts, absolutely.

So maybe tribalism isn't such a bad thing, and in my previous posting, I was not criticizing it per se, but merely observing it.   Like with uniformity, though, it can be taken a bit too far.  When tribalism is used to isolate and separate people from one another, the net result is as bad as, if not worse than, uniformity. Have a loyal opposition is a good thing, provided that both sides listen to each other instead of shouting each other down.

The New York Times, which has been steadily making itself less and less relevant, recently ran an Op-ed piece by a conservative Senator who opined (the operative word) that rioting, looting, and arson should be curtailed by the use of force, if necessary.   Radical stuff, I know - the queer idea that criminals should be caught and prosecuted for their crimes, and that burning down a store isn't a legitimate form of protest.

But apparently, some on the left feel that violence is justified to counteract violence, even if the targets of this violence have no relation to the initial offense.  I don't see how a middle-class white kid from the suburbs burning down a black-owned business in the city is "racial justice".  And yes, this has happened, more than once, even as some of these same media outlets claim it never has.  (Their quixotic argument is that these are outliers, and that most of the violence is being committed by blacks in their own neighborhood, as if somehow that is better).  To their credit, it is the black folks, in many instances, who have tried to dissuade these outside forces from destroying their neighborhoods and businesses.

Believe it or not, not too long ago, many newspapers had an "Op-ed" page where they would print editorials by people whose  political views were opposed to the views of the editor.   It was a bad idea, I guess, to print ideas you disagree with and then discuss them rationally.   Sometimes - believe it or not! - they would print opinion pieces from people with opposing views on a topic, often on the same page!   Worse yet, the next day, they would print letters from citizens critiquing the Op-ed pieces (again, both sides of an argument, crazy I know!) and just let these letters be read by anyone.  Not even a single trigger warning!

Dangerous stuff!   Which is why it is a good idea the New York Times put a stop to that.  In this era of online craziness, the only "letters to the editor" you want to publish are those that march in lock-step with the opinion piece, which in turn marches in lock-step with the opinions of the editorial board.  A Newspaper isn't supposed to be a platform to discuss ideas, but a means of indoctrinating people to one particular view.  How are the citizens suppose to learn, otherwise?

This is sad, because unless opposing views are presented, there is no rational way to dissect them.   If the opposing view is wrong (in your opinion) it shouldn't be all that hard to write your own op-ed or letter to the editor, pointing out the flaws in their thinking. This is a far more powerful way of exposing the flaws in an idea than shouting an idea down.

Uniforms and uniformity end up taking us to bad places. When everyone thinks alike and no opposing opinions are allowed, bad things are bound to happen. Sadly, the media outlets taking the most glee in the Times' misstep are the ones most likely to shout down opposing views.   Fox News claiming that the NYT is censoring opinion is the pot calling the kettle black (and no, that is not a racist metaphor, it has to do with the properties of cast iron).

The Times is circling the drain.   Clinging to a subscription model, they are losing readership.   Turning the paper into an anti-Trump platform for democratic socialists or even communists is turning off more and more readers.  I can't even read most of their articles anymore, as they are so laughably propaganda pieces.   A smarter move on the part of the Times would be to have the staff write pieces tearing apart the logic of Senator Cotton's arguments.   The fact they refused to do so, and instead offered pandering apologies only makes me wonder whether Cotton was right and the Times was wrong.

If the loyal opposition only wants to shout down the party in power, maybe the loyal opposition has nothing worthwhile to say.  I am not saying this is the case, only the perception.