History tells us that ideological ‘purity spirals’ rarely end well

Katrin Redfern and Richard Whatmore in The Conversation:

Identity politics has become a secular religion and, like any strict sect, apostates are severely punished.

This can lead to a “purity spiral”, with the more extreme opinion the more rewarded in a pattern of increasing escalation. Nuance and debate are the casualties, and a kind of moral feeding frenzy results.

Are purity spirals inevitable? It is natural for humans to form “in” and “out” groups. Identifying a common enemy is often the key to group solidarity. Nationalist politicians and the marketing teams who serve them know how effective such strategies can be with ill-informed electorates. Equally, if an individual can manifest virtues valued by the group, this fosters a sense of self-worth and belonging.

Unsurprisingly, we have been here before. History demonstrates the ease with which ordinary people commit atrocious acts, particularly during crises. When you believe you are morally superior, when you dehumanise those you disagree with, you can justify almost anything.

More here.

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