David Brooks on Group Identity

I am no fan of David Brooks, as I believe he puts far too much faith in the power of government to legislate human behavior (see here and here). (To be fair, it is not entirely his fault. He writes for The New York Times, which is objectively anti-America, so he “needs” to infuse otherwise good thinking with a pro-government shtick in order to keep his day job.) But pleasantly, Brooks’ column today was pure brilliance, void of pro-government nonsense and laced with honesty.

He neatly summarizes my overriding problem with politics: For some reason, unlike every single other area of life, in politics everyone believes it appropriate to camp out in their ideological group and not even consider a compromise. It is awful, and it makes politics intolerable for those of us who seek a middle ground, even if it is just rhetorical for those of us on the outside of policy making.

Brooks:

“But other times, group identity seems irrelevant to many issues. How does being gay shape your view of U.S.-German relations or breaking up big tech? How does being Latina influence how you read a black writer like St. Augustine?

“And there are other times when collective thinking seems positively corrupting. Why are people’s views of global warming, genetically modified foods and other scientific issues strongly determined by political label? That seems ridiculous.

“Our whole education system is based on the idea that we train individuals to be critical thinkers. Our political system is based on the idea that persuasion and deliberation lead to compromise and toward truth. The basis of human dignity is our capacity to make up our own minds. One of the things I’ve learned in a lifetime in journalism is that people are always more unpredictable than their categories.

“But the notion that group membership determines opinion undermines all that. If it’s just group against group, deliberation is a sham, beliefs are just masks groups use to preserve power structures, and democracy is a fraud. The epistemological foundation of our system is in surprisingly radical flux.”

* * *

Bravo, David. Bravo.

Now, if you would just remove the coastal elite veil from your eyes you might “see” how wonderful of a job President Trump has done in breaking down these group power structures. Has he pressed group hot buttons for political gain? Obviously. But separating the rhetoric from the policy – as an independent, objective observer should be able to do – one can see quite clearly that Trump’s policy implementation has driven a stake thru the heart of the two-party political system.

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