Conformity Shows Loyalty

"The world has too many people showing too much loyalty to their groups.  That is why I’m so proud to be member of ALU, anti-loyalists united, where we refuse to show loyalty to any other groups. My local chapter just kicked out George for suspicion of showing loyalty to California, and we chastised Ellen for expressing doubts about the latest anti-loyalty directives from headquarters.  We’ll only lick loyalty by showing we are united behind our courageous ALU leaders.  All hail ALU!"

Sounds pretty silly, right?  But I hear something pretty similar when I hear folks say they are proud to be part of a group that fights conformity by pushing their unusual beliefs.  Especially when such folks seem more comfortable claiming their beliefs contribute to diversity than that they are true.   

We use belief conformity to show loyalty to particular groups, relative to other groups.  We rarely bother to show loyalty to humanity as a whole, because non-humans threaten little.  So we rarely bother to try to conform our beliefs with humanity as a whole, which is why herding experiments with random subjects show no general conformity tendencies

Our conformity efforts instead target smaller in-groups, with more threatening out-groups.  And we are most willing to conform our beliefs on abstract ideological topics, like politics or religion, where our opinions have few other personal consequences.  Our choices show to which conflicting groups we feel the most allied.   

You just can’t fight "conformity" by indulging the evil pleasure of enjoying your conformity to a small tight-knit group of "non-conformists."  All this does is promote some groups at the expense of other groups, and poisons your mind in the process.  It is like fighting "loyalty" by dogged devotion to an anti-loyalty alliance.

Best to clear your mind and emotions of group loyalties and resentments and ask, if this belief gave me no pleasure of rebelling against some folks or identifying with others, if it was just me alone choosing, would my best evidence suggest that this belief is true?  All else is the road to rationality ruin. 

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  • http://denisbider.blogspot.com denis bider

    Why is that which you speak of so alien to me?

    Do you know of these evil feelings first-hand?

    I’ve sure seen the conforming behavior that you’ve described, and I’ve always been puzzled by it. It makes no sense to me. It is foreign, it’s bewildering.

    I cannot fathom how grown individuals, adults, can walk and talk and have such “evil” feelings as you describe them.

    How common is this?

  • http://wintershaven.net Jacob Wintersmith

    We need to purge humanity’s fifth column NOW, before the squirrels kill us all!

  • eric falkenstein

    There are several issues here. One, men highlight diversity as a goal, not a means to some end which might be productivity or truth. Indeed, if you look at most university web sites I think you would have to think that diversity is the most popular societal principle in secondary education, which necessarily implies good things that need not be enumerated. This is PC silliness, the result of centuries of education.

    The other issue is groups that highlight ‘non-conformism’ as a sort of a ‘fight the power’ type of virtue, a fire that offsets the over-reach of ‘The Man’ in his various guises. This is more of an adolescent hope, that their inarticulate frustration with constraints–from parents, authorities, realities–is somehow truly noble.

    But then their is the issue of deviating from the consensus–risk taking. Most is a waste, some is very useful. Most ‘scientific revolutions’ are from cranks, some are, well, scientific revolutions. I think, like civil disobedience, you should simply take the risk, and society should assume you are a crank, and if you are a minority and a correct genius revolutionary, you should expect posterity to thank you, not the present. Society can not afford to reward everyone who says we should turn the existing order upside down-it’s impractical.

  • talisman

    Could you clarify what Asch’s experiment shows? In Eliezer’s early big post on the subject, he discusses the possibility that the “conformity” is Aumannian, but then presents substantial follow-on evidence that it isn’t. In what way (per your last post) does it show the power of independence?

  • Overcoming Laziness

    “We rarely bother to show loyalty to humanity as a whole, because non-humans threaten little.”

    What does it mean to be human then?

  • Stuart Armstrong

    But I hear something pretty similar when I hear folks say they are proud to be part of a group that fights conformity by pushing their unusual beliefs. Especially when such folks seem more comfortable claiming their beliefs contribute to diversity than that they are true.

    Defense lawyers… where it’s essential that their stated beliefs contribute to diversity, not that they be true.

    Politicians, ideally; you want a variety of beliefs on offer, where elections select approximately among them – and therefore give some crude indication of the distribution of beliefs in the population.

    Since sucess in bussiness needs massive overconfidence, and since there must be a diversity of options available for the market to make its decision, we need bussiness groups with strong but unjustified confidence in their semi-plausible ideas.

