Ideologies follow the tribe

Here we have conservatives defending a guy who molests teens:

A group of 53 Alabama pastors signed onto a letter pledging their support for alleged child molester and Senate candidate Roy Moore.

Update:  The Newsweek story may be fake news, as elsewhere it’s reported the letter was from months ago.

And here we have a conservative at the National Review who is uneasy with left wing attempts to censor art:

HBO is at this moment streaming Hacksaw Ridge, a film by Mel Gibson, who in 2011 pleaded no contest to a charge of battery against an ex-girlfriend who had alleged that he had assaulted her so viciously that she was left with a black eye and two broken teeth. HBO has no policy, as far as I know, against distributing movies starring Christian Slater, who once served 59 days in jail after pleading no contest to assaulting a girlfriend. The films of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and Roman Polanski remain ubiquitous. Hollywood history is rife with personalities who have done much worse things than C.K. and whose films have not been subsequently suppressed.

So what’s going on?  Weren’t conservative pastors supposed to be the sort of people who condemn this type of behavior?  And isn’t it people on the left who used to strongly defend artists from censorship?  (Corporate or government)

Here’s one possibility.  Conservatism is moving away from religion and toward the cult of the strong.  Conservatives take increasingly pleasure in mocking the left as a bunch of sensitive snowflakes.  Sexual harassment is seen as a “feminist” issue.  Conservatives are increasing drawn to “alpha male” leaders, even if they have a history of abusing women.  When I was younger, that sort of man (Kennedy, Clinton, etc.) was usually thought more likely to be a Democrat.  Republicans were seen as nerdy types.  Now a major GOP presidential candidate brags about the size of his . . . er . . .  “hands” during a debate, and a Senate GOP candidate brandishes guns at campaign rallies.  A House candidates assaults a reporter, and is still elected.

On the left it’s a different set of issues.  The left once liked intellectual types who were unconventional, and didn’t want to live according to boring suburban morality.  Now people like Woody Allen and Louis CK are reframed as powerful white men who take advantage of less powerful women.  It’s a point I make repeatedly—there are no fixed definitions of left and right; ideologies evolve over time, and will continue do so in the future.  Who knows, maybe liberals will once again embrace eugenics.

You might say that the 53 pastors are not representative of conservatism, and the liberals who want to ban films are not representative of the left.  Maybe so.  But I recall just a few years ago hearing about a fuss over Halloween costumes at Yale, and thinking it one of the most bizarre stories I had ever read.  Now (just a few years later) hysteria about “cultural appropriation” is widespread on the left, and indeed is being taught in public schools all across the country.

Never assume that just because something seems outlandish it won’t eventually become conventional wisdom.  And history shows that it’s the outlandish ideas on the left that are most likely to persist.  The right generally loses these cultural battles, at least in the long run.  Which ought to cause some soul searching on the right.



17 Responses to “Ideologies follow the tribe”

  1. Gravatar of Eric Johnson Eric Johnson
    15. November 2017 at 08:21

    I believe the letter of support from the 53 pastors was given during the primary before the allegations surfaced and Moore’s wife tried to pass it off as a contemporaneous show of support.

  2. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    15. November 2017 at 08:48

    Eric, Thanks, I just saw the same thing. I added an update.

  3. Gravatar of Nathan Taylor Nathan Taylor
    15. November 2017 at 09:02

    Two models of human cognition:
    1. Evaluate cases from In group/Out group identity
    2. Evaluate cases from logical and ideological consistency

    Clearly people do both. But I think the more intellectually inclined expect more #2 than exists, or at least want people to pay lip service to it. So it’s helpful to point out when #1 overrides #2. But stable political systems must be designed assuming it’s mostly a #1 world.

  4. Gravatar of Ted Ted
    15. November 2017 at 09:08

    One of my biggest worries about how the internet is changing discourse is that we start to believe we know what ‘people’ think based on headlines we read. When in fact we have almost zero clue what people think. All we really know is what article writers believe will drive traffic. So when you make statements like “hysteria about cultural appropriation is widespread on the left” I would really appreciate it if it was backed up by a source. Good epistemic hygiene is as important as ever.

