Think about the people you know that are extremely politically partisan. You know the folks I’m talking about. See whether my profile below – symptoms or traits – fits them. [Note: I originally composed this in January 2012 after experiencing “exchanges” – I cannot call them discussions or dialogues – that involved some self-described American “liberals”. I have had similar encounters with people on the U.S. (hard) “right” and my experiences have been nearly identical. I originally titled this (un-posted, private) outline “Symptoms of hyper-partisan brain damage”. That’s not meant to be offensive, but to point out that I think strong partisanship severely impacts cognition, rationality, and civility in certain domains. It doesn’t mean highly partisan people are stupid, incapable, or uninformed. Many are smart and engaged.]
Identity: The group is political in nature. The group’s causes form the core of one’s sense of self and purpose. The group usually contains one’s closest personal relationships.
Symptoms / Traits
Enemy: Identification of a universal enemy. The enemy is loathed and is a frequent topic.
Attack: Sometimes severe lashing out even at minor comments or actions perceived to be counter to group beliefs. Responses are usually ad hominem and/or invoke things that were not actually said or done.
Denouncement: Self-righteous condemnation of those who express thoughts or ideas that are perceived as counter to group beliefs.
Relentlessness: Obsession with the group’s cause(s) combined with very frequent seeking out of content to support existing group beliefs and reinforce disdain for the enemy.
Imputation of motive: Anyone who disagrees with a group belief or points out any inconsistency or mistake, however minor, is seen to have nefarious motives. (In some instances a person who holds different ideas is described as naïve or lacking intelligence. There are no other allowable reasons for disagreement with the group.)
Association of beliefs: A person expressing disagreement with or finding flaws in any individual group belief or presentation of evidence is perceived to hold beliefs counter to many or all of the group’s beliefs. (Even if a person does not express a counter-belief, an association with the enemy may be made simply based on the person’s occupation, a single action, or some other visible characteristic that group members associate with the enemy.)
Double Standards: Group beliefs and standards of evidence are suspended when discussing the actions or thoughts of (those perceived as) the enemy. The double standard is usually denied, though in some circumstances it may be defended as necessary when attempting to influence someone outside of the group.
Evidence Acceptance: “Evidence is based on conclusions.” Evidence is accepted on an ex post basis instead of ex ante. In other words evidence is accepted or denied depending on whether it gives the impression of support a group belief or opposing it. If evidence is contrary to group belief then the source of data and/or quality of data and/or applicability of the data or analysis is attacked and/or an ad hominem attack is launched. (Group members will refuse to commit ahead of time to which data are relevant and what the analysis and interpretation should be.)
Universal Battle: The group’s belief and the fight against the enemy are seen as paramount and of the highest urgency. Those who do not see the struggle in the same light and with the same urgency are seen to lack morality and/or insight.
Memory Hole: Past actions of group members or group heroes that are counter to group identity and beliefs are either forgotten or dismissed as aberrations.
False Differentiation: If a group member or group hero makes a statement or commits and act that is substantially identical to one committed by an enemy, the two instances are seen very differently. Different motives are imputed and the differing narratives for the group and the enemy are used to put the two instances into substantially different contexts.