Last Sunday, WaPo ran an opinion piece proposing a change in the Supreme Court. The writer, law professor Jonathan Turley, was shocked by the torrent of verbal savagery unleashed on him by people on his ideological side, because they mistakenly assumed he was one of their opponents. It's probably fair to say that I'm closer to an opponent than an ally of Professor Turley, but I link to him and read his blog because he's consistently thoughtful and civil.
I wonder how many people will look back at their reactions to Turley (Ann Althouse?), admit to their mistaken assumptions, and acknowledge that there was something wrong with the way they reacted.
This situation makes me think back to comments made by Jonathan Haidt during an interview with Bill Moyers:
in analyzing any social situation you have to understand moral psychology. Our moral sense really evolved to bind groups together into teams that can cooperate in order to compete with other teams.
So, some situations will sort of ramp up that tribal us-versus-them mentality. Nothing gets us together like a foreign attack. And we've seen that, 9/11, and Pearl Harbor. And, conversely, when there are moral divisions within the group, and no external attack, the tribalism can ramp up, and reach really pathological proportions. And that's where we are now. [...]
Groupishness is generally actually good. A lot of research in social psychology shows that when you divide people into teams, to compete, they love their in-group members a lot more. And the hostility toward out-group members is usually minimal. So sports competitions-- and I'm at a big football school, UVA. [...] And you know, the other team comes, there's, you know, some pseudo aggression in the stands. You know, hostile motions. But, you know, that night, there aren't bar fights, when everybody's drinking together downtown.
That's the way, sort of, healthy, normal, groupish tribalism works. But, the tribalism evolved, ultimately, for war. And when it reaches a certain intensity, that's when, sort of, the switches flip, the other side is evil, they're not just our opponents, they're evil. And once you think they're evil, then the ends justify the means. And you can break laws, and you can do anything, because it's in the service of fighting evil.
Returning to the verbal savaging of Professor Turley, it seems to me that when the tribal warfare switch is thrown, not only is the perceived opponent demonized , but people become trigger happy, even mistakenly shooting their own because they are so thirsty for blood.
There is a beast in all of us and we must keep reminding ourselves of that fact.
Jonathan Turley's update of his original post:
[Update: Professor Ann Althouse has responded to my call for greater civility with a new blog entitled "Jonathan Turley's civility bullshit about my calling "bullshit" on his Court-packing plan." Notably, Professor Althouse does not address the fact that she was completely wrong in claiming that I was motivated by dislike for the anticipated ruling striking down the individual mandate in the health care case.]
Is Althouse thoroughly under the control of unconscious bias, or is she deliberately evasive and consciously unwilling to do the civil thing and apologize? That her blatant moral evasion flies with the frenzied mob in her comment section is a reminder of just how unreasonable passions can make us. It isn't that passion is itself a bad thing. At the extremes, passion can render us mad good or mad bad, and we're all mad from time to time. The Turley situation is clearly a case of mad bad, except in the eyes of the temporarily mad who never seem to know that they've gone mad. It wouldn't be madness if they knew. Scratch that. Sometimes the mad know they've gone mad, but part of the madness is not caring that they've gone mad.
A commnenter at Turley reports:
A commenter at Althouse’s blog points out that Althouse has frequently grown quite upset with bloggers that misrepresent her point of view. There was a pretty big blog spat between Althouse and feminists around 2007 concerning Jessica Valenti’s breasts, a photographic pose, and Bill Clinton. There was a blog spat last year, and this, regarding the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Justice Prosser’s alleged attack on the Chief Justice, and a Wisconsin paper/website known as the Isthmus.
In all of these Althouse excoriates those who misinterpret her.
Today she got into it again with a third post, by rationalizing her attack as just another day on the Internet and refusing to take any responsibility for that. And she promises a fourth post on this as well.
Well, it’s really not earth shattering to discover that lawyers or professors are too arrogant to admit mistake and then take responsibility for that.
Consistency is no friend of madness.