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Thursday, May 3, 2018

Why Pure Reason Won’t End American Tribalism

Robert Wright
Originally published April 9, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

Pinker also understands that cognitive biases can be activated by tribalism. “We all identify with particular tribes or subcultures,” he notes—and we’re all drawn to opinions that are favored by the tribe.

So far so good: These insights would seem to prepare the ground for a trenchant analysis of what ails the world—certainly including what ails an America now famously beset by political polarization, by ideological warfare that seems less and less metaphorical.

But Pinker’s treatment of the psychology of tribalism falls short, and it does so in a surprising way. He pays almost no attention to one of the first things that springs to mind when you hear the word “tribalism.” Namely: People in opposing tribes don’t like each other. More than Pinker seems to realize, the fact of tribal antagonism challenges his sunny view of the future and calls into question his prescriptions for dispelling some of the clouds he does see on the horizon.

I’m not talking about the obvious downside of tribal antagonism—the way it leads nations to go to war or dissolve in civil strife, the way it fosters conflict along ethnic or religious lines. I do think this form of antagonism is a bigger problem for Pinker’s thesis than he realizes, but that’s a story for another day. For now the point is that tribal antagonism also poses a subtler challenge to his thesis. Namely, it shapes and drives some of the cognitive distortions that muddy our thinking about critical issues; it warps reason.

The article is here.
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