Why Do You Believe What You Do?

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November 29, 2009 9:47 am
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Do our beliefs form the basis of our partisan and ideological affiliations? Or is it vice versa?

There’s been a lot of recent evidence not only that Republicans disproportionately disbelieve the evidence for man-made global warming but that their skepticism is growing. I think that trend is fairly classed under the general heading of Republican/conservative hostility to science. But the other point interests me no less.There are pro-life Democrats. And there are a substantial number of voters who are Democrats to a substantial degree because the party is the bulwark of pro-choice political power in the country. But I’ve never thought that this explains the strong partisan division on this question in the country as a whole. For many Dems, I suspect they’re pro-choice in some measure just because it’s part of the Democratic or progressive package — not as a conscious decision but through a process of group association and osmosis.

Now lest I be misunderstood, I’m definitely not saying the pro-choice stance is unimportant or poorly thought out. I think the same applies on this issue on Republican side in the other direction and on numerous other issues as well — in social policy, tax policy, foreign policy and a lot else. How obvious is the connection between your beliefs on tax policy and foreign policy?

Another way of looking at this is that in our politics and society, group association seems to give certain beliefs or policy positions a mutual ‘stickiness’ even if they do not seem to be connected together in any logical or consistent way, or any way that would make sense out of the context of our culture and society. (There is a lengthy technical literature on these questions in the history of science, sociology of knowledge, etc.)

Are there other examples you can think of?

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