How Politics Became Our Identity with Lilliana Mason

June 17, 2020

Today it’s great to have the political psychologist Lilianna Mason on the podcast. Dr. Mason is associate professor of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland, College Park, and author of Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity (University of Chicago Press).

Dr. Mason received her PhD in Political Psychology from Stony Brook University and her BA in Politics from Princeton University. Her research on partisan identity, partisan bias, social sorting, and American social polarization has been published in journals such as American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, Public Opinion Quarterly, and Political Behavior, and featured in media outlets including the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, and National Public Radio.

Time Stamps

[00:35]              Introduction of Lilianna Mason

[02:00]              “Hope leaders” vs. “fear leaders”

[02:59]              The effects of polarization     

[05:32]              Social vs. policy polarization

[08:08]             Social identity theory explaining intergroup behavior

[11:01]              How social homogeneity has changed over recent years

[13:28]              How racial identity shapes social status

[16:06]              Why people value social status over money

[20:59]              Lilianna explains the “frightful despotism” in George Washington’s farewell address

[24:45]              The role of emotions,  and why they matters

[27:09]              What might happen in the next election in the United States

[31:50]              The importance of political participation in democracy

[33:31]              Common behaviors of in-groups and out-groups

[37:35]              Lilianna shares her research on the 2016 United States election data

[40:12]              “Contact Theory”

[42:53]              The emerging awareness of racism and discrimination of African Americans

[47:28]              The impact of systemic racism on African Americans across generations

[54:27]              Lilianna reflects on the impact of the Confederacy in culture

[56:50]              The use of derogatory racial slurs as a new social norm

[1:00:07]           Self-affirmation to remind a person of their self-worth


Call to Action

How do you deal with people who appear to be racist? Were any of the topics discussed by Lilianna Mason an eye opener to you? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments section down below and make sure to subscribe for more content.

3 Responses to “How Politics Became Our Identity with Lilliana Mason”

  1. Shawn O'Brien says:

    I would vote for you, Scott! This is an insightful supplement to the work of Jonathan Haidt. Haidt and Mason don’t contradict each other, but rather supplement each other, as they focus on different aspects of our tribal psychology. It wasn’t surprising to hear that when surveyed, the majority of Americans are left of center on policy, since Michael Moore says that a lot. The fact that people will vote against their own stated policy preferences and their own self interest is also well known. But there’s an exception, as there’s one group of people for whom one policy is absolutely the determining factor in their voting choice, and they helped elect Trump based on it: White Evangelicals and abortion. Trump’s character and behavior is the polar opposite of what Evangelicals preach, and they know it. They made a deal with the devil (sometimes grudgingly admittedly) to get their anti-abortion judges. I was disappointed this wasn’t discussed, but not really surprised. It’s a critical topic if Democrats hope to beat Trump, and absolutely nobody talks about it. It’s time to have a nuanced conversation on abortion, such as that had by David Gushee and Frances Kissling (first link below). I’ve always been puzzled why Pro-Life folks think that outlawing abortion will end the practice, since we did that once, and abortion continued to happen. (Wealthier women had safe abortions in other countries, while poorer women had unsafe and sometimes deadly “back alley” abortions). The only effective way to prevent abortion is to ensure all females of child-bearing age have easy and affordable access to birth control, so the only logical action for Pro-Life folks is to advocate for that. They not only fail to do so, but many actively try to restrict access to birth control. I’ve been wondering if all Evangelical Christians are ignorant of this history, and also incapable of logic? Then I discovered that they used to SUPPORT a woman’s right to choose! So why did they switch positions? As the second link below explains, desegregation. Apparently we can’t escape the ugly tentacles of racism on any issue. Scott, please address this important topic in an upcoming podcast. You’ll be the only one!



  2. Christopher says:

    Terrific episode!

    Very delighted to hear Jonathan Metzl’s work being mentioned. I recently became aware of his previous and also very timely book The Protest Psychosis, which I think should be on more of our radars as quarantine fatigue, unemployment across major divides and multi-level reform in mental healthcare can more readily be met head on.


    Oddly enough, just before the nationwide protests, I was actually pinned with such a protest psychosis. For some time, I had strongly expressed discontent with the exhausting hassle of limited access to quality social / health services and other systemic barriers that environed it. I’m a millennial, eccentric college educated filmmaker with a work and family history in civil rights activism who also happens to be black. Posing no harm to myself or others but not in the position to convince, I was involuntarily committed for 5 days, concluding that I was not seriously mental ill.

    Whether I was essentially held as a political prisoner or not has been quite the puzzle ponder, but the historical parallels, recent analysis and the fact that this is even a possibility today is simply stunning. Although I’m quite progressive, I’m also somewhat of sympathetic John McWhorter’s (and Glenn Loury’s) critiques. I think they make crucial contributions to discourse which needs to be heard and discussed. The systemic and institutional failures in our country need be addressed. These are very wicked problems that require our attention.

