Entry from July 11, 2014

Reporting on a new poll about the fact that most Americans, even in these days of unpopular political parties, still identify themselves with one party or the other, Jaime Fuller of the Washington Post explains the matter thus: "So why do voters stick with political parties even when they aggravate them? The same reason we stick with our families — because it’s not like there’s a real alternative. . . So basically: Can’t live with ‘em, can't live without ‘em." It’s a persuasive argument, but I think it needs a slight amendment. Political parties are not so much like families as they are like tribes — something that hardly exists anywhere else in Western society. In fact, it is only in politics as currently practiced that we can acquire any insight, these days, into what it’s like to live in a tribal society, as most of the world still does.

Of course that may not be important to you if you are already engaged in the tribal conflict of present-day politics, as so many of us are, but we ought at least to be aware of how, as tribal warriors, we differ from people engaged in the sort of rational debate that was once thought to be vital to democracy. See, for instance, Jessica Valenti’s columns in The Guardian. A day or two ago she was attacking some friends of mine, in particular Charlotte Hays and Christina Hoff-Sommers, as "anti-feminist women." She had nothing at all to say about the arguments these women had made, respectively, in favor of the Hobby Lobby decision or the proposition that, in Ms Valenti’s paraphrase, "feminism was hurting men" — only that both women had, by giving voice to such arguments, become renegades from the feminist tribe and, ipso facto, could have nothing of any interest or relevance to say against her anathematization of them.

More recently, Ms Valenti has gone after Hillary Clinton for repeating that old and long-since discredited Clinton mantra about abortion’s being "safe, legal and rare." But her point is not that legalized abortion has never been and is not now rare at all. Rather, she takes the former First Lady to task because the word "rare" implies that she might just be thinking that there could be something less than totally awesome about a woman’s aborting her children and so might be giving aid and comfort to feminism’s enemies, as the tribal mind sees them, who have long tried to persuade women that there is something wrong with abortion. To the extent that they might be allowed to think it even possible for anyone to believe such a thing without being an oppressor of women, the unanimity of outrage about the Hobby Lobby decision would be diluted — and, worse, the tribe’s Democratic allies in Congress might suffer in the upcoming congressional elections.

Interestingly, tribal conflict is historically pretty much a masculine preserve. You could even argue that the improvement in the status of women in Western countries has proceeded pari passu with, even if it were not a primary cause of, the decline of tribalism. Women, having been historically seen as not always bound by the same honorable obligations as men, have also sometimes taken this partial exemption from masculine tribalism as a potential avenue to pacification in such tribal conflicts as Northern Ireland, where Mairead Corrigan, now Mairead Corrigan Maguire, and Betty Williams won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977. Now, just as feminists seek to emulate men’s proclivity for sexual promiscuity, as Ms Valenti insists they do in yet another column, they are also supposed enthusiastically to adopt their tribal love of fighting. At least they will if they know what’s good for them. And this enslavement to ideology is what they used to call "liberation."

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