There is a poison in our society that is ruining our ability to make intelligent and fair decisions. The poison is found in all types of groups. It is encouraging foolish statements and irrational decisions. I think we have all seen this poison but it is not generally acknowledged. I want to give it a name. I call it MyTeamism.
MyTeamism is the tendency to look at all situations from the perspectives of those with whom one identifies or likes. There are no overarching principles with MyTeamism. The principles one has are distorted so that the group one likes or identifies with benefits from a given situation. It is a type of confirmation bias that is focused upon serving our own in-group.
Let me give you a typical example of MyTeamism before looking at some recent applications of it. Remember when President Obama took his vacations while the Republicans complained? Do the Republicans have a principle stance against presidents taking vacations? No not really because they did not seem to have much of a problem with President Bush’s vacations. Instead then it was the Democrats who were complaining. Thus neither side really has a principle stance on vacations. Both sides adjust their arguments according to what is best for their political interest.
Now if MyTeamism was limited to complaints about vacations, I would not write this blog. True it is annoying to hear the ritualistic complaints about vacations by the party out of power. But such complaints really do not matter in the larger scheme of things. But MyTeamism is much more rampant than vacation talk, and it is strangling our ability to think clearly.
For example, it was interesting reading comments about the story of the Seattle coffee shop owner who kicked out Christian activists. As I perused several stories on that event it was clear to me that the defenders of the shop owner identified themselves as political progressives. You know the same political progressives who trot out public accommodations arguments when a Christian baker does not want his or her artwork to be used on a same-sex marriage cake. So according to these individuals, applying one’s own artwork for a ceremony one may find offensive must be done because of public accommodations, but passively serving someone coffee who put up posters outside of your shop that you find offensive is not covered by public accommodations. Sorry but that strains all credibility. If you do not believe in public accommodations for Christians who are in a coffee shop, then you really do not believe in public accommodations for the Christian baker. It is just that the baker is on the wrong team, and so the rules do not apply to them.
Of course those defending the coffee shop owner will offer excuses why he was in the right to kick the Christians out. They will say things such as they were putting up offensive flyers in the shop (not true) or that the flyers they were putting up outside the story were offensive enough to warrant the expulsion. But if nonservice can be connected to a subjective standard of being offended then Christians are allowed to be offended as well. I guess Christians are allowed to be offended, if those progressives approve of what offends them. It is a great way to express MyTeamism with subjective rules that can be used against one’s opponents.
By the way we also saw how this public accommodations argument is selectively applied by the ACLU. The ACLU is representing the same-sex couple in a recent public accommodations case concerning a Christian bakery. Yet in another case, the ACLU defended the right of the owner to not have to provide a cake that the owner found to be offensive. Naturally the ACLU will make distinctions between the two cases. That way they can claim that they are working on a higher principle than just helping those on their team. But since the ACLU has not, to the best of my knowledge, defended a Christian group victimized by not having public accommodations made for them, nor the right of a Christian business to not serve someone what they find offensive I simply do not believe that they are willing to apply public accommodation concerns in an even handed way. Rather this is just a classic case of MyTeamism.
Let me be clear that this is not an argument for the Christian baker. This is an argument for consistent principles by which we can create a fair society. If the ACLU and other progressives really value public accommodation so much that they think bankrupting Christian bakers is important, then so be it. But if they are going to find exceptions so that they do not have to prosecute non-Christian bakers, or so that they can excuse gay coffee house owners, then they are hypocrites. We have every expectation that if it were another Christian baker turning down decorating a cake for a same-sex union that the ACLU would have not come up with reasons to turn the case down and it is common sense that those defending the gay coffee shop owner would not defend a Christian throwing out a gay putting up “offensive” posters outside the shop. The fact that the ACLU or progressives have not defended Christians in the past for exercising their rights to not engage in what they see as offensive actions is quite telling.
Ironically as it concern issues of free speech, I actually accept the assertion that the ACLU has a principled stance. That is because they have defended the free speech rights of racists, Nazis and Westboro Baptist morons. So when it comes to free speech, the ACLU does not engage in MyTeamism. They operate on larger principles. Thus it is quite possible for individuals and organizations to have a MyTeamism attitude with some issues but not with others.
However, the most recent example of MyTeamism does not pertain to progressive groups. Rather this type of MyTeamism can be seen in the support of conservative Christians for politicians such as President Donald Trump and Roy Moore. Until the coming of Trump, conservative Christians promoted a moral standard for their leaders, regardless of whether those leaders were religious or not. One of their attacks on President Bill Clinton was that his sexual sins made him unsuitable as president. One can agree or disagree with such a standard, but it was one that they appeared to live by.
