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How To Overcome Tribal Groupthink - BCB #47
Also: a civil rights lawyer defends critical race theory, and introducing the Ideology Cube
Let’s be honest: black and white thinking can be comforting. When our morality fits nicely into boxes of right and wrong, there’s no need to consider nuances or what ifs – it just is. Peter Coleman and Pearce Goodwin address political depolarization for Time magazine, acknowledging that moral gray areas can be difficult to accept. Yet they argue that moral certainty, seen from both Red and Blue groups, fosters intolerance, group extremism, and a loss of individual courage and critical thinking.
The good news is that a majority of Americans are what More in Common’s Hidden Tribes study calls, the “Exhausted Majority.” They cross the political divide, are tired of polarization, and believe in finding common ground. The bad news is that, with strongly divided sides, they tend to disengage from political discourse. As a result, many kinds of social groups gradually become more extreme and practice what the authors call “in-group love and out-group hate.”
In a previous issue, we discussed Coleman and Goodwin’s Political Courage Challenge, daily exercises to get people out of tribal group thinking and into individual critical thinking. Here are some exercises and lessons Coleman and Goodwin have learned from experience since launching their Challenge:
Check your courage: How comfortable are you with saying something different from the group? What are the consequences of speaking out? Coleman shares his own experience of struggling to speak up against the grain at Columbia University, which scored last in a national report on college free speech.
Gauge your need to belong: We all want to feel accepted by others, and this makes us vulnerable to tribalism. Goodwin admits feeling politically homeless and struggling with ostracism when engaging in depolarizing work, which highlights this temptation to find belonging in a tribe.
Identify your percection gap: What misconceptions do you hold about groups that think differently than you? Coleman was surprised with his results after taking the Perception Gap quiz, which we’ve covered before. “Yes, me, a self-professed bipartisan bridge builder, perceived average Republicans to be way more extreme in their positions on a variety of issues,” Coleman wrote.
Be the devil's advocate – respectfully: Coleman and Goodwin said it’s healthy to challenge your in-group’s thinking by pointing out inconsistencies and contradictions. They emphasized the importance of striking a balance between offering constructive feedback and not overstepping boundaries.
Critical race theory (CRT) has attracted a lot of controversy lately. The right wants to ban it in schools and the left embraces it as a guide to address systemic racism. “Particularly because CRT has recently come under fire, understanding CRT and some of its primary tenets is vital for the civil rights lawyer who seeks to eradicate racial inequality in this country,” writes Janel George for the American Bar Association. CRT has its roots in critical legal studies during the 1970s, which recognized that laws are made with society’s biases and can be used to further perpetuate racism. She gives examples of discriminatory housing policies and school financing systems, and points out that laws are the reason for why civil rights were more than just voices protesting on the streets.
George thinks CRT can help lawyers reevaluate their interactions with clients. “We ought to recognize that these individuals have stories, histories, and knowledge that are worth acknowledging, learning about, and centering,” she wrote.
From a Blue perspective most would agree with George’s summarization of CRT’s claims: 1) Race is socially constructed 2) racism is deeply embedded within our systems and institutions, like education, and 3) we must reject meritocracy and colorblindness. A Red analysis might interpret this differently, arguing that CRT 1) is based on the assumption that society is inherently racist 2) perpetuates a victim mentality, instead of encouraging striving for excellence, and 3) focuses too heavily on race, as opposed to other factors operating in a person’s life.
This seeming endorsement of CRT by the American Bar Association is sure to be divisive. But, zooming out from the details, most might agree on the larger goal, if not the precise means: George hopes to provide “a lens through which the civil rights lawyer can imagine a more just nation.”
Quote of the Week
Introducing: The Ideology Cube.