Georgie De Mattos/Mustang News

Brandon Bartlett is an English sophomore and Mustang News conservative columnist. These views do not reflect the editorial coverage of Mustang News. 

Being a repressed intellectual who takes a bit too much glee from thinking himself slightly superior to others, I have spent the last few weekends enjoying my contemplations on the phenomenon of tribalism as expressed through arbitrary group power dynamics centered around location and simulated brutality … aka sports. I was thinking about sports.

But after about the 100th Yik Yak about how UC Santa Barbara sucks, we really need to start questioning our sanity. I mean, I hate the Gauchos as much as the next guy, but think of how odd it is.

During your senior year of high school, recall how many schools you applied to. And if you would have altered course by just a little bit, you may have been cheering for the CSU Monterey Bay Sea Otters instead.

And this dynamic is not exclusive to sports. From the type of phone you buy (Android or die), to the type of music you like (instrumental is clearly the best), down to which web browser you use (and it better be Google Chrome), we are constantly forming ridiculous distinctions with which we judge other people.

Now, most of these little in-group/out-group dynamics are harmless and rather fun, but what happens when you apply these same mechanisms to something larger?

You get Congress. And everything we hate about it.

As of this month, our Congress’ approval rating is at 13 percent; that is one of the lowest ratings since we started counting back in ’75. But why?

I’m glad you asked.

One of the biggest complaints is the standstill in which Congress seems perpetually mired. At first, I had suspected this to be more or less a myth repeated around cable news, but it turns out to be dead on.

For instance, 2012 and 2013 were some of the lowest years on record for the number of bills presented, and they also held some of the smallest pass/fail ratios. This means that not only are fewer bills being written, but we are rejecting bills at one of the highest rates since our county’s founding.

But this is no accident. Our representatives are purposefully opposing the democratic system. And where can this be seen more clearly than in filibustering? The practice which has grown nearly 400 percent in less than 20 years.

And this should be expected. According to the Pew Research Center, our current Congress is the most politically divided in U.S. history.

But that isn’t even the scary part: not only are we the most divided, but the rate at which the political gap is growing is the greatest yet seen in this country!

So now we have problems, and most don’t think we can solve them. But I propose, my reader, that we can reverse this bad blood. (Hey!)

But the solution starts with us.

There is a very interesting theory in the world of developmental psychology known as spiral dynamics. This theory, to dramatically oversimplify, states that as we grow older, we each go through a certain pattern of development that mirrors the way society evolves over time.

But as we move from one stage to the next, we don’t lose the psychological framework of the previous stages; instead, they operate in the background until the environment changes such that an earlier framework is more advantageous.

Consequently, the way that our environment is structured will actually change the way we process the world — not because we have changed, but because a more primitive or advanced framework is required for the situation.

This is why you can be the nicest person 99 percent of the time, but totally lose it when your friend launches a blue shell in Mario Kart. (Don’t tell me to calm down, Steve, I was in first place!)

So then, what sort of framework do politics put us in?

To answer this, we need not turn any farther than the most powerful political machine ever devised: cable news.

If you’re like me, then these two words strike a chord of resentment in your heart as you picture an endless assembly line producing nicely packaged bouquets of fear and anger to be gobbled up by the unsuspecting viewer.

This is the narrative of fear and power: The idea that we should be terrified of a future in which the speaker, or the speaker’s party, is not in power. The epitome of this narrative was displayed by Marco Rubio in the last Republican debate, “We cannot afford another four years of (Democratic) policies.”

All respect to Sen. Rubio, but that borders on absurdity. Sure, four years of an administration could harm a country, but doom it?

But this gross demonization of “the other side” is how current politics seem to be operating.

Fear is the fuel on which our election cycles are run.

So coming back to spiral dynamics, what sort of mindset does fear — especially fear of a powerful other — drive one into? (Hint: It’s the same one that sporting events put us in).


But you may be thinking, “Sure, we bind together to fight off those scoundrels who want to destroy our country (or the environment, or the middle class, or …), and why is that a bad thing?”

And this is where it gets weird.

In Jonathan Haidt’s revolutionary book, The Righteous Mind, he contrasts the way people believe they think about an issue with the way people actually do. Specifically, he argues that the logic behind why we believe something to be morally or politically right or wrong does not even enter our minds until after we have already made our decision on the topic.

This is a further extension of biases in mental processes that we have long known about.

His argument is far too long to be presented here, but its validity may be anecdotally displayed by the way the public reacts to events such as the 2012 Benghazi attack.

You have a group of people (one of which is probably that crazy uncle of yours) who believes this PROVES that President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are secret Muslim terrorists who hate America; and you have another huge group of people who cannot possibly imagine why anyone would take a second look at this unfortunate attack.

Illustration by Roson Johnson/Mustang News
Illustration by Roston Johnson/Mustang News

How could such drastically differing views exist on the same subject? Simple: biases. For though people make their arguments on the subject from the data, the picture they have created did not originate from the actual event.

How can I know this? Part of this is informed by my reading of the aforementioned book; but also, from my own study of the data, there are simply not enough facts to draw a solid conclusion.

Okay, time to synthesize.

People most often make judgements based upon intuition and later justify this with logic. The frameworks with which we make these judgements are, at least, partially described by spiral dynamics. And the rhetoric used in politics drives into tribal frameworks.

Therefore, the framework from which we often make our decisions is dictated by tribalistic mentalities.

And since our political tribes are political parties, we are reasoning politely not through true engagement with facts, but through dedication to parties, dedication which mirrors that of sports teams; thus, further reinforcing partisanship: the very thing we hate.

Democrats, like the Gauchos, are people too; which is why I urge you, my reader, to no longer fear your political adversary, for they are not what threaten democracy. But instead, it seems once again, that the only thing to fear is fear itself (and blue shells … always fear blue shells).

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