Tribalism On All Sides

Tribalism On All Sides


Leonard Zwelling

David French is a conservative independent who left the Republican Party in 2016 as he was more conservative than Republican. He could not abide by a party led by Donald Trump, but he also felt that partisan tribalism embodied by both the Republicans and Democrats was not something with which he could align himself any longer. I’m right there. Despite what my conservative friends think, I am not a Democrat or even a liberal. I am just looking—in vain—for some common sense.

French’s article (The New York Times, February 6) notes that intolerance to free speech that seems to be flourishing on the left-leaning university campuses of America also characterizes the knee jerk support for the police on the right. What this really is about is allowing one’s loyalties to override one’s common sense. My tribe must be right and yours must be wrong. French writes:

“Any time my tribe or my allies are under fire, before I yield to the temptation of a reflexive defense, I should apply my principles and carefully consider the most uncomfortable of thoughts: My opponents might be right, my allies might be wrong and justice may require that I change my mind.”

Knee jerk wokeism is ridiculous, but so is knee jerk overlooking the many incidents of police brutality as not indicative of a systemic problem. Here’s what French writes:

“Fundamental to my worldview is the belief that human beings possess incalculable worth, but that we are also deeply flawed. No person or institution can be completely trusted. Thus powerful people and powerful institutions must be held accountable. If you combine authority with impunity, then corruption and injustice will be the inevitable result.”

In academia in 2023, power is more and more centralized in presidents and deans as well as those leading the legal, finance, and human resource departments. The faculty has gradually, over many years, been stripped of its role in shared governance and, in Texas, the Lieutenant Governor wants to be rid of tenure entirely. Thus, there will be no recourse to any attempt at free speech that does not align with the political, social, or religious beliefs of the ruling majority. This is not academic freedom. This cannot be good or wise.

On the other hand, the faculty need to recognize the enormous financial pressure on the leadership of academic medical centers as payers fight every bill and insurers join in the fray. The leadership of academic institutions needs to incorporate the faculty into its tribe. As of now, the faculty is its own tribe and the administration is the enemy. Neither will flourish under these circumstances and patients and science will be the victims of this tribalism.

It is the opinion of this blog that due to the large power imbalance between the administration (a lot of power) and the faculty (not so much), the onus is on the administration to hold itself accountable for shared governance and seek faculty input in all decisions.

But the same is true of the police. It seems these incidents of unbridled brutality are growing, or at least becoming more viral with the advent of the body camera and cell phones. The police need more oversight, too.

Systems are established with checks and balances so that no tribe becomes so power hungry it suppresses freedom and free speech. It is the contention of this blog that this is exactly what has happened in academia where fear permeates the faculty because the autocratic leadership wields professionalism and diversity as a weapon.

We need to dissolve the tribes and start thinking about ourselves as individuals in a collective to make the world a better place. No one has the corner on that market and no one philosophy will get us there.

It’s in the court of the powerful—the police, the presidents, and the tribal chiefs to pursue a world of true equity and to do so with power balance and shared responsibility.

The future starts when the tribes disband.

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