Conformity, Loyalty, and Group Identity

The most interesting four paragraphs I read over the weekend, from Robin Hanson (emphasis my own):

We use belief conformity to show loyalty to particular groups, relative to other groups. We rarely bother to show loyalty to humanity as a whole, because non-humans threaten little. So we rarely bother to try to conform our beliefs with humanity as a whole, which is why herding experiments with random subjects show no general conformity tendencies.

Our conformity efforts instead target smaller in-groups, with more threatening out-groups. And we are most willing to conform our beliefs on abstract ideological topics, like politics or religion, where our opinions have few other personal consequences. Our choices show to which conflicting groups we feel the most allied.

You just can’t fight “conformity” by indulging the evil pleasure of enjoying your conformity to a small tight-knit group of “non-conformists.” All this does is promote some groups at the expense of other groups, and poisons your mind in the process. It is like fighting “loyalty” by dogged devotion to an anti-loyalty alliance.

Best to clear your mind and emotions of group loyalties and resentments and ask, if this belief gave me no pleasure of rebelling against some folks or identifying with others, if it was just me alone choosing, would my best evidence suggest that this belief is true? All else is the road to rationality ruin.

Truth. I especially like his sentence about enjoying your conformity to a small group of “non-conformists” — forging one’s identity as the embattled minority is a well-established tack for activist or contrarian types. The sentence about our willingness to conform beliefs on politics to conform to a group identity also rings true. Involving yourself in a political group is a surefire way to harbor increasingly irrational views about politics.

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