Be Welcoming vs Welcomed

People love their choirs. We tend to find our people, our tribes, the folks that align with what we identify ourselves by the most, and we hold on to it tight. Those tribes lead to an us vs them mentality that drives too many aspects in someone’s life: where to shop, where to consume news, who to call a friend, who to date, who to marry.

This is nothing new. “Identity politics” has been a part of the human fabric since the dawn of man. Sometimes the identity is self-embraced by how one defines themself and all the virtues they determine that contains — I am Catholic, I am vegetarian, I am pro-life.

Other times the identity is how one defines others and the negative perception one accounts to those identities — you are foreign, you are Republican, you are anti-choice. Often they go hand in hand. If you’re not with us, you’re against us.

Kenney the Elder defines the problem directly:

Yet if the end state is really a condition between us and them? Who are us?

Shaun’s entire piece is worth a read with a cup of a beverage of your choosing. In a lot of ways I share his concerns, it’s a reflection of conversations we’ve shared time and again. The public sphere has shifted and as someone who’s engaged in often spirited but well respected debate for most of my life, it’s disappointing to see what used to be robust conversations on matters of importance distilled into mocks, memes, or “owning” one side or the other. Again, from Shaun:

In short, we have become a vulgar, boring people… and you can see it every day on social media, legacy media, commercials, entertainment, sports, etc. Our loneliness isn’t the problem — we’re just not interesting anymore (neither to ourselves or to one another).

So we have to manufacture virtue rather than work on becoming better, more interesting people. Turns out, virtue can’t be purchased. So we opt for wit, humor, condescension and the like rather than insight, relevance, and dialogue.

What’s worse, the manufacturing occurs when we stop letting our ideas and our virtues define our groups and instead allow our groups to define our ideas and virtues. Especially when those ideas and virtues are dictated by personalities more than actual intellectual ideas.

In another way, it’s a matter of values over labels. For example, believing in and engaging in Christian values is different than saying you’re a Christian.

As Bryan Caplan says:

The best way to guard against this laxity is to define your large, selective groups in purely intellectual terms. Identify with liberalism or conservatism, not liberals or conservatives. This is the kernel of truth behind the “No True Scotsman” fallacy. Once you insist that “No true libertarian believes in immigration restrictions,” you’ll feel little temptation to ignore, minimize, or justify libertarians who believe in immigration restrictions. And this is precisely how you should feel.

At its core, by seeking large groups to be identified with and by, we as individuals have stopped looking for ways to be more welcoming and instead sought more ways to be welcomed.

It’s a distinction with a difference. You don’t win hearts and minds by “owning the Libs” or seek to understand someone by responding to reasonable discourse with an animated gif of a disappointed Picard. You do get high fives from your tribe, though.

We seek out and embrace large, unselective group identities to be part of something that reinforces what we want to believe about ourselves. In turn, we narrowly define ourselves not just by who we believe we are, but we also define those who are not us and prove unwelcoming to their ideas and experiences, even if they’re unrelated to our group identity.

We start to see the world in black and white terms. Us versus them. We become narrow, in turn, becoming boring.

We need to resist allowing the halo effect to limit how we experience the world and the fantastic people in it. We need to welcome different ideas and disagreement as an opportunity to learn, not just about the values but about the person who holds them.

This doesn’t mean don’t stand for anything. Absolutely have a take. And, yes, there are going to be bad people out there who are not worth your time.

But start from a place of understanding that often we disagree not because of some moral lacking but because of life experiences that have helped shape who we are. And those experiences can be fascinating.

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