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The Ethical Paradox of Group Loyalty

May 25, 2009

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divided by faithIn Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America, Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith talk about the way in which individuals in groups tend to be loyal to (and thereby committed to the welfare of) other insiders, which is ethically laudable. However, group insiders simultaneously tend to take a “sucks to be you” attitude toward outsiders (that’s my paraphrase, of course). So the social solidarity that encourages ethical behavior within the group may encourage unethical behavior toward those outside of the group.

They also note that sociological research has demonstrated that people tend to evaluate others within their own groups positively and people in other groups negatively, even when the groups are randomly assigned. This bias in favor of one’s own group of course exacerbates the paradox of group loyalty.

I found the following images on the internet that might help me illustrate these principles the next time I teach this book. (I previously talked about how I use this book to teach about white privilege here.)

From the comic strip xkcd on “pep rallies” (click to see original size):


This is a t-shirt you can buy at the Onion online store:


4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 26, 2009 1:45 am

    I don’t really see stuff like this as a big deal. I mean, people should not be taught that it is cool to trample on all out-group folks. But at the same time, the natural in-group bias… I think is more productive than it is harmful. The important thing seems to me to be to ensure everyone is part of an in-group, and that all in-groups are provided a minimum degree of resources to manage.

  2. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    May 26, 2009 11:51 am

    Sophia, I see having group identities as a condition of possibility for making society function—in that sense identities are enabling. However, I don’t think that we have a world where the resources available to each group are equal (and it doesn’t seem to be heading that way, either). I would allege that the gap between groups is increasing because of this in-group bias.

  3. May 26, 2009 1:28 pm

    Well it seems to me, aiming to distribute resources better is likely to be a more productive approach than aiming to change group loyalty.


  1. The Minimal Group Paradigm » Sociological Images

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