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June 05, 2006

Politics As Social Identity

Link finally fixed.

Not exactly what I was ranting about last week, but related:

How do most people form their political views? Almost nobody forms their political views by looking at the two parties and deciding which has the best philosophy. They form their political views usually by inheriting them from their parents. Or in their early 20s, they look at the party that is filled with people like themselves. It’s social identity that comes first. Once you find the party that’s filled with people like yourself, then the ideas come. Political scientists have measured this through surveys and studies: Philosophy comes after the social identity.

That doesn’t mean the philosophy is unimportant. Once people come up with their philosophy, it shapes them and helps determine what they believe in. But that doesn’t mean it’s primary. What’s primary, especially today, is the partisanship, which is a team-spirit tribalism. You can get vicious attacks based on very small political differences, but which reflect differences of social identity about which virtues you think a leader should have.

May be obvious to some, but this occurred to me (perhaps late) a year or so ago. Real politics -- the way most feel and experience politics -- is less about "issues" than it is about social-group tribalism.

And I don't think there's a huge difference between liberals and conservatives on the basics of this. There are differences in the ways liberals and conservatives use this tribalism -- liberals, I think, tend to use the "right" political views more openly and overtly as tribal signifiers; they "wear their politics on their sleeves" in the same way they criticize religious conservatives for being overt and chatty about their religious beliefs -- but still I think most political views derive from basic personality type, temperament, and culture.

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posted by Ace at 08:10 PM

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