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In episode #1743 of The Joe Rogan Experience, Stephen Pinker sits down with Rogan to talk about the scarcity of rationality within certain segments of our society. Pinker outlines his theory that while some areas of civilization are becoming more rational over time, there appears to be a growing disparity of rational thought between specific groups and organizations. He gives examples of increasing signs of rationality within the realms of charity, professional sports, policing, and governmental institutions. On the other hand, Pinker references the rising number of conspiracy theorists with irrational ideas about chemtrails and microchip-infused vaccines created by Bill Gates. 

Pinker and Rogan suggest that one of the main perpetrators of irrational ideas appears to be political party identification. As Rogan states, more often than not “irrational thought is confined to your party lines”. He presents the example that, “if you are right-wing, then you are more likely to dismiss the worries of climate change.” Pinker expands on that statement by stating that dismissal of climate change has more to do with political ideology than it does scientific literacy.  

This all corresponds to Pinker’s larger theory about fake news, conspiracy theories, and irrationality as a whole. According to Pinker, a lot of these thought processes seem to originate from what he terms the “my side bias”. “You believe in the sacred beliefs of your own clique, your own political party, your coalition, your tribe,” says Pinker. At the same time, this creates an “othering” effect where those that are outside of your sphere of belief must be wrong or inaccurate in their thoughts.  

The end result of this type of tribal belief segregation is that many people simply adopt the ideas of the group or community that they feel the strongest belonging to. Within our two-party democratic system, this segmented belief structuring often leads to opinions dominating facts and things like fake news, conspiracy theories, and misinformation constantly working their way to the surface. As Pinker states, “there has been a rise in negative polarization,” which increases our openness to irrational thoughts provided that they appear to work in favor of our “team”. 

Check out the clip from the Stephen Pinker interview below:

Or, listen to Stephen Pinker’s full interview on The Joe Rogan experience via Spotify.

You can also watch more of Stephen Pinker discussing topics of media literacy, fake news, and misinformation in our documentary, Trust Me, available now on Vimeo On Demand