I believe that looking for commonalities and shared concerns will typically lead to better outcomes than creating and reinforcing tribal (in the sociological sense of the word) labels, reflexively opposing anyone not of Our tribe and attempting to claim more power for Our side so They cannot stop us from doing what We want.

In politics, this type of thinking fuels some pretty cynical strategies, including but not limited to the full-scale blocking of any legislation that might conceivably make the other party (or parties) look good, even if doing so hurts essentially everyone.

Many ideological victories are won on the backs of well-meaning people who have been convinced to cheer for their own deprivation, because that sacrifice represents a victory for their perceived team over people they’ve been taught to think of as the enemy.

(The actual rewards often go to the people who teach them to think this way).

This isn’t just a political thing, though: we see it across all sorts of controversies and conversations.

Any disagreement over any detail of any topic is a potential spark for dogmatism—fanned by a desire for illusory but romanticized moral purity—which in turn serves as a wall against which to push; a means of further differentiating Us from Them.

One consequence of this social fracturing is a diminished capacity for making pragmatic, case-specific agreements and alliances when collaboration is necessary or desired.

When we need to reinvest in infrastructure, repairing and upgrading our roads, power grids, and bridges, it’s become common for a group to spike their opposition’s efforts even when everyone benefits from more reliable power and fewer potholes.

Opinions justifiably differ on how such investments should be made, but there are issues with a broad consensus that we’re unable to address because working with the alleged devils across the aisle can lead to ostracization for anyone who dares deviate from their group’s increasingly strict ideological confines.

Folks who believe the data on climate change, for instance, will typically support the construction of more renewable energy infrastructure, while those who don’t will sometimes oppose such efforts.

There’s room for collaboration when this topic is reframed in different terms, pivoting away from bumper-sticker slogans and keywords toward more substantial conversation.

These groups may find common ground in “energy security”- or “energy sovereignty”-related issues, for instance, which is part of why oil- and gas-happy Texas, run by climate change-skeptical politicians, is one of the biggest investors in wind power in the US (they produced just under 26% of the country’s wind power in 2021).

A purity-focused dynamic can also prevent cooperation within groups.

Some people in the green energy sector believe nuclear power should be part of our renewable-oriented future, but others consider the radioactive waste generated by such facilities to be a non-starter.

These sorts of relatively minor disagreements can keep folks who agree on a great many things (at times essentially everything beyond one minor sticking point) from working together on those shared interests, often because they fear empowering their perceived opposition.

And it’s rational to be wary of accidentally appeasing those acting in bad faith: seeming collaborators who are behind-the-scenes seeding the ground for in-group dominance and the disenfranchisement of anyone who dares question their doctrine.

Taken to its logical conclusion, though, assuming bad faith and eventual betrayal makes collaboration (and arguably progress, democracy, security, and similar values) all but impossible to maintain.

There’s a lot of collaborative low-hanging fruit out there for communities and leaders willing to acknowledge and pluck them.

Seeking out and leveraging common concerns allows us to enjoy continued growth and stability, even as we (respectfully and peaceably—in part because of those porous idealogical barriers) duke it out over all our also-important, more focused and narrow differences.

If you found some value in this essay, consider buying me a coffee :)

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