Why do people act as they do politically?

Aesthetic theory of partisan attraction

Aesthetics is the study of beauty. For our purposes…

How do people choose which partisan tribe they find more pleasing and (more importantly) which one they loathe?

This is the “aesthetic theory of partisan attraction,” introduced with three, new and insightful terms… 

Aesthetic Attraction – Most people don’t vote on issues. They choose a tribe that feels more like them. Then, they engage in…

Aesthetic Alignment – Hardly anyone adopts their stands on most issues based on an overarching philosophy. They’re loyal to their tribe. They adopt the views that bind their tribe closer together against the opposing party.

The politicians implicitly understand this and appeal to their group’s aesthetic with…

Virtue Congratulation – Incumbents tend to win by empowering tribal subcultures — promising to put them in charge. The candidate panders to a vulnerability the subculture feels and turns it into a virtue: “They say X bad thing about you, but I know X isn’t true. Actually, your values are the most enlightened.” Think of Trump saying, “You’re not actually bigots. You love America more than they do, and you want to make it great again.”

NOTE: Virtue Signaling is something else. Politicians and their supporters alike do it. It’s how you show you’re on the team. Virtue Congratulation is a specific form of pandering.

About the Author

Lisa Talcott

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Show Comments 10


  1. Aesthetic Theory in not the best name. “Prefer Theory” is better. See 3. below.
    Human (including Libertarians) behavior:
    1. Behavior that is rewarded (positive result) tends to repeat, behavior that is punished (negative result) tends to stop. This process is called conditioning.
    2. Supply (seller) and demand (buyer) determines price, quality, quantity, style and availability; not government.
    3. Humans tend to accept what they like and reject what they do not like regardless of the truth. Belief Perseverance, Confirmation Bias and Attitude Polarization are related.
    4. Humans tend to rely on first information on a subject and reject information that contradicts the first. 1st impression.
    5. Humans tend to remember and put importance on the first item(s) in a list more than others. (Primacy Effect)
    6. The more emotional a person is about an issue the more closed-minded or biased he/she is.
    7. Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
    8. Greedy, selfish and irresponsible people include public servants (politicians).
    9. Humans tend to believe and trust public servants (known for lying) and “experts”.
    10. The majority of people can be wrong.
    11. Humans tend to believe and spread rumors (parroting).
    12. Humans tend to physically and mentally follow other people of their culture (like sheep).
    13. Humans dislike being blamed and will blame someone or something else for their faults and errors (scapegoat).
    14. Humans tend to imitate other people (copycat; monkey see, monkey do). – imitation
    15. Humans tend to favor and defend humans within their own group(s) (Ingroup Bias).
    16. Humans tend to take the route of least resistance to reach their goals (lazy or misology).
    17. Humans deal with fear and danger by fight, “flight” or “freeze”.
    18. Humans tend to conform to the “norm” regardless of truth or reasonableness.
    19. Humans tend to assume that defending someone or something is because of like, agreement or support.
    20. Humans tend to categorize items and actions that seem related even when not. Correlation does not prove causation.
    21. Anticipation of an event increases the perception that it is more likely to occur.
    22. Concentration, fixating causes humans to not notice other features (sight, sound, smell, touch) around.
    23. Mood or self-image causes humans to see themselves and others as having similar traits (projection). Depressed humans tend to see others as depressed.
    24. Assumptions, myths, personal history and knowledge (or lack of) tend to alter one’s perception.
    25. When given vague or incomplete information, humans tend to interpret and create details (read between the lines) that favor their point of view rather than research the details.
    26. Humans want to believe they know more than they do and may be confident in information that is wrong – Illusion of knowledge.

    1. Good list Randy. Your ” 10. The majority of people can be wrong.” is particularly important because (1) it’s proven to be true so many times, in so many ways; leading to some of the most terrible consequences in history, and (2) a belief in what is often called “the wisdom crowds” has been getting tragically too popular. It’s like many people really believe that absolute pelosi that majorities make the best, or even usually good, decisions. I think we all ought to counter the idea of crowds being wize, every time there is an opportunity for us to do it from now on. ay?

      1. Meaningful conceptual advances in art, music, mathematics and science have almost never happened because of a majority consensus; it’s almost always been from either the forward thrust of a single genius with a small committed following or from the concerted efforts of a small group of talented individuals bouncing ideas off one another. Why should it be any different in politics? The “Wisdom of the Crowd” has an IQ of about 80. You are right, Russell. The crowd is usually wrong and anyone who believes either in the sanctity of fatuous majoritarian democracy or in there being moral virtue in following the dictates of such a sorry enterprise is either a fool or an authoritarian follower. Perhaps we should look at Randy’s list of corollaries in a different light. He says “humans tend to” on many of them and some are just truisms so it would appear they are rules for group behavior and not useful descriptions of individuals. I agree with your proposal to point out crowd idiocy where ever possible in the hope of prying off a few awakening people from the herd. However I propose a different strategy. The Blackfoot nations of the central plains had an interesting hunting technique. They learned the social rules and behavioral triggers of the buffalo herds thoroughly. Using this knowledge they were able to reliably, year after year, with minimal effort, send the herd animals over the “buffalo jumps” (cliffs) and harvest the meat below. I suggest we learn the behavioral rules and cues of the herd animals in the Democratic and Republican parties and use this knowledge to lead them over buffalo jumps. Metaphorically of course.

