Literature and pop culture are full of characters who start off hating each other -- couples fated for romance, a black cop and a white cop thrown together unwillingly as partners, a new recruit and a grizzled old sergeant. They fight bitterly, then go through trials together, and come to realize that underneath all that arguing is love and trust. But how often has that happened to you in real life? It probably happened more often the opposite way -- you started off liking someone, then over time got into disagreements, until you finally realized that this person is kind of a jerk and you don't really want to have much to do with them. Your ex became your ex for a reason, your boss turned out to be a backstabbing liar, that sort-of-friend started to really get on your nerves.
I bring this up because today, Reihan Salam, a member of a small but hardy band of reasonable conservatives, uses the Journolist imbroglio to make some interesting points:
A distinguished art critic told a friend of mine that the twenties are the age when you form your team. For the rest of your professional life, your team will be doing battle with other teams, whether you know it or not. The smart thing is to stay close to your friends, and build them up when you can. The building of teams can happen on the web, sort of. But the real building of teams happens in more intimate settings, where there is no email trail. Consider the networks of women and evangelical Christians and gay men that have emerged in countless industries to provide mutual support while climbing professional ladders. These networks are many things, including a safe space for venting. We can condemn the cliquishness of JournoList. But are we going to condemn the fact that like-minded people become friends and start to think even more alike and help each other out? If not, the time may have come to shut up about JournoList and move on.
People have always sought out their own kind for friendship, romance, and collaborative work, but with the rise of the Internet there's been a lot more hand-wringing about it. And there certainly are some things to be concerned about when people only talk to those who agree with them. But we should also acknowledge that there's a more benign side to this human propensity for team-formation. The fact is, it just makes life easier. You probably don't want to argue constantly about politics or religion with your spouse or your friends. Common values provide a basis on which complex relationships can be built. That doesn't mean we all shouldn't make an effort to listen in good faith to those who are different than we are, and try to expose ourselves to as much diversity as possible. And the extreme versions of this tribal impulse are dangerous. But we shouldn't be surprised when we still end up sorting ourselves into teams of one kind or another.
-- Paul Waldman
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