We Can Be More Rational and Less Tribalistic

muh feels

I've noticed that the run-up and aftermath of every U.S. presidential election leaves me with the impression that the degree of political polarization, tribalism, and irrationality on display is getting progressively worse. That means that every election season inevitably feels like the most polarized, tribalistic, and irrational ever. If there is any truth to this, it is not good news.

As a skeptic, I must be cautious about using my subjective impressions (i.e., "muh feels") as any sort of metric of reality. The fact that something feels a certain way tells me precious little about whether it actually is that way. Perhaps it just seems like it is getting worse because I am less patient with much of it than I used to be. Or perhaps it just seems like it is getting worse because the manner in which our corporate-owned news media covers politics has changed over the years so that conflict is increasingly amplified. And perhaps it just seems like it is getting worse because more people, including me, are using social media and many who use it seem to do so in spectacularly irrational and tribalistic ways.

I suspect some combination of all of the above plus a few other things I haven't mentioned. I don't know whether things are actually getting worse. All I know is that it seems that way. It is in this context that I'd like to say something that is extremely controversial even though it should not be at all:

I think it is a serious mistake to assume that everybody who disagrees with me, even on subjects such as the question of which political candidate to support, is necessarily less intelligent, less moral, or less informed than I am.

Wait. What? Yes, this is where reason and freethought have led me. It is quite shocking, isn't it? But it gets even worse. Much worse, in fact. By extension, I also think that those of you who assume that everybody who disagrees with you, even on subjects you consider important, is necessarily less intelligent, less moral, or less informed than you are...well...you are making a mistake too.

I know, I know. How dare I? Don't take this as a condemnation. None of us are perfectly rational. We all make mistakes, including this one. Just because I manage to make this particular mistake far less often today than I did even 10 years ago does not mean that I don't still step in it from time to time. I certainly do. The difference is that I usually catch it now, recognizing it as a mistake and working to correct my distorted impressions. It does require some effort, but it really works.

Some of the more nihilistic atheists I've encountered like to condemn all of humanity as inherently irrational, pointing to the enduring popularity of religious belief as evidence that we are doomed. They may have a point; however, this ex-Christian has made some progress in becoming more rational, tolerant, understanding, patient, and even considerate of others. And so, I'm not quite ready to conclude that we're all hopeless when it comes to being more reasonable and treating others a bit better than we do.