Americans say we value free speech, but recent surveys suggest we love the ideal more than practice, a division that will harm more than it protects.
- A majority of Americans believe we should protect people from deleterious ideas and speech.
- This belief may harm us, both as individuals and as a society, by ironically strengthening the very ideas that do us harm.
- Forced examination provides a means by which we can strengthen our own ideas while weeding the harmful ones from society, but it only works with free expression for everyone.
Why is populism so popular? The rise of Donald Trump has been an enigma to many. Not so much to evolutionary psychologists.
- Working-class people take rules more seriously. Upper- and middle-class people do not. Why? The latter have financial and social safety nets, so they can afford to break some rules.
- Research shows that, by the age of three, working-class children are primed to be more rigid about rules. Those rules help working-class people survive what sociologists call 'hard living': extreme poverty, dangerous jobs, and unsafe neighborhoods. Having strong rules increases chances of safety and survival.
- Harnessing this evolutionary psychology can be very powerful in politics. Populists like Donald Trump or Marine Le Pen exaggerate fear and threat to gain popularity. They understand "the role of fear and threat in mobilizing people to want more tightness and to want autocratic leaders," Gelfand explains.
- In Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire the World, Michele Gelfand explains her research into 'tight' and 'loose' cultures. Get a crash course here.
Humans are a programmable species, and we live inside the most ancient operating system of all — ideology.
For many years, Joscha Bach could not understand why humans flock so strongly towards religion and ideology. Having grown up in communist East Germany and seeing the people around him buy into nationalistic narratives—that were to him obviously untruthful—made no sense. It was only when the wall came down that he came to understand that people everywhere are buying into various false narratives—as of 2015, 34% of Americans still reject evolution completely. The drive to believe whatever instructions come from above you is not a cognitive error, Bach realized then, but an evolutionary feature—as powerful as it is problematic. The ability for large groups of people to follow one set of rules, to cooperate, is how Homo sapiens established agricultural societies, and is ultimately how we outcompeted other now long-gone nomadic hominin groups. We are a programmable species, says Bach, and we need to belong and conform to a larger entity to survive. As such, Bach sees the debate surrounding free will not as a question of determinism or incompatibilism, but of social conditioning. Perhaps the free will relates to decision-making over physics: are you really free to act in a way that is true, or are you bound by a social code of responsibility that runs thousands of years deep in your genetics? Joscha Bach's latest book is Principles of Synthetic Intelligence.
Sure, the old Greek guys from 2,400 years ago get all the glory. But these living philosophers have a ton to say about life, the universe, and everything as it relates to right now.
Ideology doesn’t bend to reason, says Professor Barbara Oakley. Here's why we can't really change what other people believe, and why that brand of "helping" others can backfire.
The two things you simply cannot do are probably the two things you most want to: change someone, and help them. Barbara Oakley, an engineering professor who teaches the world's largest online open class, knows this intimately: when she was teaching in China, "working with the communists" as she says, people had tried to warn others about the dangers of communist totalitarianism before the Great Leap Forward. Nobody listened. Ultimately discussion isn't enough to sway people's beliefs — for any slim shot at that, says Oakley, you have to give people new experiences, not just facts. But should you always be trying to change others, anyway? "Your own good intentions can also lead you astray," says Oakley, whose research involves pathologies of altruism. Could altruism be a behavioral disorder? A study from Boston in the 1930s that was followed up in the 1970s imparts an important lesson on why thinking you know best for others can be anything but a help, and that if a good deed feels good, it might be a red flag that you're only helping yourself. Barbara Oakley's most recent book is Mindshift: Break Through Obstacles to Learning and Discover Your Hidden Potential, and you can find the Mindshift course here.