Which brings us to Roy Moore. I am not going to make a definitive statement on what Moore is guilty of or not. I will say that the level of evidence against him today exceed the level of evidence against President Clinton at this stage of the investigation against him. When Clinton was accused, conservative Christians never seemed to doubt his guilt. But with Moore, conservative Christians are asking for a standard of “beyond reasonable doubt.” They are insisting that we do not judge. Moore without all the facts. This sort of care certainly was not evident during the Clinton saga. Yep, more MyTeamism.
When we have MyTeamism, we cannot have values and standards that apply to everyone. We cannot have real fairness because we are applying different standards to those we do not like. We cannot build a unity as a society as we consistently attempt to massage rules so that they work to the benefit for our group and against other groups. MyTeamism is ruining our society and the sooner we recognize it the better.
MyTeamism also stops us from making progress in our society. Remember when the feminist let President Bill Clinton off the hook for potential sexual harassment? Those same activists had made a big deal of Clarence Thomas who faced a good deal less evidence than Clinton. Their principle was not making sure women are heard as they claimed when prosecuting the Thomas case. Their principle was defending their political friends and attacking their political enemies.
And what was the result of their MyTeamism? Imagine if the sitting president of the United States had been forced to resign due to his sexual harassment? What sort of message would that have sent to the Weinsteins and Spaceys of the world? Would we have to have waited 20 years to have this amazing time of listening to women who have faced sexual assault and harassment? How many of those women have needlessly suffered because we did not have the level of stigma against sexual harassment that would have emerged if Clinton had been removed? The feminists who used MyTeamism to protect Clinton lost their way, and in doing so, helped to create an environment that allowed what they wanted to stop: the sexual exploitation of women.
If we want to move forward in society, we have to have values that are not tied to partisan interests. We need values that apply to everybody. When sexual harassment was seen as okay because it was Clinton, then we as a society cannot move forward towards reducing that evil. To make progress, we have to reduce the effects of MyTeamism.
When I discussed MyTeamism on facebook, one friend made a good argument that we are naturally inclined to support those we like, and that it is not realistic to think that we can treat all others in an exactly fair manner. I thought he made fair points. My instinct is going to feel instant sympathy for black Christian political moderates, of which I am one. But the challenge is not to stay at that first instinct but to also move on to make sure that I am fair in my assessment of a given situation.
As I thought about that critique of my positon, I remember learning about Bill Cosby. At first I resisted accepting the reality that he is likely a serial rapist. I so appreciated his message about the black family and calls for responsibility. But as the evidence came out, I realized that if this level of evidence came out on someone I did not like then I would be quick to believe the accusations. So I moved beyond my first instinct to make the proper assessment of Cosby.
So if MyTeamism is a problem, then are there ways we can limit it? I do not want to say that I have conquered it in my life. People with that sort of arrogance often get their comeuppances. But I have thought about a couple of ways to minimize MyTeamism and want to share them.
First, with few exceptions, similar vices are found in all groups. All groups have people who lie, people who make dehumanizing statements, people who are greedy, people who are bigoted etc. These vices can be found across political, religious, social and economic lines. Whenever we think our group is devoid of such sins, then we become vulnerable to MyTeamism. It is reasonable to think that perhaps your group is less likely to have certain problems, but those problems still exist in your group. One of the first ways to deal with MyTeamism is to not think that your group is pure while other groups are corrupt. Be humble about your in-group and generous about out-groups as much as possible.
A second technique is fairly difficult to do but very important. When you see a situation try to imagine someone from a group you do not like or trust in that situation or vice versa if one such person is in that situation. For example, when sexual accusations come out on a politician you like imagine if those accusations are against someone you do not like. If you would believe them with the disliked politician, then you should believe them when the politician you liked is accused.
This type of reversing the role can help avoid compromising our principles to protect the team. For example, it is amazing how many conservative Christians have never defended a Democrat who is accused of a sexual crime but are certain that Trump and Moore are innocent. Remember the lesson from the ACLU. If you have never defended a certain right for people that you do not like (such as public accommodations violations), then we can reasonably assert that you do not believe in that right. Rather you believe in defending those you like and attacking those you do not like.
I am certain there are other ways to combat MyTeamism. But awareness that we may struggle with it is the first important step. If more of us work towards having a fair-minded approach to the issues of the day, then we can reduce the problems associated with MyTeamism. In time, perhaps we can move beyond merely defending our group and consider how we service the larger society.