As Walter Lippmann said:
“When everybody thinks the same, nobody thinks very much.”
I love that statement, but it’s also convicting.
The gist is simple: There is profound danger in surrounding yourself with voices that sound strangely like your own. It’s called the “echo chamber,” and the result is the assisted suicide of critical thinking.
As I heard a wise man say:
“If you only read the books you write, your ‘truth’ will always be slanted.”
These days, the slant goes by many names:
- confirmation bias,
- the herd mentality,
- tribalism, and
- a silo culture.
In a silo culture, homogenous items are kept safely together, and safely separate from all else. There is little meaningful communication between silos, and few doors or windows. And as the Cold War taught us, “silos” now have a further purpose. They are for launching missiles in the direction of opposing silos.
Both meanings are fitting. Silos are symbols of separation, and of mutually assured destruction.
And whatever your position on particular social or political issues, you have to admit one thing: Our culture has embraced its silos.
Take, for instance, the way we get our “news”:
In prior eras, there were a few respected voices: Cronkite, Murrow, Brokaw. They were biased, of course (for everyone is biased), but we mostly drank from the same wells.
Not today. Now, we have our “silo-sources.” They have been carefully designed by market research to suit our preferences and our prejudices. Not too hot. Not too cold. They’re “just right”—with a steaming side of confirmation bias.
Are you a raging liberal who thinks George W. Bush would have been a Bond villain if only his IQ was higher than a Texas hunting dog? Enjoy the echo chamber of MSNBC.
Or maybe you think Obama is a secret Muslim who simultaneously loves gays and beer and Sharia law (think about that…). Good news. You too have Cable News corroboration. It’s fair and balanced. No tribalism here.
Unfortunately, we are now discovering where silo-sources leave us (see the current presidential frontrunners).
My point, however, is not about our news or politics.
It’s about community, friendship, and the kind of relationships that actually help us think.
Here’s my big idea:
While tribalism can be deadly, there is great value in belonging to a tribe.
While silos separate us, we still need homes.
Humans need community, and some of that community should be like-minded. That’s not a bad thing. To accomplish anything, we need shared vision. We need spouses and friends who see the same truth we do, just as we need voices to challenge our assumptions. To deny the value of all like-minded groupings is to cast oneself adrift on a sea of loneliness and isolation. That way lies cynical inaction.
There is value in belonging to a tribe, and I certainly have mine.
As a follower of Jesus from a particular segment of the Christian family, I am part of an admittedly peculiar (and imperfect) people. It is a bounded set, which means that it has fences, unique problems, and beliefs that we hold in common. That is as it should be.
In one sense, to have a tribe is to have a home, and homes are good.
Homes have doors and windows, and perhaps a welcome mat. In good homes, outsiders are welcomed with hospitality, and family members are bound together by more than shared opinions. In homes, there are lines of communication with the outside world, and not just the “Red Phone” for launching missile strikes! In a home, insiders leave and return, preferably on a daily basis, in order to embrace the outside world.
Because while we should have homes, we were never meant to hole-up there. Agoraphobia is a disorder—and a fear-based way of living.
Here’s my point: When tribes become tribal, homes become silos, and fences become unwelcoming walls (“y-uge beautiful walls”…perhaps paid for by Mexico). And that is bad for everyone.
It is killing civil discourse, and it is the assisted suicide of critical thought.
“When everybody thinks alike, nobody thinks very much.”
It’s time to burn our silos, while also finding homes.