Posted: Mar 09, 2020 10:50 pm
by I'm With Stupid
The older I get, the more I realise how much of belief (of all kinds) is socially created rather than logically determined.

I watched an interesting lecture by Hugo Mercer about the psychology of conspiracy theorists the other day. The idea was the so much of it is about proving group loyalty by basically ostracizing yourself from the rest of society with more and more ridiculous statements. He also talks about how cult of personalities in places like North Korea then become more extreme over time, and that the ridiculous claims about Kim Jong-il actually took a while to emerge as the things you have to say to prove membership and loyalty get more and more extreme over time.

It's also why knowing one political view of a person can allow you to pretty accurately predicted a whole host of other viewpoints. If I know an American is a pro-gun Christian, I can probably predict with some accuracy that they'll be a climate change sceptic, be against affirmative action, be pro-life, be against nationalized healthcare, etc. And similarly, if I know that an American is a vegan who puts their preferred pronouns on their Twitter description, I can probably accurately guess that they are vaguely anti-capitalist, pro-choice, pro affirmative action, pro nationalized healthcare, pro gun control, etc. There's no intrinsic reasons why those political views should go together (indeed, often views that are popular in certain circles seem contradictory) except that those are the accepted social values of those groups. It is often more personally harmful to go against the prevailing views of your community than it is to simply accept them, particularly in the less diverse areas. This then goes hand-in-hand with seeking out news sources that reflect those values. Similarly, it seems that one way to gain social status and prove loyalty in such communities is to become more and more extreme. As a young man in particular, the primary motivator in life is building status in whatever community you happen to be part of or have attached yourself to, and in a small town in America, there might only be one option.

And experiment that Mercer points to is a logical puzzle that about 10% of people get right (but most are very confident that they get right). He then demonstrates that given time to discuss their reasoning with other people in the room, eventually the whole classroom will arrive at the correct answer, showing that argumentation and reasoning can overcome my-side bias and good arguments will eventually win out. However, he also points out that if everyone in the classroom initially gets the question wrong, this discussion session will only make them more confident in their wrong answers. Therefore there is clearly a danger in getting all of your arguments from people who agree with you, and yet that's arguably what most of us do most of the time.