      2. This has been understood since at least the time of Plato, if not before. Plato explained clearly why the representative republican form of government is superior to a straightforward majority-rules democracy.

        The founders of the USA were well-educated in these classical ideas and chose a representative republic for a very specific reason: as you stated succinctly, the majority can be and often is mistaken.

    2. Randy, first, this is a great list about how or why people do what they do. Is it yours? Either way, thank you for providing it.

      Second, two things can be said about your list, in general. One, the list demonstrates that humans are very complex, and there’s not one simple theory for how individuals or crowds react and behave in the political process. Two, each of the things on the list can have and actually has had entire articles, if not scientific studies and/or books written about them.

      My article was focused on one aspect of the problem that I believe is misunderstood by libertarians, who tend to be much more attracted to intellectual consistency as a high personal value (other personal values rank higher with other ideologies). Since logic and reason rank so high with libertarians, they use these tools even where they’re unlikely to make any persuasive progress with others. In a word…

      I don’t think that what “attracts” most people to their political positions is reasonable. Their method and motives created another path. I think your list only underscores this point. Had I taken the time to not only list but also explain these 26 items, I’ve got a book — not an article. And this could mean a very important point is lost.

      Some specific comments…

      Number 2, The State can restrict supply. And now, with insurance requirements, we see it can affect demand.

      Number 6, regarding a relationship between emotion and close-mindedness, is non-helpful. It can be true. But an emotion such as anger can come from cognitive dissonance. The emotion, in that case, is a positive sign that distress over inconsistency has shocked and awed the individual. It could be the first step to change.

      Numbers 13 and 14 are actually related processes. Check out the work of Rene Girard who connects imitation to scapegoating by way of envy and rivalry.

  2. Specifically, people act the way they do politically: A> When people affiliate or join a group they become biased for that group (In group bias, 15 above) and biased against opposing groups (Out group bias). So when someone becomes a Republican, for example, Republicans become the heroes and other parties become the problems and obstacles. Libertarians are no different. B> 3., 4., 9., 10., 12., 18..

  3. What’s helpful to keep in mind is that normal curiosity tends to break down these biases over time, while fear strengthens the bias. George Orwell explained this in his novel, “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, wherein three global superstates constantly fought a low level war on each other, primarily as a tool for controlling their own people. Fear drives people to follow habits, and is necessary to preserve bad habits.

    1. Bob, your last sentence is absolutely profound. Do you mind if I quote this?; I will certainly give you attribution. And I think fear is currently the predominate social psychology trigger being used by Statists to empower their various tribes, as Jim so aptly identified them. Fear of immigrants, fear of school shooters, fear of Russians, fear of people who don’t get a useless vaccine, fear of those who don’t deify experts; the actual threat from any of those groups is utterly insignificant, yet Statists from the Left and from the Right are able to gin up enormous public outrage through effective propaganda based on statistically meaningless specific events and then consequentially commit aggressive damage against the general body politic in the form of tyrannical laws and dominating abusive social memes. A case in point? In my state of Florida there was a school shooting where 17 kids died. In the big picture, so what? If that happened every week, I’d agree that maybe there was a problem that needed to be addressed. But no, Marjorie Stoneman Douglas was a one-off, and in the same year far more kids were killed by traffic accidents, drug overdoses and cancer. In a rational world there should have been NO sociopolitical response. But of course there was. Tribalists on the Left have mounted a crusade, saint-like figures and all, to ban “assault weapons” (whatever that is– I think it’s guns that have the right “look”, validating Jim & Perry’s assertion that we are indeed in the wheelhouse of Aesthetics). And the tribalists on the Right have actually codified their fears into law, militarizing the schools with visible cop presence and constantly reinforcing the memes of fear and obedience to authority into the students with daily shooter drills always accompanied by announcements over the intercoms to mindlessly follow orders. More like the Hitler Youth than public schools anymore. But it does show how effective the fear trigger can be for manipulating people. My question to you insightful Voluntaryists is then, what psychological technique do we use to neuter the fear propaganda trigger? I can argue all day long with a sixteen-year old that he’s more likely to win the Pick-4 than ever see a school shooter or that David Hogg is just an opportunistic charlatan, but he isn’t going to believe me based on logic. How do you turn this around?

  4. Étienne de la Boétie concluded that people vote for tyrants because it is traditional. How is that for a condemnation? No reason, no logic and no morality enter the equation, just simply, that is the way it has always been. So sad, so tragic.

    The Political Thought of Étienne de la Boétie By Murray N. Rothbard

    Keep in mind that political government is corporate as was made clear by O’Neal v. Wake Co. (NC), 1928.

    The sad truth is that neither Boétie nor Rothbard seemed to recognize that constitutional government/political government is not Christian but is Satanic rubbish that has supplanted Jehovah God’s Law.

    Politics is violence and political government is the bane of humanity. Voting sanctions politics and so it is an act of violence, too.

  5. re: “Virtue Congratulation – Incumbents tend to win by empowering tribal subcultures — promising to put them in charge.”

    A warning;

    “It is doubtful if the oppressed ever fight for freedom.
    They fight for pride and power — power to oppress others.
    The oppressed want above all to imitate their oppressors;
    they want to retaliate.”
    — Eric Hoffer

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