Your Tribe

A political scientist says, “As a political system, democracy does not promote political freedom. There are historical examples of democracies that ultimately resulted in some of the most oppressive societies. Likewise, there have been enlightened despotisms and oligarchies that have provided a remarkable level of political freedom to their subjects.” The reasoning in the political scientist’s argument is flawed because it


  1. confuses the conditions necessary for political freedom with the conditions sufficient to bring it about.
  2. fails to consider that a substantial increase in the level of political freedom might cause a society to become more democratic.
  3. appeals to historical examples that are irrelevant to the causal claim being made.
  4. overlooks the possibility that democracy promotes political freedom without being necessary or sufficient by itself to produce it.
  5. bases its historical case on a personal point of view.

For many of us — you know who I mean — the correct answer to this logic problem is 2. Why? Because it’s “true,” they’d say.


For the rest of us, the obviously correct answer is 4.


And there you have it. Parallel universes. In ours, the intellectual descendants of a man named Thales, about whom the ancient Greek historian Herodotus wrote (Rawlinson, translator):

In the course of the war, the Medes gained many victories over the Lydians, and the Lydians also gained many victories over the Medes … As, however, the balance had not inclined in favor of either nation, another combat took place in the sixth year, in the course of which, just as the battle was growing warm, day was on a sudden changed into night. This event had been foretold by Thales, the Milesian, who forewarned the Ionians of it, fixing for it the very year in which it actually took place.

If the Father of History is correct, this Thales predicted a solar eclipse in the sixth century, more than 2,500 years ago.




The tribe of Thales — that’s you and me, friends — understands that reason is not one thing for you and another thing for me. It’s not a mere hodgepodge of arbitrary propositions and assertions. After all, Thales didn’t just get lucky. Einstein didn’t just stumble upon his gravitational wave theory while he and his buddies were drinking cheap beer and bullshitting each other.





I want to say that when it comes to us and them, it’s like matter and antimatter:




Antimatter is not nothingness, however. And that’s exactly where this rejection of rational thought will ultimately lead: nihilism. So choose your own metaphor. In my mischievous moments, I’m partial to using their own contemptuous term, “the establishment.” Yes, it’s the establishment — Thales, Einstein, scientific and medical research, the rule of law, etc. — versus the disestablishment. I’ll stick with my tribe, thank you very much.


You may find it galling, as I often do, especially with respect to the ones of them who should know better, the willfully and arrogantly ignorant, that they benefit from the hard, conscientious work of our tribe. After all, the lives they lead today were unimaginable for the vast majority of the world’s population just a couple of centuries ago: clean air and water, immunizations, antibiotics, motorized vehicles, air conditioning, digital technology, internet, plentiful leisure time, and so on.




Galling and appalling, to be sure. Still, we have no choice but to soldier on. We have each other, remember, which is a consolation.


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