Guidelines (page 2)

Arnold Kling (pictured to left) explains the tendency for those in political debate to use motivated reasoning by tying it to our tribal past. 

“If we have evolved to seek status within a tribal context, then it is easy to see how motivated reasoning in politics would emerge. We can demonstrate loyalty to our tribe by arguing in support of our group’s beliefs and attacking the beliefs of rival groups. The more skilled we become at doing so, the higher will be our status within the group. On the other hand, constructive reasoning may not be so well rewarded. If you find merits in the other group’s point of view, you risk losing status to those who are more unambiguously loyal. If you go too far, you may be branded a traitor and shunned by your tribe. The theory that tribes seek differentiation in terms of language, rituals, and beliefs may explain the phenomenon of disagreement. In a paper “Are Disagreements Honest?” Tyler Cowen and Robin Hanson suggest that the existence of persistent disagreement is evidence that people are not rational truth-seekers. They propose that people have self-serving beliefs and deceive themselves. In my terminology, people engage in motivated reasoning at an unconscious level but believe consciously that they are engaged in constructive reasoning. My explanation for persistent disagreement is to interpret “self-serving beliefs” as beliefs that enhance one’s status within a tribe. Of course, expressing beliefs that elevate the status of my tribe relative to that of rival tribes can be particularly effective for raising my status within my tribe.”

Here he explains the three political tribes:

“Most of us are committed members of one of the major political tribes, which I call progressive, conservative, and libertarian. We are concerned about our status within our tribe, and each tribe confers higher status on members who extol its virtues and who condemn the vices of other tribes. For praise and condemnation, each tribe prefers a different language.”

The three political tribes have a style of language that operates on a well-defined dimension, summarized in the chart below:


The Highest virtue is to be on the side of…

The Worst sin is to be
Aligned with…


the oppressed

the oppressor


civilizing institutions

those who would tear down civilizing institutions and thereby promote barbarism.


liberty and individual choice

expanding the scope of government control over our lives


In the following chart, I have summarized (again from The Three Languages of Politics by Arnold Kling) some of the key points about these three political tribes.




Most comfortable with language that frames political issues in terms of oppressors and oppressed. Most comfortable with language that frames political issues in terms of civilization and barbarism. Most comfortable with language that frames political issues in terms of freedom and coercion.
Have as heroes people who have stood up for the underprivileged.  

Cannot stand people who do not seem to care about the oppression of working people, minorities and women.

Have as heroes people who have stood up for civilization and long-standing traditional values.

Cannot stand people who do not seem to mind the assault on the moral virtues and traditions that are the foundation for our civilization.

Have as heroes people who have stood up for the individual’s right to his or her own choices. 

Cannot stand people who want government to impose their value system on everyone.

Tend to believe in human betterment. They see nearly unlimited potential for humans to improve materially and, more important, morally. Tend to believe in human weakness.  The dark side of human nature will never be eradicated. It can only be tamed by social institutions, including the family, religion, and government. Take away those institutions, and what emerges is Lord of the Flies. Tend to believe in human rationality. People pursue ends, and they act as they do for good reason.
Inclined to revere science. They believe that science can help in the project of human betterment. They put social science on par with physical science, and they embrace social science as a guide to public policy. They believe that they must protect science from conservatives who disdain it. Inclined to revere the past, including religious and cultural tradition. They tend to be less optimistic than progressives or libertarians about the future. They fear that civilization is or will soon be in decline, due to a loss of traditional values. Inclined to revere technology. They see technology as a liberating force. They are less likely than progressives or conservatives to be concerned with the adverse effects of technology.
View markets as prone to failure. The failures of markets can be, and must be, addressed by using government policy. Success in the market often reflects luck, and it may be an unjust reward for exploitation. View markets as promoting virtue. Success in the market must be earned and is usually well deserved. View markets as promoting peaceful cooperation. Everyone succeeds in the market, because each voluntary exchange benefits both parties, and the entire network of voluntary exchange creates remarkable abundance.

Okay, I hope the light bulb of insight has turned on for you.  Now that we can see the difference between the tribes, we have a basis for discussing our growing political divide.  So let’s continue, because, as I said, there is hope.

Click here:    Goto Page 3

The source of this fascinating material is:  “The Three Languages of Politics” by Arnold Kling.  If you want to learn these languages, you should read the book.  

It is available via kindle for $3.99.  

Or, you can listen to a video presentation by Arnold Kling on the Three Languages of Politics here.