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Tuesday, December 29. 2009
Trust Cues and Tribalism - a re-post from our dusty archives
On Friday morning a patient told me that he liked to hire people who are in AA because he knows that they struggle with honesty, and take the subject seriously - and often know more first-hand about dishonesty than most.
So thanks to Assistant Village Idiot for noting a relevant piece by the always interesting Kling at TCS on the anthropological subject of "trust cues" in human relationships and especially in affiliative groups (tribes), That's Your Cue.
Are humans tribal? You bet they are. And it often makes good sense to be.
Trust cues are our ways of indicating that we are members of a group, or tribe, and that it is important for us to be a member in good standing. In a sense, my patient took AA "membership" as a trust cue, because he knows they talk about honesty all the time in AA.
My favorite example of a trust cue which is ceremonially acknowledged is the "made man" in the Mafia: the guys know they can fear and trust him because he has blood on his hands. A similar example might be admission to any exclusive club.
But trust cues aren't always rational or reliable. For example, I have a bias towards trusting the intentions of serious Christians but, as far as I know, serious Christians are as morally flawed as everyone else. I suppose I'd like to believe that we, like the AA "members," worry more about how we treat others.
Thus trust cues do not necessarily mean "trust" in a moral sense, but more "trust that we're on the same page;" that we view the world somewhat similarly, and/or that we share enough similar life experience to constitute some sort of group membership.
When I attend a psychoanalytic meeting, I know it's my "club:" mere attendance indicates some fundamental interest in unconscious processes. When I go to my church, I know I'm with my "tribe:" we are all interested enough in Christ to show up. And, come to think about it - if you really want to see a trust cue festival, attend a Dartmouth alumni Christmastime cocktail party: you have never seen so much green conviviality since St. Patrick's Day in NYC.
What Kling does, in his discussion of Wade's book Before the Dawn, is to note the ways in which dogma (as opposed to truth) is used or abused to indicate group membership.
It has been my view that the current fad of getting upset about global warming is a trust cue, and little more. What it actually proclaims is "I am virtuous and I care a lot, and I don't mind more government control over things." The science, and the real empirical debate, lies outside the cue structure. Assertion of tribal membership is what such political postures are all about.
Read Kling's piece here, and Asst. Village Idiot's comments here. Interesting stuff.
Posted by Dr. Joy Bliss in Our Essays, Psychology, and Dr. Bliss at 14:00 | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (3)
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Agree. Fascinating subject, particularly in light of the dogmatic divisions that I see pulling apart people; for or against Obama, for or against global warming, etc.
Just finished reading "Us and Them: Understanding Your Tribal Mind" by David Berreby and am interested in studying more about this topic.
I've been appalled at how tribal these issues become; how quickly a good friend becomes dismissive and disrespectful on discovering that I am not from the "AGW" tribe.
How thin the veneer of civilization, still.
H-m-m-m an ex-GF during the Clinton years told me that a fellow traveler in her State employee union disagreed with her about welfare reform; he was for it. Even though he agreed with the tribe about every other plank in the Leftist political platform, she remarked, "He doesn't get it." So he became ostracized; the message to me was that if anyone agrees with this man's view, he also couldn't be trusted. (I left soon after, because I didn't agree with any of the platform, but I do miss those warm brown eyes.)
Fast forward to today: A former professor of my educational tribe noticed I had signed up to support Sarah Palin on a website a while back. The prof's remark to me was, "I thought you were intelligent." So, since I'm now part of the unintelligentsia, I thought that would be the last I would hear from her for a while. A few minutes later, an e-mail and phone call arrived from her asking if I would be interested in a professional relationship with her company. Even though I wasn't a member in good standing in the academic tribe, I was considered to still be part of the professional tribe; still trusted.
My own trust cues seem to stem from the more substantial evidence I see in the way people treat others. This is different language than I'm used to, but describes the same concept I use to establish a relationship with a client. The client (medical or psychiatric patient) is generally distrustful, and needs to get through a "socialization" phase with me before they decide how long the working phase will last. I used to think that I tried to tailor their view of me to get to that working phase as quickly as possible. The only honest way I can find to do this is to be as open as possible and establish bounds quickly. In effect, I offer the same "clues" to all clients, otherwise, I could never keep track of the different relationships!
I've concluded that all mankind is naturally tribal, and that one of the reasons for the long term success of the American experiment is that we were basically willing to let anyone join the tribe--if they subscribed to a few basic (self-evident" truths. The "trick" was to let immigrants see that things were better for all within the tribe, and that they had a choice to join or not.
Liberals, as far as I can see, cannot envision a tribal association willingly undertaken, rather, they insist that all tribes are unique and thus can have no common interests, nor can their interests possibly overlap. The liberal appeal is to the limbic brain and the nearest tribal identity (ethnicity, religion when it can be exploited, race, and gender of whatever hue). They've done quite well in dismantling the concept of being an American.
One of my long-standing favorite topics, as you can see. Part of my journey out of liberalism was recognising the unfair tribalism applied against those who were not among the enlightened. Thinking further, I realised this was part of my own dark heart as well. It is very primitive thinking, covered over with fine language and rationalization.
My life experience, and common sense, tell me that clear cultural and subcultural structures are necessary foundations for dependable and predictable human interaction. People associate tribally for good reasons - they don't know what the deal is with oth
Tracked: Jun 27, 18:44
"People like to say today that 'diversity is our strength.' It's almost like a State Religion. But diversity isn't our strength: freedom is our strength. Uncontrolled cultural diversity is the story of the Tower of Babel."Tom Tancredo, as heard
Tracked: Aug 17, 07:07
Our post on Race in the Race last a few weeks ago reminded me of the several posts we have done over recent years about tribalism and trust, making the rather obvious point that people tend towards "affinity groups" because they know they are mo
Tracked: May 30, 13:23