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Our OCD-like fixation on race blinds us to deeper, more pertinent, truths

The concept of horizontal hostility, excerpted below from Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, by Adam Grant, along with books like Us and Them: The Science of Identity, by David Berreby, and Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others, by David Livingstone Smith, resonate with what’s happening today as the now ideologically pure political parties fracture into sub-factions like the Bernie and Hillary groups on the left and the Trump and Not-Trump groups on the right. 

This is why I assert that even if everyone on the planet had the same color skin, eyes, and hair our history of war, oppression, genocide – and in general our tendency for “othering” – would still play out pretty much as it has, and still is.  

But the closed-minded orthodoxy of Western culture‘s current dogmatic obsession with race, and more generally its near-equal fixation with the mentality of victimhood of the “little guy” at the hands of “the man” (i.e., the liberal grand narrative here, and the anti-capitalist narrative here) so completely dominate its thinking that we fail to see what’s right in front of our own eyes.  As I said in another post: IT’S NOT ABOUT RACE!!!  

Horizontal hostility, from pp 117-122 of Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, by Adam Grant:

The Narcissism of Small Differences

We assume that common goals bind groups together, but the reality is that they often drive groups apart.  According to Dartmouth psychologist Judith White, a lens for understanding these fractures is the concept of horizontal hostility.  Even though they share a fundamental objective, radical groups often disparage more mainstream groups as imposters and sellouts.  As Sigmund Freud wrote a century ago, “It is precisely the minor differences in people who are otherwise alike that form the basis of feelings of strangeness and hostility between them.”

White noticed horizontal hostility everywhere. When a deaf woman won the Miss America crown, instead of cheering her on as a trailblazer, deaf activists protested. Since she spoke orally rather than using sign language, she wasn’t “deaf enough.” When a light-skinned black woman was appointed as a law professor at one university, its Black Students Association objected on the grounds that she wasn’t black enough. A radical environmental activist dismissed the more mainstream Greenpeace as a “mindless monster motivated by eco-buck profits” and “a dynamic threat to the integrity of the green movement.” To explain why this kind of animosity happened, White led fascinating research on horizontal hostility in different movements and minority groups.

In one study, vegans and vegetarians evaluated members of their own groups and one another’s groups, relative to members of the general public. Vegans showed nearly three times as much prejudice toward vegetarians as vegetarians did toward vegans. In the eyes of the more extreme vegans, the mainstream vegetarians were wannabes: if they really cared about the cause, they wouldn’t eat animal products like eggs. In another study in Greece, members of the most conservative party judged the most similar party more unfavorably than they did a progressive party, and members of the most liberal party were much harsher toward the progressive party than toward even the most conservative party. Orthodox Jews evaluated conservative Jewish women more negatively than Jewish women who didn’t practice or observe religious holidays at all. The message was clear: if you were a true believer, you’d be all in. The more strongly you identify with an extreme group, the harder you seek to differentiate yourself from more moderate groups that threaten your values.

It was this kind of horizontal hostility that caused Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to split off from Lucy Stone. Anthony and Stanton were relatively radical; Stone was more mainstream. The earth between them cracked in 1866, when Anthony and Stanton partnered with a known racist, George Francis Train, who supported women’s suffrage because he believed women could help to curtail the political influence of African Americans. Stone was outraged to see them campaigning with Train and allowing him to bankroll their efforts.

The fault line only grew wider when Anthony and Stanton opposed the Fifteenth Amendment proposal to grant African-American men the right to vote. They drew a hard line: if women weren’t given the right to vote, other minority groups shouldn’t be allowed it, either. Their position was radical not only because it was inflexible, but also because they were trying to reach liberal constituents who favored the amendment. Stone was more sympathetic to the abolitionist cause. At an equal rights convention, she attempted to build a bridge between black activists and Anthony and Stanton, announcing her support for a continued alliance:

Both are perhaps right. . . . Woman has an ocean of wrongs too deep for any plummet, and the negro too has an ocean of wrongs that cannot be fathomed. . . . I thank God for the Fifteenth Amendment, and hope that it will be adopted in every state. I will be thankful in my soul if any body can get out of that terrible pit.

