Friday, May 31, 2013

Partisanship is Human Nature: Good luck changing it.

Though I have often been a member of a political party, voted more often than not (and usually for the same party) I do not consider myself to be an overly partisan person.  And I like to think that I don't often find myself just going along with the herd (okay...I know no one actually knows when he or she is simply adopting herd like practices...but hey, I'm subjective, there is nothing else I can be). As it were,  I often wonder about people who defend everything their side does but attack the very same actions when performed by other parties.  I don't want to really get into specifics right now, but you all know what I mean (all three of you)

Perhaps a big part of this is caused by the tribal part of our brain.  Actually, I'd bet that is really the biggest explanation.  Sure, there may be some systemic processes that cause parties to become ever more entrenched in their own worldviews and ideologies, but is it not the tribal part of our brain that allows those systems to occur in the first place?

Let me explain the "tribal" notion for a moment.  Some anthropologist or other started this idea, and since then it has become a rather commonly held idea.  It basically goes that our tribal nature right from our prehistoric ancestry has caused us to develop an in-group love.  Now, lots of research has recently shown that in-group love does not, by necessity equate with out-group hatred, it does cause the in-group to be favoured by the individual.

This goes further than the partly biological and instinctual goal of protecting one's own offspring as it extends beyond the immediate, or even extended family toward those in a generalized clan, syndicate or tribe.  The clan must be protected at the expense of any group which is not "one of us".   As the theory goes, this is the explanation for everything from tattoos to biker gangs, tree forts to gardening clubs, fashion statements and political behavior.

I think we don't have to look so far and wide to see that this probably is why political parties and movements seem to have so many people who all see eye-to eye on just about everything.  I really don't think it is because big bullies like Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair in Canuckistan or Nancy Pelosi in the U.S are enforcing discipline with an iron fist and ensuring that caucuses tow the party line.  Is that part of it?  Probably, but why do we allow it to happen over ourselves?  Why do we adopt party ideology wholesale?

Is it not possible to be a democratic socialist who believes in old institutions like the Monarchy or the House of Lords/  Is it so contradictory for a conservative to be pro-abortion?  Why does it get laughs when what's his face describes himself as pro-death because he is pro-choice and in favour of the death penalty?  Maher...Bill could I have forgotten that name.

Anyway, I am not so sure that there is a solution to any of this.  If were were to try to ban political parties and run a non-affiliated system (like that which exists in municipal politics in Canada) would unofficial (but still present) affiliations not just replace them?  I also can't really see us ever getting rid of the a majority consensus...perhaps we can weaken adherence to it, increase tolerance of alter opinions, and reduce majority views to pluralities on many issues, but end it completely?  Good luck with that.

An Angry Baird in its natural habitat
Party discipline may be unusually high in Canada, higher than in the U.K or the U.S, but even in countries with relatively week political party discipline, people still seem to rally behind large generalized groupings.  That's not going to change.  Don't spend too much time worrying about it.

I think that this is simply human nature and not much should be done about it but to attempt to limit the level of partisanship.  Oh, and I do think it is a great myth that we are so much more partisan today than we were in our so called glory days.  It wasn't so long ago that Canadian elections involved armed thugs punishing those who voted the wrong way.  Sure, the government has been trying to manipulate results, but until Harper sends one of his hench-persons...(John Baird) out to physically hit you with a stick or vomit in your face, than we have not yet reached the nadir.

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