Evidence Based Techniques for Transcending Political Divisions: Newt Gingrich Praising Nelson Mandela

Human beings are the only ultra-social species (e.g. we gather and cooperate in groups of thousands and millions) where there is not a common reproductive source (e.g. a queen bee or queen ant).  The trick that allows human beings to form such large scale groups is in our moral motivations, which enable us to suppress individualistic goals in service of the group.  This trick is powerful and has a dark side, whereby we can demonize and reflexively oppose anything that benefits the other group.

This phenomenon was evident following the recent passing of Nelson Mandela, who generally is more likely to be cited as a role model by liberals and minorities.   For example, some members of the conservative base reacted negatively to praise of Mandela by conservatives like Ted Cruz.  The motivations to deny moral credentials to members of an opposing group are strong, yet psychological research suggests that one can mitigate the effect by positing larger super-ordinate groups with common goals and by demonstrating positive relationships between members of different groups.

Newt Gingrich demonstrated both of these tactics in a recent statement, entitled "What would you have done?"

Some of the people who are most opposed to oppression from Washington attack Mandela when he was opposed to oppression in his own country. [Freedom as a super-ordinate goal across groups ]

When he visited the Congress I was deeply impressed with the charisma and the calmness with which he could dominate a room. It was as if the rest of us grew smaller and he grew stronger and more dominant the longer the meeting continued. [Demonstrating personal attachment ] 

Many of the ways to reduce inter-group division that we at Civil Politics wish to highlight are used regularly by politicians with good intuitions who understand moral psychology at an implicit level, without necessarily knowing the social science that supports what they do.  We hope to make these techniques more explicit so that any interested group or individual can use these methods to break down group divisions consciously as well.

– Ravi Iyer

  If you want to hear more on hive psychology, consider watching this video:

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