  5. Gravatar of bill bill
    15. November 2017 at 09:24

    I think the Update should note that the source of the letter was Moore’s wife. On first reading, I thought “those left wingers are pretty scummy painting those pastors that way”. Upon reading the link, my thoughts changed.

  6. Gravatar of gbear605 gbear605
    15. November 2017 at 09:51

    > [An alpha male leader] was usually thought more likely to be a Democrat. Republicans were seen as nerdy types.

    But what about Carter and Reagan? Carter was definitely the more nerdy one while Reagan was seen as more of an alpha male leader.

    Nixon too was definitely more of an alpha male.

  7. Gravatar of acarraro acarraro
    15. November 2017 at 10:23

    I am sceptical that the left always wins these wars. Maybe in the last century or so, but returns to strict conformity and rigid moral codes happened many time in the past.

    Today Iglesias argued that Clinton should have resigned because a 50 year old that sleeps with 20 years old is morally corrupt (he remembered to mention the workplace a few sentences later). In a few years we’ll go full circle and a man who has sex before marriage will be morally dubious…

  8. Gravatar of sean sean
    15. November 2017 at 11:08

    I think the ideas coming out of the left today will in part be defeated. It seems to me that they have gone past the point where the ideas led to greater utility/efficiency.

    From what I can tell Louis CK is getting a bad rap. I believe he asked for permission everytime he wanted to pull his thing out. Isn’t that what you are suppose to do? Unless we are going to a world where men wanting sex itself is evil.

  9. Gravatar of Lorenzo from Oz Lorenzo from Oz
    15. November 2017 at 14:50

    Norms evolve to deal with a certain set of constraints. As those constraints change, norms evolve to deal with the new set of constraints. The basic story of the last 2 centuries have been the loosening of past constraints (moving from mass subsistence societies to mass prosperity societies, women gaining unilateral control over their fertility, etc).

    The broad left has been pushing for a shift in norms on cultural issues when loosening constraints have made new norms increasingly apt. The broad right has been trying to hold onto traditional norms as the constraints they evolved to managed have weakened or vanished. Naturally, the broad right have been losing cultural battles to the left.

    The broad left pushed for ever more management of the economy by the state as technology expanded the possibility of mutually beneficial transactions: in other words, constraining economic action as the benefits of expanding the ambit of economic action increased. Naturally, the broad left have been generally losing economic battles to the market-oriented folks.

    These are two sides to the same set of processes ultimately founded in expanding production, transport and communication capacity from expanding technology. (Thus the Pill explains more about the current state of the academy–its increasing feminisation, hence increasing conformity*–and of feminism–its increasing obsession with upper middle class/abstract class {} career and status concerns–than any other single factor.)

    (I have a contract with a publisher to write a book about marriage: constraints, norms and gender issues are front and centre with me at the moment.)

    *Due to differences in the distribution of cognitive traits among males and females. Women tend to be more risk averse, higher agreeableness (which is in-group agreeableness), more likely to see disagreement as a threat (technically, higher neuroticism, which I think is a dreadful term, but is what the scholarship uses) and more inclined to put strong emotional weight on connections and conflict. (The classic “boy” argument is “that’s a stupid thing to believe/say”: the classic “girl” argument is “nasty people say/do that”–which mode of argument has become more dominant in public discourse? Going back to Charles Krauthammer’s famous aphorism. Naturally, the more female the academy becomes, the more conformist it is likely to be. But one of the triumphs of feminism is to declare the notion that there might be any negative consequences to female dominance in a social area arising from women themselves as verboten in polite society. (That there might be negative consequences arising from male dominance in a social area arising from men themselves is, of course, just fine.)

  10. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    15. November 2017 at 15:18

    Roy Moore did nothing wrong, and the allegations he molested teens are utterly without foundation.

  11. Gravatar of Doug M Doug M
    16. November 2017 at 10:24

    I disagree with you on the idea that the Right is more pro-censorship and the left for free speech and individual liberty.

