The patriotism bias

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Today, Hypothica-style topic submission!

North Hypothica and South Hypothica are close to each other. Both countries have a lot in common. They vote similar laws, have similar ethnic diversity, have about the same population and nearly the same religions. They usually agree on most laws, and an outsider like you would probably not even see any cultural difference betwen both countries, except for one little fact. They hate each other. They don’t hate each other like North Korea Hates America. It’s more of a friendly rivalry thing. Just like many people hate other sports team and love theirs. From an outsider’s perspective, there really is no reason for them to always fight, since they’re prety much the same. But for them, it is important. It is just so important, that most of them would never consider immigrating to the other country because they don’t want to be part of “them”.

It really doesn’t make sense. But that doesn’t only happen in Hypothica. This also happens in real life. Lots of people have inconditional love for their home sports team, while hating several other teams. The team can change management, switch owners, trade most of their players, it’s still “the only good team”. People seem to love their country, and are proud of it. From any rational point of view, if you are born somewhere, you have no reason to brag about it, since you had no say in the matter. Anyone will tell you that your existence is not great enough to make your country instantly the best because you are born in it. There is an obvious cognitive bias here. All other factors being equal, we have a tendency to not only prefer whatever feels closer to us, but to also start actively hating or strongly disliking whatever else there was. We feel a need to be part of a group, and to have an opponent to fight, in order to feel alive, useful, or whatever it is that a person needs to feel.

credit: Wait But Why

I can understand why, thousands of years ago, this helped the species survive. Even if this fuels war, this also makes people team up so that at least some of us survive the war. The thing is, today, we don’t need this particular bias in order to team up. Nobody expects to survive on their own anyway, so the bias mostly shows up in words instead of actual actions. Obviously, this doesn’t apply where there are actual reasons to group up and argue or fight with another group, like a country or group that actively attacked us for example. This only applies to the bias in situations where there is no real difference between both groups, except in which of them you were born the closest to. So the question is:

Is there any actual value in the patriotism bias in today’s world, or does it mostly cause problems and is more bad than good?

  • Sorry not to have commented on this article, but the sports analogy leaves me completely cold. But yes, there’s a lot of tribalism in mass sports, especially football for some reason. In some places, eg. parts of Scotland, it’s also a sectarian (Catholic/Protestant) thing, as in the well documented rivalry between two Glasgow teams: Celtic and Rangers. But so what?

  • Kingfisher12

    As you say, it’s a good hypothesis that tribalism helped stronger groups have an advantage over weaker groups. In terms of group dynamics, especially large groups, it’s tough to find something stronger than tribalism to help people cheer on and aid someone they don’t even know.

    Where it becomes a negative is where everything becomes negative – when it becomes “anti-” something instead of purely “pro-” something. While it may be true that helping your tribe may necessarily involve thwarting an opposing tribe, it does not follow that everything that thwarts your opponent helps you.

    Healthy competition is where teams strive to become better than their opponent, which requires improvement.
    Unhealthy competition is where beating your opponent is more important than becoming better. When you become less focused on your own progress, and more focused on jealousy, it is destructive for all involved.