What's Been Lost: The Value of Being Reasonable
February 25, 2019
In terms of signaling one's loyalty and fervor, extremism pays dividends within the tribe while being reasonable will get you shunned or ejected.
Just about the only thing the virulent proponents of various extremes can agree on is that anyone attempting to be reasonable is a mortal threat that must be neutralized or destroyed. Dating back to the era of Benjamin Franklin, a willingness to hear another point of view and another set of solutions--i.e. being reasonable--was the hallmark of political progress.
The value of being reasonable has been lost, and I think there are three sources of this erosion:
1. Though few will admit it publicly, the awareness that the economic pie is slowly but surely shrinking is seeping into the collective unconscious / subconscious. The natural response to scarcity and competition for a dwindling supply of necessities is to tighten the tribal bonds to sharply delineate friend from foe. This is a global phenomenon which is manifesting in rising nationalism and renewed national identity, resistance to open borders and a reluctance to accept free-riders, which is a rational response for tribes facing scarcity.
In domestic politics, tribal loyalties are increasing and dissenters-- perceived as threats to tribal unity and thus power--are ostracized and members of competing tribes are demonized in much the way enemies in war are depicted as sub-human to reduce the moral hesitation to slaughtering them in combat.
Thus any "progressives" who question the "progressive" orthodoxy are labeled "fascists" (i.e sub-human) along with everyone who hasn't declared their loyalty to the "progressive" tribe by publicly endorsing the expected litmus-test tropes, i.e. virtue-signaling. This dynamic is visible in every politically defined tribe.
2. Being reasonable is a direct challenge to the extreme positions that have become the defining litmus-test virtue-signaling within each tribe. This is the result of two well-known manifestations of human nature:
A) it's very stressful to maintain a sense of identity and security in intrinsically ambiguous, complex, non-linear situations, and so humans default to simplistic orthodoxies as a bulwark against the strain of constantly having to monitor, assess and adjust one's beliefs and actions.
Put another way, the OODA Loop -- observe–orient–decide–act -- isn't innate, and every iteration thins our internal buffers, especially if the cycles are constantly speeding up as the situation becomes more chaotic, disordered and unpredictable / non-linear.
B) As my friend Dave P. has noted, the default reaction to any challenge of these basic existential orthodoxies is to double down and increase our devotion and commitment to the orthodoxy, in direct correlation to the effectiveness of the challenge in raising legitimate doubts: The Backfire Effect (via Dave P.).
The greater our doubts and the more telling the challenge, the greater our desire to protect our identity and certitude.
3. As my friend GFB has explained, the corrosive incivility of the online digital world has been normalized to such a degree that it has infiltrated the real world: people now feel they have the right to heap abuse and scorn on those outside their tribe in the real world just as they do online, and fabricate completely staged hate crimes to justify their demonization of competing tribes.
Righteous indignation is now viewed as a free pass to act with appalling incivility and relentlessly demonize anyone expressing skepticism of your tribe's virtue-signaling, promoting a differing set of values and solutions, or indeed, being reasonable in an increasingly unreasonable era.
In terms of signaling one's loyalty and fervor, extremism pays dividends within the tribe while being reasonable will get you shunned or ejected from the tribe. Desire more "likes" and positive feedback in the tribe? The way to garner more support is to be even more extreme. Want quasi-hysterical uncivil criticism and accusations of being a traitor or Trojan Horse? Express rational skepticism and a desire to understand others' points of view.
Reasonable people have no tribe, as being reasonable is intrinsically averse to the simple certainties that define tribes. As reasonable people are drowned out in a rising sea of simplistic orthodoxies and perverse incentives to become ever more extreme and rigid, the system that depends on reasonable compromise and mutual acceptance comes apart. All that's left are unreasonable, stridently orthodox warring camps seeking the eradication of competing tribes.
The recognition that such a system is incapable of making any sustainable progress has been lost along with the value of being reasonable.
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