Your ancestral past informs your political opinions

In this excerpt from the Building Psychological Strength podcast, April Seifert talks with Peter Montoya about how we form our identity and how political opinions have become increasingly personal. Then they explore the psychological explanations of this phenomenon and share how to recognize these behaviors in common political conversations.

I mean, you listen to this and you can think of exactly who those people are, who you avoid a bit or see less or maybe don’t see at all, or when you do see them, it doesn’t go well anymore.


And we know from a psychological standpoint that that social connection is so important to us that having meaningful relationships with other people is important. And we also know psychologically that, you know, having an openness to experience and openness to information, taking our beliefs, our own beliefs with a with a grain of salt is an important and adaptive


thing. It can just be really difficult, though, in the current climate that we’re in. I feel like it has crystallized in a way that has just made that more difficult. People feel more dug in. They it feels like the climate is and maybe artificially, but it feels like the climate is much more black and white, that if


you don’t agree, there’s just no middle ground there anymore. Do you? Have you experienced that as you were thinking about this book?


Absolutely. One of the first chapters of my book is called Politics is Our New Religion. And the word religion in this context isn’t about a relationship with a higher power. Religion means a way of life and how it’s religious.


It’s become increasingly manicheistic. And manicheistic means a division between good and bad or good and evil. And so when we make things manicheistic, we’re basically saying that I am all that is good or my side is all that is good and your side is all that is evil.


And so when we do that on a political level, we’re basically making ourselves right and anything. But who even disagrees even a little bit? Is somebody wrong? We I’m guessing that most of us at some point in time have gotten into a conversation with somebody and maybe even just lightly in there.


And they the other person said, oh, all you people think exactly the same. I could tell that you hate all freedoms. And you said, well, no, I just said this one little point over here. And now you were painting me with this broad brush, assuming that I am your enemy and all that is evil.


So what this happens in this kind of political religious war that we’re in is we demonize the other side. We objectify them. We paint them with a very, very broad brush that makes them evil and us. Good. This heightens our anxiety.


It heightens our our senses. And it allows us to be increasingly intolerant and also abusive or discriminatory to people who are not with us. So that is what’s happening. And it’s happening because of how the media is. Demonizing and vilifying the other side.


Yeah, and there’s so that’s so interesting. And to take a quick like psych detour for a second, there’s a couple of concepts that come into play here that are incredibly powerful. And we talk about them sometimes in this very conceptual form.


But this is one of those great times where like, man, is it just perfectly relevant to day to day life, to your experience, to what’s happening. And one of those concepts is identity. Identity is a very fluid thing from a cognitive perspective.


Identity isn’t the role that you play. It’s not like I’m a mom, I’m a sister, I’m an entrepreneur. Like, no, we think about identity as the stuff your mind has learned about you and people like you. What is it learned about you?


And if that’s very broad, right, that could mean things like, oh, people like me are honest or people like me are compassionate. It can be words like that. It can also be people like me vote this way. We’ve.


Incorporated these political parties into our identity. It almost feels as though this is an unchangeable there when we were born aspect of us, and that’s just not the case. As you know, like it’s fictitious, these these parties could change in Morphin, new ones can spin off and whatever.


Like it’s a fluid thing. But we’ve incorporated it into our identity. And then what happens is the second concept, once we believe that there’s an us and they people like us, we naturally create outgroups. So there’s this ingroup outgroup effect.


If you want to Google and go back to psych 101, this ingroup outgroup effect where it goes back to our tribalism. Right. Like we need to hoard resources and we’re better and we need to keep all the weight of our animals and foraging for ourselves and keep it away from other people who we are in conflict with


or in competition with. So we do this like, you know, a big, deep part of our identity becomes this, you know, political leaning. And it doesn’t matter even if you’re a centrist that becomes this harsh part of your identity or the solid part, and you begin to create fake boundaries between you and other people along a thing


that isn’t even a real concept to begin with. It’s a thing that people invented. And so I just wanted to take a quick psych detour, because we’ve talked about those concepts a lot of times on the podcast. And when you speak about something in a conceptual way, it can be applied in a lot of different circumstances.


But this one is beautifully applicable for things that we’ve talked about in the past.


You are speaking directly out of my book, so I couldn’t. We are more tied to our identities than we probably have been in 20 or 30 years. And that political affiliation is first and foremost at the front of our minds more than in any time in your and my lifetime.


So with identity also comes that tribal affiliation. And during the course of writing this book, I have increasingly become a tribal rightist. Here’s what that means, is I took my psych 101 class, and you learn in psych 101, you learn about all these different, different cognitive biases.


And there’s kind of a laundry list that you learn about a confirmation bias. You learn about I motivated reasoning and you learn about this confirmation bias and you learn about these horrific when you trust certain people more and you learn about you’re in- an out-group bias.


And in Enoggera, biases, in the work of tribalism, you kind of learn them all together and you kind of go, oh, these all have equal standing. And increasingly, I really think that tribalism is a master bias. And many of the other biases are actually in service of that tribal bias.


So in our ancient minds and we go back 10000 years, and if you and I were in a tribe, a tribe, April, most likely we we were in a tribe of about 100 or 150 people. We all spoke the same language.


We all knew exactly who was related to whom. We ate together, fought together, fought together to get resources. We protected each other. We knew each other inside and out. And we trusted everybody in the tribe because we were so incredibly insular and connected.


And so if you and I were out walking through the forest one day and we saw somebody from another tribe, our midbrain would have just gone berserk. We would have gone into fight or flight mode. We would have raised our spears, started yelling, and either we would have fought these people or we would have backed off and


away from them. And we’re going, OK. Well, Peter, that’s that’s really wonderful and nice. But that was 10000 years ago. Well, I’ve got news for you. Your brain has not evolved yet. Yeah, it’s still the same brain and it still has the same instincts.


So we’re much more civilized. That’s the nature of our culture now. We’re much more civilized. We’re less likely to want to hit or hurt somebody who disagrees with us. But inside of our mind, it still has the same kind of reaction.


It’s still going. You disagree with me? Oh, my gosh. What is wrong with you? Our prefrontal cortex, which does the reasoning in the logic it goes, takes a holiday. It’s gone. And now our limbic system is in full control.


And that’s why these political conversations aren’t rational. All we’re basically doing in those political conversations is we’re not talking about policy. We’re not discussing what’s the best course. What we’re basically doing is saying, my dad is better than your dad, like a third grade argument or I believe your man can beat a Batman or I can beat


you up. That’s basically what’s happening. We’re fighting for psychological status of our tribes.


If you are more committed to national unity than partisanship, please check out my book, The Second Civil War: A Citizen’s Guide to Healing Our Fractured Nation. My book will challenge you to improve your relationships with friends and family.


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