Podcast 004: The Illusion of Us vs. Them

Show Notes

I mentioned briefly in the talk that it's natural to cling to the illusion of complete separateness from one another. This applies not only on the individual level but also, ironically, to those groups we identify with.

Interesting research has shown that as early as three months, children start to show a preference for puppets like them, and enjoy seeing puppets different from them treated badly. (You can read my article about it here.) There is also evidence that we have innate altruism and generosity, but it's important to acknowledge that we're wired for both.

From an evolutionary perspective, this makes sense, right? Our hunter-gatherer forebears benefited from cooperation, sharing of resources, and safety in numbers. Hence, the need for connection that runs so deep in us.

But banding together with one group necessarily creates another group that needs to be avoided, so the acceptance and connection we share with those like us comes at a cost. It runs afoul of the readily-observable truths that I discussed in the podcast: things like the universality of struggle in the human experience and the lack of a fixed, identifiable self even within your own mind, etc.

Each line you draw in the sand separates you from your humanity a little bit more, and limits the extent to which you can connect broadly, open-heartedly, and compassionately with others . . . which are things you need to do in order to thrive.

So what we have is another instance of a perfectly logical tendency, hardwired in our primitive brains, that works well for survival, but opposes the human-specific needs and capacities that you need to meet and exercise if you want to function at your best.

If you've been following this blog and podcast for a while, you know that this is a conflict that crops up over and over again, in every dimension of life. Fortunately, while you may be stuck with a brain that can't make up its mind, so to speak, that doesn't prevent you from recognizing its conflicting motivations and lending your energy and support to the side of your choosing.