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The Rules of Tribal Politics

Summary:
Democracy is the rule of hooligans, and hooligans demand hooliganism from everyone else. Check Facebook, the news, the English department’s faculty meeting, or Twitter, and you’ll see that modern democracy is characterized by a tribalistic, neo-barbarian* ethics. Here are the rules of the game. 1. You must take a side immediately. 2. You must believe what your side says on the flimsiest of evidence. 3. You must not question what your side says. 4. You must prove your loyalty by taking ever more extreme versions of your side’s view. 5. You must never notice hypocrisy on your side, but must find it everywhere on the other side. 6. If the other side tries to reason with you in good faith, presume their explicit arguments are mere propaganda covering their dark beliefs and evil

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Democracy is the rule of hooligans, and hooligans demand hooliganism from everyone else. Check Facebook, the news, the English department’s faculty meeting, or Twitter, and you’ll see that modern democracy is characterized by a tribalistic, neo-barbarian* ethics. Here are the rules of the game.

1. You must take a side immediately.
2. You must believe what your side says on the flimsiest of evidence.
3. You must not question what your side says.
4. You must prove your loyalty by taking ever more extreme versions of your side’s view.
5. You must never notice hypocrisy on your side, but must find it everywhere on the other side.
6. If the other side tries to reason with you in good faith, presume their explicit arguments are mere propaganda covering their dark beliefs and evil motives. 
7. All evidence for your side is to be believed; all evidence against it is to be dismissed.
8. You must denounce apostates, skeptics, and heretics to your side.
9. People and cases are not to be judged on their individual merits, but on their membership in our tribe or theirs, and on the usefulness to our tribe of taking a stance one way or another.
10. Nuanced analysis is forbidden.
11. Anyone who repeats these 11 rules is to be denounced as a traitor and an apologist for evil.

12. Time heals all wounds your team inflicted on others, but any mistake from the beginning of time cannot be forgiven if done by the other side. [I got this one from a Facebook friend.]
13.  Our good intentions outweigh our bad results and behaviors; their bad intentions outweigh their good results and behaviors.

We are bad at politics and politics is bad for us.

*”Neo-barbarian”: Around the world, primitive peoples generally believed in two vile and repugnant moral ideas: 1. The sins of the parents are carried by their descendants. 2. The sins of the cousins or others in your group fall upon you. I regard 1 and 2 as fundamentally anti-moral ideas, but you nevertheless see lots of people today acting as if they believe them.

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Author: Jason Brennan
Jason Brennan
Jason Brennan (Ph.D., 2007, University of Arizona) is Robert J. and Elizabeth Flanagan Family Chair and Associate Professor of Strategy, Economics, Ethics, and Public Policy at the McDonough School of Business, and by courtesy, Associate Professor of Philosophy, at Georgetown University, and formerly Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Research, at Brown University. He specializes in political philosophy and applied ethics.

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