Category Archive 'Group Identity'

30 Dec 2009

Politics as Identity Marker

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Arnold Kling explains why liberals so often make no sense, why liberal political propositions are advanced so commonly in complete indifference to the facts. Liberal politics typically operate principally as an identity marker. People express liberal positions as a way of indicating and affirming their own memberships in the community of fashion, as a way of identifying themselves as part of the national elite.

Although empiricism has become a standard philosophy in the West, dogma persists. I believe that the main reason that non-verifiable ideas survive is that they serve as trust cues. People still need to demonstrate their commitment to membership in groups, and recitation of dogma is a low-cost method of doing so.

[Nicholas] Wade [in Before the Dawn] writes,

    “Modern states now accomplish by other means many of the early roles performed by religion, which is why religion has become of less relevance in some societies. But because the propensity for religious belief is still wired into the human mind, religion continues to be a potent force in societies that still struggle for cohesion.” (p. 164)

This raises the possibility that political beliefs serve primarily as trust cues. For example, those who favor an increase in the minimum wage are sending trust cues to people on the Left, and those who oppose an increase in the minimum wage are sending trust cues to people on the Right.

The actual consequences of raising the minimum wage are rarely discussed. In other words, political debates often ignore what I call Type C arguments (from empiricism) and turn instead to type M arguments, which accuse one’s opponent of belonging to an outcast group. The reason for this is that people are not trying to persuade each other rationally. Instead, they are using trust cues to indicate that failure to agree implies excommunication from the group.

The Last Psychiatrist makes the same point:

The NYT is a blog pretending to be a newspaper. It’s for adults, or people who want to pretend they’re adults, who remember as kids that reading the Times meant something that they’d now like to apply to themselves. Now it’s Bandwagon of the Month reporting: anyone see any global warming articles recently? Bush is suppressing them, I guess.

So the problems it describes must always be of the form: “the other guys who are not you are bad.” That’s widley perceived as liberal bias, though that’s not accurate. It’s “not you” bias.

Hat tips to Dr. Joy Bliss and Karen L. Myers.

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