A message I sent this morning to Matthew Yglesias (or whoever looks at messages sent through his blog:
I'd like to make a suggestion: You have a lot of insightful and important things to say. Do you think it's constructive to engage in as much snark as you do? It seems to me like it serves to rile up people who are on your ideological side, and I suppose I could see some constructive purpose in doing that. But I would suggest we'd all be better off if political discourse was based more on humane and rational conversation and a shared commitment to building consensus about justice and finding the truth. I see your point that the right often represents entrenched power, and it may be necessary to struggle against that. But what about people like me, basically of liberal sympathies but not allied to the left per se, who are turned off by this tone of discourse? What about thoughtful and humane conservatives that might actually be convinced to change their policy positions? I guess it seems to me like your considerable talents and moral decency might be better served in a more consensus building, persuading, and a less base-riling, partisan role. I'll keep reading your blog, but the bitterness will often leave me a bit sad, and thinking you could be doing better.
I also attempted to submit a comment on a Connor Friedersdorf post at The American Scene, but I closed the tab before hitting "submit". I'm an idiot sometimes.
The tribalism, jingoism, and nastiness that so often characterizes political discourse makes me sad. More important, I think it serves little constructive purpose- though I understand there are coherent arguments that it does. Shall I try to summarize them? OK.
One argument for partisan tribalism is that, given human nature, it's a good way to organize people into coalitions, which allows them to collectively reach goals. If people where more inclined to individualism, questioning their assumptions, always looking for new evidence, etc. they would not form coalitions and better organized, perhaps more sinister factions would get their way.
I guess that's the only argument I can think of right now (gotta get more sleep!!!). That strikes me as a plausible argument, and I can't say that it's wrong. I'd only submit that there are obvious costs to partisanship (group think, mob mentality, etc) and that there may be a possibility for an alternative strategy for liberal-minded folks, one that, in fact, many smart people seem to follow: Make arguments in good faith, don't be nasty to people, but always try to persuade them. If you think someone is acting in bad faith, first, give them the benefit of the doubt, then, if that fails, state clearly that you believe they aren't arguing in good faith, and continue to make your arguments to receptive audiences. If your views are correct, you will persuade people, and, in a reasonably democratic system (I would count the U.S. here), people will vote according to that view.
A possible counterargument is that some people will only vote out of anger, so, in order to piece together the coalition you need to win, you need to fuel the anger of these people. Again, I can't say that's wrong. I'd reply that you can win new converts by convincing people, and you'd be contributing to a culture of more civil discourse, which would ultimately benefit us all.
I suppose ideological coalitions actually contain people engaging in both strategies. So there are lefties who are paragons of civility, and those who sling mud with relish (ditto on the right, of course). It's possible that a coalition should want to have both types. So those who want all civility and no nastiness have to make the case that our model really is better by most folks' standards. Alas, Robin Hanson is probably right that politics isn't about policy, the we may first have to get more people to actually care about policy, or convince those who don't to focus on other status-based activities, such as World or Warcraft.