Anthony and Stanton viewed Stone’s support of voting rights for black men as a betrayal of the women’s cause. They reneged on their commitment to a joint organization and announced the formation of their own national women’s suffrage organization the following week, in May 1869. Stone and a group of colleagues published a letter calling for a more comprehensive organization, but it was to no avail. By the fall, they had little choice but to form their own group. For more than two decades, they maintained their distance, working independently in some cases and at cross-purposes in others.

With the women’s suffrage movement splintered, Lucy Stone needed new allies, as did Anthony and Stanton. They all found support in an unexpected place—the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), which had been formed to fight alcohol abuse, as drunken men often abused their wives and left their families in poverty. In contrast to the suffrage groups, the WCTU was heavily conservative. Its members tended to be middle-and upper-class women with strong religious beliefs and traditional values. Yet somehow, coalitions between the WCTU and suffragists sprang up in almost every state in the nation. The reasons for suffragists to partner with the WCTU were clear: the suffrage movement had stalled in influencing legislation, a surge of antisuffrage organizations was forming to work against them, and suffrage membership was dwindling. By the early 1880s, Stanton and Anthony’s organization was down to just a hundred members. The WCTU, meanwhile, was experiencing a membership explosion, growing from a few thousand in 1874 to thirteen thousand in 1876 and well over a hundred thousand by 1890. With the support of the country’s largest women’s organization, suffragists could make meaningful progress. The puzzle is why the WCTU agreed to partner with suffragists.

In a clever experiment, Stanford researchers Scott Wiltermuth and Chip Heath randomly assigned people in groups of three to listen to the national anthem “O Canada” under different conditions of synchrony. In the control condition, participants read the words silently while the song played. In the synchronous condition, they sang the song out loud together. In the asynchronous condition, they all sang, but not in unison: each person heard the song at a different tempo.

The participants thought they were being tested on their singing. But there was a twist: after singing, they moved into what was supposedly a different study, where they had a chance to keep money for themselves or cooperate by sharing it with the group. The few minutes they spent singing shouldn’t have affected their behavior, but it did. The group that sang together shared significantly more. They reported feeling more similar to each other and more like a team than participants in the other conditions. *

In seeking alliances with groups that share our values, we overlook the importance of sharing our strategic tactics. Recently, sociologists Wooseok Jung and Brayden King of Northwestern University and Sarah Soule of Stanford University tracked the emergence of unusual alliances between social movements—like coalitions between environmental and gay-rights activists, the women’s movement and the peace movement, and a marine base and a Native American tribe. They found that shared tactics were an important predictor of alliances. Even if they care about different causes, groups find affinity when they use the same methods of engagement. If you’ve spent the past decade taking part in protests and marches, it’s easy to feel a sense of shared identity and community with another organization that operates the same way.

Lucy Stone recognized that common goals weren’t sufficient for a coalition to prosper, noting, “People will differ as to what they consider the best methods & means.” Stanton, for her part, “pointed to the difference in methods as the ‘essential issue’ dividing the two associations.” Stone was committed to campaigning at the state level; Anthony and Stanton wanted a federal constitutional amendment. Stone involved men in her organization; Anthony and Stanton favored an exclusively female membership. Stone sought to inspire change through speaking and meetings; Anthony and Stanton were more confrontational, with Anthony voting illegally and encouraging other women to follow suit.

The suffragists who formed alliances with the temperance activists were more moderate in their methods, which helped the two groups find common ground. At the same time that women were organizing local WCTU clubs, Lucy Stone introduced suffrage clubs. Both groups had extensive histories with lobbying and publishing. They began to work together to lobby and speak in front of state legislatures, publish articles and distribute literature, and hold public suffrage meetings, rallies, and debates. * Together, suffragists and temperance activists persuaded several states to allow women to vote. And in doing so, the suffragists discovered a profound principle about gaining allies. That principle is best illuminated by a young, visionary entrepreneur who found a surprising way to get naysayers to give her idea a chance.


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