Thursday, December 2, 2010

Palin And AntiPalin

On all political, and even many nonpolitical sites, the name Sarah Palin sends a percentage of commenters into tribal mode, whether pro or con.

There is one significant sameness and one significant difference between the two camps.

The sameness is the lack of content, mere sloganeering. She's got that frontier spirit! She's a Real American! Or.. She's Stupid! She's an attention whore! This persists not only in the face of opposition trying to make substantive points, but even in response to allies making substantive points. I have seen people give fairly lengthy comments in praise of Gov. Palin, expressing only some doubt about her electability or the worry that she may be a wee bit too much in people's faces to effectively lead were she ever elected - and these seemingly reasonable folks were savaged by their own, accusing them of being leftist concern trolls who were trying to undermine Palin's candidacy with Democratic talking points disguised as legitimate worries. That's fairly insane.

And on the other side, I have read criticisms of Palin that pointed directly to her actions as governor or her comments since coming on the national scene (I mean actual comments, not the false quotes and out-of-context remarks) only to be greeted with replies like So why don't you just say she's a stupid bitch, which everyone knows is true, and stop boring us with this crap? It is apparently not enough to be critical, one must be vicious. Not enough to merely approve, one must be sold out for her with no doubting.

I view most group behavior through a tribal lens, pointing out that 95% of human action is explained by tribal allegiance, with the finer-sounding rationales a mere cover for more primitive reactions. (Yeah, and I'm talkin' about you, bucko.) On the Palin issue I don't need to bother to detect the subtler clues of the words chosen and not chosen, the ironies of positions reversing when the situation is the same but the principals inverted, or following the chain of self-interest back to discover that Group A invariably comes down on the side that provides them with the most money/security/prestige/power. Despite their book-length and even library-length arguments that nononoooo, it's really a better idea for everyone. (And you are immediately thinking how true, how true, about those others, but for us, okay, maybe a little, but really, in our case it's the ideas). With our current state of division, we don't have disguised, self-deceiving tribalism, but tribalism worn proudly.

Palin is a proxy for a host of other beliefs. How you feel about her seems for some folks to sum up about how you feel about oh, everything else. It is a tribal signaling, proclaiming I am really, really a member of this tribe. My self-image and reason for living is tied up in this. That I hate/love Sarah Palin so much says something important about me. Abortion has long been a proxy for a whole set of beliefs. As a practical matter, abortion law is not going to change much. Even a gigantic push from either side will only move the dial a little. Yet that little move will be invested with enormous significance, as one side or the other feels that they have A) Captured important cultural territory, or B) Stopped those other evil bastards from capturing important cultural territory. I thought Chuck Colson was a wuss for the prolife side years ago when he said that the energy should be devoted to changing the cultural beliefs, not the laws at this point, but I now believe he is right.

And now the difference between the two tribes. Among the AntiPalins, the mere mention of her name, in whatever context, sets them off. Heck, I've got a son living in Alaska, and if I merely mention the state's name people feel obliged to go into an AntiPalin rant, or at least drop in some declarative, brook-no-disagreement sneer. In fact, snide remarks about her get dropped in, apropos of nothing whatsoever, like some verbal tic that has to express itself, however randomly, four or five times a day. The ProPalins at least wait until you've expressed some opinion before going off. I'm not fully ready to grant the ProPalins too much advantage for civility, however. It may be anger that is the trigger, so an offhand mention of Sarah (or Alaska), activating only a neutral or positive set of neurons, doesn't trigger a reaction.

BTW, if your thought at this point is See, that's what I've been saying. She's just too polarising a figure, you're not off that hook. You are exempt from being considered one of these knuckleheads, but your attitude is feeding into them, giving them cultural and conversational space. Stop it.

In either event, some of us are beginning to find our allies as annoying as our opponents.