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Identities

The beliefs that we hold inform our behavior and are closely linked with our various identities.

Identities are not only personal attributes which we affiliate or associate with, they are also useful as concepts, in terms of being able to categorize and study social and psychological phenomena. The metaphor of interlinked and hierarchical identities or intersecting circles can be very useful in trying to understand which identities are the most operative at any point in time.

We see ourselves as members of various tribes, and depending on the context, we behave, in large part, based on particular tribal loyalties and affiliations.

If you are playing in a team sport, your loyalty and behavior may likely be the outcome and heavily influenced by your team affiliation; the uniform that you don. The other team will likely be otherized and considered the outgroup.

If you are discussing politics, your loyalty and behavior may likely be the outcome of the party that you affiliate with or the candidate that you favor.

If a nation-state is competing in the Olympic games or at war, your loyalty and behavior may likely be the outcome of your national passport or the flag that is being waved.

If you affiliate with a particular religion, your loyalty and behavior may likely be the outcome of that tribal affiliation.

Other tribal loyalties include so-called race, gender, kin, sexual orientation, ethnicity, language groups, socio-economic groups, companies, villages, education level, scholastic groups, clubs, etc., etc., etc.

Anyone who went to high school will probably understand this phenomena. ūüėõ

This behavior plays out on multiple dimensions and different identities and loyalties can be more or less operative depending on the group dynamics which are most at play at the moment.

TribalismBe aware of your various identities and how they can affect your behavior and the beliefs that you support at any given time. This affects your ability to be objective and step outside of yourself to evaluate situations without tribal goggles on. You might even notice philosophical inconsistencies or personality changes depending on which identity is most relevant at the moment.

If you can recognize this tendency to hold various identities and loyalties in yourself, it might go a long way at consciously attempting to not label others as outgroup, but rather evaluating them on their actual beliefs, behavior and how they treat you.

How can this make you a better and more consistent critical thinker, you might ask?

Well, when evaluating any particular truth claim, how do you feel? You might want to ask yourself a series of identity questions.

Does it evoke visceral feelings of being a parent or family member and needing to defend your children or family? Your operative identity is likely a familial one.

Does it evoke visceral feelings of needing to defend your country of birth?  Your operative identity is likely a national one.

Does it evoke visceral feelings of needing to defend your biological gender?  Your operative identity is likely related to your gender.

Now think of all of the various other identities that you associate with and then ask similar questions to try to determine which is the most operative at the moment.

And if so, are these identity associations allowing you to be perfectly rational and objective or are you behaving more out of tribal affiliation and loyalty?

Now for a hard one.

What about if you were, let’s say, in a mixed community and your identity affiliation is very ambiguous? Which identities will be most important in determining your behavior?

How about a company picnic with competing departments and colleagues, your boss, a girl or boy from next door that you are trying to impress and your weekend rock and roll group? What happens when controversial topics are raised?

Everyone is looking at you and they all have vastly different opinions and ideologies. Do you stick to your independent and rational faculties and say what you really think or are you torn and afraid to take certain positions which may place one or more of your identities at risk? After all, it would be a shame to not get that promotion. It would be a shame to look like a corporate sell out to your rock and roll buddies. It would be a shame to agree with that guy from Human Resources and alienate your entire team of colleagues.  It would be a shame to not get a date with that cute girl.

In the words of Robert Kurzban, everyone (else) is a hypocrite.

Original post: 25 July 2016, Science, Critical Thinking and Skepticism.

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