Are progressives the new colonizers?

History shows that anyone who utters the phrase “being on the right side of history” often ends up swallowing their words. The phrase is frequently used in the context of the rapid transition away from fossil fuels, supporting the indigenous voice in Parliament and condemning the Christian Church’s long-held views on homosexuality and abortion.

Contrary to popular intuition, the more widely accepted something is, the more one should care about its virtue. It’s because groupthink makes us believe that if everyone is doing something, it can’t be so bad.

Groupthink makes us prone to believing obvious lies. Until recently, the belief that kings had a divine right to rule was an accepted fact, and slavery and racial segregation were the norm.

Our ego encourages us to believe that we are virtuous. As a result, most people think that if they had been a Nazi guard at Auschwitz, they wouldn’t have been among the cruellest. But, given the same circumstances, this is almost certainly wrong.

Emphasizing this is the Stanford Prison Experiment. There, the students were arbitrarily chosen to be prison guards or prisoners and then asked to assume their roles in a mock prison. The guards quickly abused their power. Some went so far as to torture their comrades.

The conclusion was that extreme behavior stems from extreme situations and most people copy the behavior of others without hesitation. Such is the danger of groupthink.

Tribalism is the basis of groupthink, as groupthink stems from the fear of being ostracized from one’s tribe. Contemporary tribalism means wholeheartedly subscribing to the orthodoxy of a tribe. The first step in tribalism is being able to identify who is and is not part of the tribe.

Our hunter-gatherer ancestors did this by keeping their tribes composed of similar ethnicities, so that if your skin, hair, or eye color was different, you probably belonged to another tribe.

Killing or enslaving members of other tribes was normal. In slightly more civilized times, members of a minority tribe were treated, at best, as second-class people.

The modus operandi many colonizing empires and other illiberal societies is similar (think of the treatment of Uighurs in China and African Americans in 18th and 19th century America, for example).

Tribalism is also practiced in contemporary democratic societies. Tribal traits are less physical and more manufactured. One-sided progressives do this by defining the outgroup as those who do not fully agree with their point of view on something, thereby creating false dichotomies. A foot in both camps or neither is impossible.

Some examples include that if you are not pro-vaccination, then you are anti-vaccine; if you question Net Zero, then you are anti-science; if you don’t declare your pronouns, then you are transphobic; and that if you don’t recognize systemic racism, then you’re a racist.

Most Aussies are sensible and therefore believe the truth lies somewhere in the middle. But “the middle” is a concept foreign to a tribe. Tribes demand absolute loyalty.

And the fact that progressives dominate the ruling class means that instead of dismissing these binary categories as harmful, they cowardly validate them, thereby increasing political division.

Abnormally, tribalism has caused Australian culture, history and Indigenous people to be revered. That’s not a bad thing in principle, but how it’s executed matters.

Undoubtedly, there is a wide gap in opportunities and outcomes between non-Indigenous and Indigenous Australians. But there are also many in both groups who share the same daily struggles, whether it’s homelessness or domestic violence.

In the long run, differences between groups dissolve by finding common ground and acting in good faith. Things like the native voice and (now ubiquitous) Welcome to Country, however, get in the way of that process. This is because they serve as a reminder that indigenous peoples are different from everyone else, and for this reminder, that difference would have ultimately lost all meaning.

Simply put, the more you treat people differently based on their race, positive or not, the longer race matters.

Tribalist policies will not help bridge the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. On the contrary, the best ideas are based on common-sense liberal ideas, such as equality of opportunity instead of result, preferring substance over form, and treating people according to their needs and not their skin color.

If progressives are to live up to their name, then they need to start thinking more like libertarians and less like colonizers.

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