Sex, Power, and Partisanship: How Evolutionary Science Makes Sense of Our Political Divide - Hector A. Garcia 2019
On Blind Tribes and Becoming Sighted
Knowing what we now know about how tribalism can blind us, what do we do? In coming to the realization of how profoundly our public discourse is shaped by evolved and fear-driven biases, it becomes clear that education about how to manage those biases is an important part of the solution. (Note that in the discussion of education above, the findings merely spoke to the amount of education received, not the quality or content of that education.) One of the most important steps toward rational political decision-making would be to make critical thinking a mandatory component of public education. Without the ability to think critically, to be fiercely rational, we are simply far more vulnerable—to our most primitive instincts and to those who would commandeer them for their own uses. But what is critical thinking? Here is one description offered by an organization called, no less, the Foundation for Critical Thinking:
They [critical thinkers] are keenly aware of the inherently flawed nature of human thinking when left unchecked. They strive to diminish the power of their egocentric and sociocentric tendencies. They use the intellectual tools that critical thinking offers—concepts and principles that enable them to analyze, assess, and improve thinking…. They realize that no matter how skilled they are as thinkers, they can always improve their reasoning abilities and they will at times fall prey to mistakes in reasoning, human irrationality, prejudices, biases, distortions, uncritically accepted social rules and taboos, self-interest, and vested interest.45
In other words, properly trained critical thinkers are able to better evaluate not only the information put before them but also their own responses to that information. Thus while our instincts can blind us to reality, critical thinking can help us to become sighted and to enjoy greater freedom—the freedom to not simply respond to our most reactive impulses but to pause, to consider.
Scientific inquiry must be primary among the intellectual tools used for critical thinking because it is arguably the best means to arrive at unbiased information. Although the scientific method is in no way perfect, it has built-in mechanisms designed to help its practitioners maintain objectivity in their quest for knowledge. Cognitive psychology is also key, offering a detailed study of our emotionally motivated biases. It is self-evident that if we don't understand our biases, we are more likely to enact them. Teaching students how to thoughtfully challenge authority figures is also invaluable. This was a central aim of the “denazification” efforts in post-WWII Germany intended to forestall the rise of another Hitler. These efforts gave the Germans a counterweight to the kind of primitive, unreasoned consensus that opens the door to despots.46 In the (false) information age, a deep curriculum in information literacy—that is, how to obtain accurate facts amid a rising sea of false information47—is increasingly essential. Political literacy would also be desired. Surveys consistently show that high numbers of Americans are ignorant to elementary facts about US government, such as the name of the vice president, the name of a single Supreme Court justice, or the specific rights guaranteed by the First Amendment to the US Constitution.48
In reality, none of these measures, either alone or in combination, will completely erase motivated reasoning from the political realm. But there is little question that our educational shortcomings leave us literally more primitive in our thinking. Lastly, and perhaps most crucially, critical thinking must involve teaching the evolutionary sciences in the public school system, with a particular focus on evolutionary psychology. For its unmatched utility in exposing the ultimate reasons for what we think and do, including our political impulses, evolutionary science must have a protected place in the conversation about who we are.