Which Group are You In? Perspective and Intergroup Dynamics

About ten years ago I observed something interesting. On my alma mater’s Facebook page I noticed one of the leading members of the group attack a conservative position and those who hold that position as “assholes.” This was said without comment or controversy which could mean a few things, including that many people didn’t notice it or most people agreed with it.

A short time later, this group erupted into a debate about the tone and tenor of the group. Some conservatives objected and argued that it leaned left and discriminated against conservatives. Those who disagreed (usually from the left) said, without irony, that conservatives were just playing the victim or exaggerating. I couldn’t help but think of that post from a few weeks earlier. If you were a part of the group lobbing insults then you likely didn’t notice, but for those that felt indicted and attacked with those insults, they probably noticed pretty quickly.

In short, your opinion on bias in the media, Facebook, and academia largely depends on if you’re in the group calling someone or being called a rectal orifice. The failure for many on the left to see this is important for several reasons. It is actually hypocritical, because as we learned with the case of Christine Blasey Ford, some people, such as liberal women accusing conservative males, are supposed to be believed no matter how many holes and inconsistencies there are in their story. Despite specific evidence ranging from the personal stories of every conservative, studies that show the overwhelming bias in the media and academia, Twitter banning conservatives, and leaked material from Google which shows they distort search algorithms, many on the left just don’t believe it when conservatives feel unfairly targeted. They don’t even give the same courtesy that they do to disgraced porn stars and their creepy lawyers of at least suspending the benefit of the doubt until more facts are known.

In reality, this view from liberals is the result of intergroup dynamics and a failure to have empathy. This isn’t completely without merit as there are some far-right loons like those that marched in Charlottesville, that are legitimately evil. But this is a very small caveat and people like Hillary Clinton transformed those fringe few into a “basket of deplorables” that contained half the electorate.

But for people who seem especially sensitive to absurd degrees in regards to minorities and people of color, this seems like a willful mental block. It is sadly common to view “the other” as a monolith group that is different, mean, stupid, and then view every interaction through that filter. The discussion among groups of like-minded individuals often uses a short hand and simplistic view of opponents’ beliefs and mocks them. Sometimes people who are normally kind and decent get stuck in the mire of online debates, having a bad day, and in many cases the individuals are behaving less than their better selves. When these less-than-stellar behaviors are coupled with intergroup dynamics the behaviors are more easily seen in the other side and further divides the two.

This happens even though their behavior is incredibly similar. Historian Richard Hofstader pointed out this ironic fact in his classic essay, The Paranoid Style in American Politics, in which he emphasized how opposition groups often become what they oppose. “The enemy may be the cosmopolitan intellectual, but the paranoid will outdo him in the apparatus of scholarship, even of pedantry. Secret organizations set up to combat secret organizations give the same flattery. The Ku Klux Klan imitated Catholicism to the point of donning priestly vestments, developing an elaborate ritual and an equally elaborate hierarchy.”

In short, the debate over the bias of institutions and organizations often can’t get past intergroup dynamics. But the left often takes it a step further. They are usually in groups of like-minded individuals that disdain conservatives, and don’t notice their own bias. They seem to have great sympathy for some groups, but a block for others. In short, those that are called names often notice the bias more than those calling the names. But perhaps I can be bold and suggest that we expunge those words from our vocabulary, work hard to see the other as more than just the other, and do our part to improve dialogue.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Morgan Deane

Morgan Deane is a former U.S. Marine Corps infantry rifleman. Deane also served in the National Guard as an Intelligence Analyst. He is the author of the forthcoming book Decisive Battles in Chinese history, as well as Bleached Bones and Wicked Serpents: Ancient Warfare in the Book of Mormon.

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