    Any situation in life where long experience has shown that its more reliable to try and get several opposing biased viewpoints than a single impartial one.

  • Gary

    Robin, you probably suspect that a lot of the things you do are about status, including shaming those on “the road to rationality ruin”. Realizing the “is”, you’ve moved on to the “ought”.

    How likely is it that you will achieve escape velocity from human nature? Still think it’s a worthy goal?

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    Jacob, human-squirrel divisiveness cannot be tolerated; mammals must remain united against the insects!

    Denis, yes I have first-hand experience.

    Eric, if you actually have evidence for you odd views, you should expect to live among an institution that encourages authorities to review your evidence and then be convinced.

    Talisman, Asch thought he found an encouraging amount of independent thinking among his subjects.

    Stuart, I’m not convinced you need massive overconfidence in a business venture to make it work.

    Gary, human nature is not infinitely flexible, but it does flex enough to make it worth searching for better ways of being human.

  • http://sapereaudere.blogspot.com Anibal

    This is an eternal global problem in social coordination.

    How to balance the two antognist forces that shape individual social behaviour.

    On the one hand, the necessity to be the one and only , different from the rest, and on the other hand, the necessity to be part of the group and be accepted.

    I believe we just have to learn to live with it. Why some people are more conformists and other non-conformists and in between know something about it, would not lead us to predict social outrages, riots, revolutions…

  • Jef Allbright

    Conflict is necessary to increasing cooperation, problems are necessary to increasing creativity, risk is necessary to survival strategies, variation is necessary to evolution, and fundamentally, entropy is necessary to increasing synergies.

    Summarized rather nicely in this recent paper as “self-organization proposes what natural selection disposes.”

  • Michael Howard

    Robin (emphasis mine):

    We rarely bother to show loyalty to humanity as a whole, because non-humans threaten little.

    Why do you believe that’s the reason? Would you expect more sacrifice for the species as a whole at the expense of ourselves/in-groups if non-human life was a greater threat?

  • billswift

    What he seemed to mean was that in-group/out-group differences would move more to human/nonHuman if there were a nonHuman threat rather than being human in-groups versus human out-groups.

  • Jordan

    The tone of the quote and the close line “All hail” are very reminiscent of Discordianism. The idea, as I read it, is to at once point out the problem (too much irrational group loyalty) and simultaneously refute the natural tendency one might use to fight the problem (more group loyalty, or the ALU here) via tongue-in-cheek satire.

  • Stuart Armstrong

    Stuart, I’m not convinced you need massive overconfidence in a business venture to make it work.

    You need to project massive confidence – much easier to do if you are overconfident (so you’d expect to find much more overconfidence in business ventures than in general). Even if you’re just projecting confidence, it does put you in a situation similar to the one you described: you are claiming certain beliefs, and the important thing is the content of the beliefs, not their truths.

    Similar examples in auditors, tax inspectors, some scientific situations, and many institutionalised checks and balance: for the situation to work, people need to act as if they had certain beliefs (that this company is hiding something in their books, say) before knowing anything about their truth. A suspicious tax inspector would get better results than one whose beliefs are more accurate.

    Anyway, not strictly relevant to your post, but relevant to the general thread behind it.

  • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

    Stuart,
    A case can be made that an individual suspicious tax collector or overconfident business person would most likely get worse results, since they’re operating with a distorted map. I think the argument (at least with business) is that society as a whole is enriched by having a bunch of people overconfident enough to have individually undiversified business plans. I think that’s the stronger case for encouraging individually irrational behavior in segments of society -the behavior doesn’t seem to become individually rational without substantial redistribution of wealth, it seems to me (not that I’m advocating for that).

  • Bill Spickerman

    Are we as humans NOT social beings? Without some allegiance to conformity, how would be exist? I agree totally with this statement:

    “You just can’t fight “conformity” by indulging the evil pleasure of enjoying your conformity to a small tight-knit group of “non-conformists.” All this does is promote some groups at the expense of other groups, and poisons your mind in the process. It is like fighting “loyalty” by dogged devotion to an anti-loyalty alliance.”
    IMO to be a true non-conformist, I would have to live alone isloated from all humanity, to do anything else would be conforming behavior.

    Bill

  • http://brokensymmetry.typepad.com Michael F. Martin

    Does this approach to overcoming bias presuppose methodological individualism?