Real Clear Science: Why We Reject Facts & Embrace Conflict
There is a growing body of research suggesting that when beliefs become tied to one’s sense of identity, they are not easily revised. Instead, when these axioms are threatened, people look for ways to outright dismiss inconvenient data. If this cannot be achieved by highlighting logical, methodological or factual errors, the typical response is to leave the empirical sphere altogether and elevate the discussion into the moral and ideological domain, whose tenets are much more difficult to outright falsify (generally evoking whatever moral framework best suits one’s rhetorical needs).
While often described in pejorative terms, these phenomena may be more akin to “features,” than “bugs,” of our psychology. ...
For instance, the Machiavellian Intelligence Hypothesis holds that the primary function of rationality is social, rather than epistemic. Specifically, our rational faculties were designed to mitigate social conflicts (or conflicting interests). But on this account, rationality is not a neutral mediator. Instead, it is deployed in the service of one’s own interests and desires—which are themselves heavily informed by our sense of identity. ...
... Accordingly, the best way to reduce polarization is not by obscuring critical differences under the pretense of universalism. Instead, societies should aspire to lower the perceived stakes of these identity conflicts.
For example, rigidity, polarization and groupthink are much less common, and more easily addressed, in deliberations within an identity group; closed-mindedness is largely a response to a perceived threat from outside. In heterogeneous contexts, many of the benefits of this enclave deliberation can be achieved by engaging interlocutors in terms of their own framing and narratives, mindful of their expressed concerns and grievances. That is, identity differences should not be suppressed, avoided or merely tolerated, but instead emphasized, encouraged and substantively respected—emphasizing pluralism over sectarianism. This can create a foundation where good-faith exchange and intergroup cooperation are feasible. Or put another way, the problem isn’t cultural cognition, it’s the lack of cross-cultural competence.