    This episode has certainly made the re-listen list.

  3. Daniel says:

    Hoi Scott,

    thank you for this episode. I like episodes that provide me with things I didn’t know, episodes that provide me with different viewpoints (even I don’t adopt them, it’s nice to be able to see issues from different points of view), and episodes that make me more aware about the pitfalls we can all fall into. You’ve done all three of them, and this was mostly the later (sorry, kinda a cheap shot, but yeah, I wouldn’t do it if I did not see the value).

    But it reminded me of a great caution against confirmation bias by Richard Bradley «… because I was inclined to believe it, I abandoned my critical judgment. I lowered my guard. The lesson I learned: One must be most critical, in the best sense of that word, about what one is already inclined to believe.»

    Listening to it, I got the impression you two did «listen to each other too much» (to quote Heinlein). I guess most psychologists are on the left, and I don’t think that’s a good situation. Most being on the right wouldn’t be better. I think viewpoint diversity is needed and and perspective taking can easily suffer if this viewpoint diversity lacking.

    But still, interesting episode, even though it did make my blood boil (and I’m not even an US American).

    But I do have a few questions:

    1. At one point during the interview, you questioned what will happen in the next election «now that people have seen the truth» (around 27 minutes in).

    I think that science should search for truth, and there is actually a better and worse supported (by arguments and evidence). But «the truth»? Or perhaps even «the Truth»? Once I hear that term, the red lighting goes on and the hairs on my neck raise … quickly. We all have biases, and I wish I knew mine better (and that I could accept them if I knew them), but what are yours?

    What do you consider as «the t/Truth»? And why do you think it violated before?

    2. I find it … interesting that all the examples for systematic discrimination came with a «had». As written, I’m not am American, but I think there is a huge difference whether systemic racism did ever exist vs. whether it still exists (which is a matter for argument and evidence). There is also a *huge* difference between *racist people* and *systemic racism*, and somehow these two different issues seemed to bleed into one in that conversation. So, I wonder, what would be *current* examples of *systemic* racism? And why are blacks (apparently) affected by it, but (apparently) not asians? And is there something like race-baiting, because some people or institutions have a vested interest in some problems to continue to be … a problem?

    I also wonder whether you might have something in common with Dave Rubin (a huge compliment, from my perspective), when he talked to Larry Elder (during the Obama presidency): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IFqVNPwsLNo (the relevant part — here — starts at 21:55, and comes to a focus at 24:10).

    3. I also found the issue of «willing to accept disadvantages as long as you have it better than others» interesting. And I wonder about the so-called «soft bigotry of low expectations». Is there a danger of using «caring about others» as a way to improve or inflate one’s own self-esteem? That it feels good to act in public support for others, especially when the person doing the «support» actually has it better than the people this person seemingly supports?

    And yeah, it is very likely (almost certain) that some people exist that value status over everything else, including accepting disadvantages for themselves as long as they are still better than, e.g., «black people». But frankly, I would like to see some critical questioning here. And yeah, I also agree that people are people (or to quote Terry Pratchett — who should be a honorary posthumous psychologist — «It may help to understand human affairs to be clear that most of the great triumphs and tragedies of history are caused, not by people being fundamentally good or fundamentally evil, but by people being fundamentally people.»), but this just sounds very much like «aren’t we better than *those* people»? I.e. aren’t we better than *those racists*. And how couldn’t you be — they are racists. It’s a really comforting view of the world. And it might be true. But the same processes could apply here … a person might accept not knowing more about the intricacies of an issue, as long as they feel they have a higher status than those they consider to be, well, the racists or perhaps even the so-called «poor white trash».

    4. One last question — I got the impression (and it’s only that, an impression), that you somewhat hedged your critical questioning to some of the ideas your guest brought forth. Like «someone could say» or whatever the exact wording was. Or the issue of the number of black vs white people dying in police encounters. And I wonder — how do you as someone what has interacted with lots and lots of highly interesting people judge the issue of viewpoint diversity in psychology? Are there — to use Haidt — «sacred truths»? Are there issues you cannot question, otherwise, you’ll end up an apostate? And in any religion, apostates are way worse than (always have-been) non-believers. Non-believers just did not encounter «the truth», but apostates did know «the truth» and did turn away from it. And how could that ever be if it was «the truth»? If I’m not mistaken, that is something *every* dogmatic religion did — punish people who turn away from the faith more strongly than those who never had it — for good reason. Whether it’s Christianity in earlier times, Islam or the Left (capital L) today.

    And again, thank you for making me think. I did not like the emotions that came with these cognitions, but I like the thinking itself. 🙂

    Best regards


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