In his latest book Steven Pinker calls on us to be more rational. If only we thought about things and ditched our swift emotional responses, the world would be a better place. Underlying this cry, is the intellectual perplexity that democracy resulted in the election of Trump, and here in the UK, Brexit. Unfortunately, Pinker is barking up the wrong tree. He should have more faith in democracy and emotional, irrational humans.
The rational reason why Trump was elected, Brexit happened, and for that matter, why people voted for Hitler or Putin, is because we are still fundamentally tribal. We still have baggage from our prehistoric past.
The world is constantly changing and today is changing so fast that it’s hard to keep up. The world is getting smaller, people are moving around more and the internet gives voice to anyone. Based on limited and uncertain information how do people decide between candidates? Should our leaders be someone similar to ourselves or someone from another tribe? In the UK should the foreign leaders in Europe make the decisions or people from my British tribe? Should we vote for someone who will restore honour and respect to our tribe by economic or military strength (so compensating for past humiliations) or someone who accepts that the other tribes may have a better way of doing things, and in this interconnected world, knows we can‘t be strong with out them. Faced with such problems, the human default position ingrained in our evolutionary roots, is to stick together and back the tribe.
In the modern world we need to learn that tribalism is no longer helpful. We need to vote for the people who realise that the world must work together to solve global problems not tribal ones. Today, what tribe our leaders come from is increasingly irrelevant, it is more important that they want to make the world better for everyone. Fear of outsiders fails, if we know that they want the same things as us and want everyone to succeed and be happy. Democracy may have made short term "mistakes" in electing Trump and bringing about Brexit, but autocracies make bigger mistakes, such as invading Ukraine, pursuing Zero Covid or suppressing basic human rights and nature such as freedom of expression and equal rights.
If we can accept this, move on from our tribal roots and the fear of outsiders, maybe the world will be a better place.
Well that's my rational argument, Mr Pinker!