Ideology, Evolution, and In-Groups

Joel Mokyr points out a strange tendency among ideologies on p. 51 of his 2016 book A Culture of Growth: The Origins of the Modern Economy:

Cultural beliefs tend to occur in clusters. For instance, those Americans who adhere to evangelical religion commonly also think that widespread gun ownership is desirable, that marriage should be confined to heterosexual couples, that climate change is not a reality, and object to large scale federal redistribution policies, although logically these beliefs are not all obviously connected.

This tendency is not specific to religious conservatives. Other groups across political, national, and religious identities have their own similarly odd belief clusters. For many people, affirming their group identity is more important than evaluating the merits of a given policy.

We’re evolved to think that way, and it won’t change anytime soon. Even those of us without religious or partisan affiliation think that way; we’re human, too.

A big part of the greater Enlightenment project is raising awareness of this cognitive tendency among people. If people are more aware of what they’re doing, they are more likely to take a step back and evaluate policies with a cooler, more rational head. There are healthier ways to feel part of a group.

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