Forget the Money, Follow the Sacredness

The New York Times:

In the film version of “All the President’s Men,” when Robert Redford, playing the journalist Bob Woodward, is struggling to unravel the Watergate conspiracy, an anonymous source advises him to “follow the money.” It’s a good rule of thumb for understanding the behavior of politicians. But following the money leads you astray if you’re trying to understand voters.

Self-interest, political scientists have found, is a surprisingly weak predictor of people’s views on specific issues. Parents of children in public school are not more supportive of government aid to schools than other citizens. People without health insurance are not more likely to favor government-provided health insurance than are people who are fully insured.

Despite what you might have learned in Economics 101, people aren’t always selfish. In politics, they’re more often groupish. When people feel that a group they value — be it racial, religious, regional or ideological — is under attack, they rally to its defense, even at some cost to themselves. We evolved to be tribal, and politics is a competition among coalitions of tribes.

The key to understanding tribal behavior is not money, it’s sacredness. The great trick that humans developed at some point in the last few hundred thousand years is the ability to circle around a tree, rock, ancestor, flag, book or god, and then treat that thing as sacred. People who worship the same idol can trust one another, work as a team and prevail over less cohesive groups. So if you want to understand politics, and especially our divisive culture wars, you must follow the sacredness.

Read the whole story: The New York Times

See Jonathan Haidt at the 24th APS Annual Convention

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