    While I can definitely remember some right wing (Pat Roberston) leading an anti-pornography campaign. I can remember at the very same time an effort coming from the feminist left. Ultimately, it was the wings of both parties against the centers of the opposition parties.

  12. Gravatar of Major.Freedom Major.Freedom
    16. November 2017 at 16:52

    This blogpost has aged poorly already

    Second accusation has already been exposed as fake

  13. Gravatar of AnthonyC AnthonyC
    16. November 2017 at 18:58

    “Who knows, maybe liberals will once again embrace eugenics.”

    I think this is extremely likely. Consider that “eugenics” includes germ line therapy to cure heritable diseases, as well as any future gene therapies designed to extend lifespan, enhance intelligence, or modify the physical or other characteristics of ourselves and offspring. I think liberals will come around to these ideas faster than conservatives.

  14. Gravatar of B.B. B.B.
    17. November 2017 at 06:14

    Roman Polanski is a horrible person, but “Chinatown” is a great movie. It is important to separate the person from the art.

    Wagner was a proto-Nazi in his Jew-hatred, but his operas are the finest ever composed.

    Is a religious conservative who disapproves of homosexuality supposed to not visit the Vatican because Michelangelo was gay? Or not read Oscar Wilde?

    Are philosophy departments going to remove Heidegger (Nazi) and Sartre (Communist) from the reading lists?

    There is a fundamental misunderstanding here. People like Al Franken and Judge Moore are morally unfit to be senators. But if either of them wrote “War and Peace,” we should read the novel.

    Artists, writers, actors, and poets should be evaluated on their work, not their morals. But leaders need to be evaluated on their morals. Conservatives understand this instinctively. The academic left has yet to figure it out.

  15. Gravatar of Ravi Smith Ravi Smith
    17. November 2017 at 21:32

    I view American politics as a competition between two cultural groups. Cultures differ not only in specific norms and values, but in the mechanism (evolutionarily stable strategy) that maintains social norms. There are also two distinct forms of status: prestige (voluntary deference to gain cultural information) and dominance (the use of force or intimidation). Here are my loose impressions on the two main cultural groups in the US:

    Scots-Irish Rednecks have a system based on direct reciprocity, a ban on prestige, and clan tanistry. An honorable person always fights back and always returns a favor. Anyone attempting to gain prestige is quickly labelled ‘too big for their boots’ (leaving dominance the only path to status). Clans are built of individuals loyal to a leader (and each other). Many clans join together and elect both a chief and a tanist (heir-apparent from a rival faction). The main strengths of this culture are its loyalty and willingness to follow orders and accept a change in leadership. There is also a tendency towards clientelism, feuding between rival leaders, and anti-intellectualism. I would not be surprised if Pence or Haley were to challenge Trump (if they get the chance).

    The Yankee Snowflake culture is one based on second-order reward, a ban on dominance, and town-meeting government. The norm ‘support good causes’ is too costly to maintain in equilibrium. The second-order norm is ‘support people who support good causes’. This basically equates to ‘support like-minded people.’ Tocqueville described this as an ability “to fix a common goal to the efforts of many men and to get them to advance to it freely.” Yankees are quick to support fellow believers and also to decrease the prestige of opponents.The main strengths of this culture are its’ capacity for forming new organizations, willingness to experiment, and rapid ability to change social norms. The mechanism of second-order reward is prone to positive-feedback loops. Accordingly, its main weakness are the witch-hunts that result from a lack of proportionality and inability to consider tradeoffs. I predict that we will see more Democrats sponsoring ballot measures and federalism (even if they win in 2018/2020).

  16. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    18. November 2017 at 10:31


    “Conservatives understand this instinctively”

    Except the ones that voted for Trump.

  17. Gravatar of Tom Brown Tom Brown
    20. November 2017 at 10:31


    “Conservatives understand this instinctively”

    Except the ones that voted for Trump.

    Beat me to it. “Or Moore” is my only addition.

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