Tribal truth fallacy

During the 2020 US presidential election campaign, one of the starkest visual differences between Trump and Biden supporters was in the wearing of masks. Most Biden supporters appeared to wear masks, whereas most Trump supporters didn’t.

Even during Trump’s announcement of his nomination of Judge Amy Barrett to the US Supreme Court, very few people in the White House Rose Garden were wearing a mask. Worse still, some of the guests were seen hugging and kissing each other. 

As a result, the White House has become a COVID-19 ‘hotspot’ or super-spreader location, with seven attendees at the Justice Amy Barrett nomination announcement testing positive for coronavirus – even President Trump and the First Lady. More people caught the virus at the White House election ‘celebration night’. 130 Secret Service agents have also tested positive.

It is clear that at least some, if not most, of Trump supporters refuse to wear masks on political grounds. They seem to associate mask wearing with what they perceive to be ‘liberal’ pro-science attitudes. It is also possible that some Biden supporters might wear masks as a form of visual political opposition to the Trump supporters. In either case, this is irrational tribal behaviour. 

A similar phenomenon may be occurring in the climate change debate. Some beliefs against human causes of climate change may be genuinely (but mistakenly) held on the basis of personal interpretation of the evidence. But at least some of the far-right wing opposition is due to a perception of climate science being some sort of left-wing plot against fossil fuel industries.

The far left is not immune from such irrational tribal behaviour either. At least some of the opposition to GMOs and vaccines seems to be based on ideological opposition to large agribusinesses and the pharmaceutical industry, rather than on evidence-based health concerns.

Another example is where some atheists oppose the idea of free will simply because Christians believe in it.  (This is despite the fact that prominent atheists such as Professor Daniel Dennett also believe in free will).

The tribal truth fallacy lies not in the falsity of beliefs about mask wearing, climate change, GMOs, vaccines or free will per se; but in the basis for these beliefs being identification with one’s own tribe or opposition to a rival tribe.

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