Infighting

Here’s a weird piece of human condition:

Sometimes I’ll see a group of people that I think are unified around their love of pineapple pizza, let’s say. This is a divisive topic! Lots of people hate pineapple on pizza, and some of those people are of the kind to turn that hatred into hatred of people who like pineapple pizza, instead of just hating the pizza itself.

So I’ll see two people talking who both love pineapple pizza, and I’ll think, “oh, how nice, two people share an interest and they’re discussing it and–” and then suddenly one of them will say that the other one doesn’t like pineapple pizza the right way or something, like maybe they like crushed pineapple instead of chunked or Sicilian pizza or something, and suddenly those two people will be at each others’ throats.

The problem here is subtle, but pervasive. The problem is that humans are actually really bad at liking or hating stuff. Concepts, objects, whatever – we’re bad at it. What we’re good at is associating that stuff with certain people, and then liking or hating them.

You see this message everywhere. The reason “hate the sin, love the sinner” is even advice is because almost no one ever does it. They hate the sinner (however they’ve defined the “sin”) through and through.

This causes people to build barricades around their “Labels of Identity” and commit to purity tests of all kinds in order to jockey for position. And this, in turn, betrays their ultimate motivation.

You can’t help it. For most people, the ultimate motivation is “tribal status.” Meaning you’ve picked a group (or maybe just fallen into one), and all your motivations ultimately come down to wanting a higher position of respect within that group.

If you really just loved pineapple pizza for pineapple pizza’s sake, you’d buy it and eat it and make it and maybe even share it! You’d tell other people that had never had it that they should try it. You’d make them some! You’d be okay if they didn’t want it, but you’d offer. And if you found someone else who loved pineapple pizza but maybe a different kind than you, that would be awesome, because obviously that person is a kindred spirit, or at least more so than the person who hates pineapple pizza.

But in reality, many people attack the person who likes pineapple pizza the wrong way more than the person who hates it. That’s because most people don’t think of themselves as “people who dig pineapple on their pizza,” but as “Pineapple Pizzatarians” with logos and bumper stickers and badges and flags and commemorative pens. It’s a group, and group identity matters to humans more than almost anything else.

Know your Maslow. People really get stuck in that level 3-4 range. (I think that’s a big part of why physical discomfort can reduce stress – one of Maslow’s insights was that you simply can’t care about the next level up when you’re still grappling with your current level. Putting myself into the woods for a few days was a way of artificially returning to levels 1 & 2 for a while, and while you’re there, you can’t even fathom the problems of the higher levels.)

But this isn’t really a post about Maslow (though in a way, I think most posts are). It’s a post about how that tribalism explains one of the worst aspects of our behavior, which is our tendency to attack close ideological neighbors instead of the more distant enemies we might ally against.

Move away from the tribalism. Question your own people, don’t take things for granted just because they’re said by people you want the esteem of. Learn the basic building blocks of reality, the things that aren’t fancy or exciting or filled with slogans but are essential to good understanding. Learn statistics, Public Choice theory, psychology. Read books, not headlines.

And don’t attack people who want most of what you want just because they don’t agree on the last 1%. There are people out there who disagree with you 99%, and if you want to make substantive changes to your society, at some point you’re going to have to treat those people like humans and figure out how to work with them, instead of just yelling at your closest allies for not being even closer.

The reason to study the flaws of humanity is to rise above them. Know your Maslow, then make him wrong.

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