Tribalism – the breakdown of objectivity

I have often wondered, why people in the same political party all have the same stand across different issues.

The Democrats and the Republicans are an ideal case in point. It’s funny how members of these two parties have the same stand on completely unrelated issues, be it global warming, income inequality, vaccination, gun-control or abortion.

Since these issues have little to do with each other, where is that Democrat who favours immigration, but is opposed to state sponsored health-care? Or that Republican who doesn’t favour abortion, but believes in global warming?

The reason is actually buried deep in our genes, in a quality that natural selection has reinforced across generations – Tribalism. It is the paradox whereby we all crave to be included within an exclusive group. Seth Godin best describes the behaviour of a tribe with the phrase – People like us do things like this.

In modern times, we are required to take a stand on several more issues than we can possibly be experts at. We stay informed through the news and through the people around us. Since we all already have our political leanings, we often evaluate the issues mentioned above through a political lens. When an issue is politicized, objectivity breaks down. Being a loyal member of the party, the tribe, becomes a lot more important than looking at the facts and deciding rationally.

People like us do things like this.

Social media has made this even easier to follow and monitor. It is group think on steroids. As a Republican in Alaska, or a BJP supporter in Mizoram, I can still follow the actions of my party and live in my happy little echo chamber. Even if I want to change that, I am up against the most powerful personalization algorithms being written today.

So where do we go from here?

People are tribal because they feel excluded, and one cannot fight this evolutionary truth. Political parties help them become members of an influential tribe with high status. Any alternative, that tries to bring in objectivity, must first fill this void. Facts do not help us achieve that.

The only alternative is to change the culture, slowly and organically, one person at a time.

Inspiration: Tribal psychology – You are not so smart podcast

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