Built in Irrationality

October 25, 2012 at 4:34 pm 4 comments

Once again I am lifting verbiage directly from someone who has been absolutely brilliant. In this case the poster on another site is know only as Dr. X. I know nothing more of him. Only that this post of his is wonderful in it’s insight. No one theory is likely to cover everyone and this one surely leaves out some people, but I find it highly resonant with me and surely with many others on this site. I think it provides insight into the inner motivations of so many people who are reluctant to change and may even may even strengthen belief in the face of conflicting evidence (the backfire effect).

There is abundant evidence from psychological research that irrationality is built into us, and that pre-rational heuristics govern our beliefs far more than rationality. Ideologies, social bonds and group identifications, not training, determine the ability of most of us to process evidence in dealing with matters related to our sense of social alliances. It’s easy to see how this powerful tendency was selected in human beings and no reason to assume that vulnerability to bias is trained into people or that we can be trained out of bias in some general sense during childhood. My mother loved me when I was born, not because of any inherent quality in me that made me more worthy of love. She regularly acted with disregard for her own interests to protect me. So much of our survival is based on pre-rational, preconscious tendencies and heuristics, while reason is a rather lowly step-child in social relations, and that would generally hold true for group identity.

Reasoning is only a shaky overlay on non-conscious, pre-rational processes. One problem is that reasoning can actually be used quite effectively to support pre-determined views. In people who are more intelligent, the tendency is all the more pronounced. Smart people can talk themselves into a lot of things that aren’t true and sound very thoughtful and rational while they do it. A less intelligent person will be more comfortable with blunt denial. A brighter person will erect complex intellectual systems of justification without awareness that their opinion was already formed. It isn’t that those systems and reasons are necessarily wrong; quite often they’re right. The point is that the intellectual wouldn’t have gotten there if a strong tribal identification was standing in the way. Quite often, smart people who can earn an A+ in a Logic 101, go into false territory and cannot be talked out of it because of an existing group identification and the perception that the enemy holds an opposing position.

I think wingnuts are especially crazy at this time because of the power of their group identity and the perception of a serious threat to the group. The evolved adaptive response to this situation is to become nuts in support of the tribe and nuts in contempt for the opposition.

I also think that the history of the American South in relation to race and to Washington, the capital of the n-loving conqueror, is at the core of the wingnut identity. Republicans have ruthlessly and successfully exploited a fusion between downtrodden (read threatened) Southern, white group identity and an assortment of geographical, educational and religious markers, as well as a variety of cultural tics and habits that extend the identity well beyond the American South. In each of these areas, the idea has been promoted that white people, especially non-urban white men, are members of a unified tribe that is in a fight for its life, under attack from outside enemies. A person who identifies with that group and takes on that sense of life or death threat will not join the discussion as a reasoning, evidence-processing participant. They’re at war with the mental equivalent of Hitler or Stalin or pick your historical enemy who was beyond a reasoning and good-faith discussion.

Why do some of us decouple from our early group identities and change our beliefs? I think there are many circumstantial and internal reasons that it can happen. I used to think I reasoned my way out of my early tribal alliances, but I’m now convinced that reason was only introduced to the extent that my tribal bonds were fraying for other reasons.

Religion, rather than poisoning everything, is IMO usually a group identity not unlike any other group identity. It’s impact become poisonous when that identity feels threatened, but that’s not because religious people aren’t taught to reason. It’s because of group identification and evolved responses to group threat.

Huge thanks to Dr. X

Entry filed under: LeoPardus. Tags: .

Makes perfect sense Why can’t you just respect my beliefs?

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. evangelically incorrect  |  October 25, 2012 at 6:45 pm

    It was a little over my head, but I think he’s saying that our group attachments stimulate us to use our intellect to justify the group’s beliefs. I think that’s true of belonging to the church, or the Christian community at large. It’s a stretch, and often a tear, to step away from your group. So intellect is used to stay in the group at all costs.

  • 2. Freeze pipes  |  October 29, 2012 at 10:30 am

    I believe that we should never decouple from our early group identities.

  • 3. LeoPardus  |  October 29, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    Freeze pipes: And just what is your opinion worth? Nothing.
    You didn’t back it up with a single thought, example, piece of data, or bit of philosophy. You just opened up your pore and spewed an unconsidered, worthless opinion.
    In case you hadn’t noticed, this isn’t Facebook or some other site where you’re encouraged to just post stupidity, opinions, and bias. Back up what you have to say or don’t bother to spew.
    So now to give just a little thought to what you said: do you really think that if your early group identity is a fundamentalist group of terrorists (e.g., Taliban) that you shouldn’t decouple? What if you were born into something like the “Manson family”?
    OK, there’s just a tiny bit of thought for you. Try working with it.

  • 4. Alban  |  January 7, 2014 at 3:53 pm

    This article along with the pieces on existentialism have helped answer questions I’ve had lately such as why would people not want to explore essentially unchartered waters within themselves if they knew it was at least possible and beneficial as well.

    Fear of loss, rejection by the herd…I never consciously identified with that fear or its implication though I have seen it close up. Yet the fear must be there on some level as I have no compunction to associate with any groups or organizations that put me under any kind of microscope. (not counting blogging)

    I guess we are all under some group’s microscopes all the way thru our education and then continue that inspection in all we do as adults how we dress etc. The sense of belonging or not belonging really is there. It keeps you a little more sovereign if you can avoid it.

    I wonder if the sense of personal freedom spotlights the feeling of being alone and unaccepted to some degree? This phenomenon is addressed by multi level marketeers as they keep repeating “Imitation is the highest form of flattery.” Almost like your freedom only comes thru replicating our success, following our ‘how to’ guidelines. Do it. Get rich. Show others. Then you are free and not alone.

    Wow, all of us have been hooked by some kind of herd. I am glad now that many have been introduced to the term.’sheeple’. It gets people to start thinking how much they have bought in and where are they being lead. Hopefully that impetus could lead into a little self exploration without fear.

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