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Tanner West


10 reasons people have polarized political beliefs

A couple of years ago, I read the book "Pickup or Prius." It helped me look for the cultural, psychological, and even biological factors that shape people's political beliefs. It seems obvious that most of these factors are out of people's control, and yet we often slip into thinking that people with different beliefs from ours must somehow be less intelligent or lacking common sense. These are a few points I like to keep in mind to help me empathize with people I disagree with.

    1. Their economic situation biases them towards those beliefs

    Obviously, a poor person living in public housing is going to have different expectations of the government that a billionaire in his multi-million dollar condo.

    2. The family or culture they grew up in believes that way, and it seems to have always worked.

    Beliefs can be so ingrained in the people and culture around us it can seem absurd to believe any other way - like a fish taking water for granted.

    3. They have never heard another opinion explained well.

    Biased media tends to caricature and misrepresent the other side's opinion. A lot of people only ever hear straw man arguments for a side they disagree with.

    4. They've never had the opportunity to truly empathize with someone who sees things differently

    Putting a human face with a belief can go a long way in helping us understand it. Many people only hear different opinions in the abstract.

    5. They get their news from a biased source.

    Don't we all 😅

    6. They believe they've reasoned from first principles to arrive at their beliefs

    Many people really want to know if what they believe is right. They painstakingly think or write their way through issues and often arrive at conclusions we disagree with.

    7. They've never taken the time to reason from first principles to arrive at a belief.

    Many people think their beliefs are just common sense. They don't see any reason to overthink topics that seem obvious.

    8. Politicians have an incentive to encourage polarization.

    Unfortunately, politicians feel the need to demonize and misrepresent their opponents in order to build a coalition on their side.

    9. They have religious beliefs that bias them towards certain opinions

    Like Christians with abortion or Israel, there are certain "non-negotiable" issues that strongly pull voters to one side another. I know there's a word for this kind of issue but its name escapes me...

    10. They experienced some trauma or formative experience in their life that had biased their opinion.

    Obviously, our experiences shape who we are, but some experiences are so powerful that they change things about us more or less permanently - this can include our political beliefs.

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