Why Can’t We Be Friends? The Joy of the Political Fight

October 30, 2012 BY danariely

Journalists, businesses, comedians, and the rest of us have been crying out to politicians, “Why so much fighting?” and asking, “Can’t we all just get along?” Despite these calls for bipartisanship and peace in Washington, the quarrels rage on. Why?

Although politicians say they wish the fighting would end, they may actually take pleasure in the brawl. It may be emotionally rewarding for partisans to be in the “smarter” and “morally superior” party.

Psychological research shows how derogating members of other cultural groups can make oneself feel superior and can even increase one’s self-esteem.

This may explain why partisans’ lives are so often full of tweeting, Facebooking, and protesting about how other parties are terrible. Such actions may be motivated more by the desire to immediately improve their self-esteem and feel self-righteous than by the desire to improve policy.

For instance, many liberals tweet claims that conservatives do not care for the poor. One explanation for this could be that liberals really do care for the poor, but they may also tweet this because it makes them feel better to be the good guy fighting for the poor compared the conservatives that they claim are evil and selfish.

Because viewing the other party as evil can make oneself feel better by comparison, partisans might actually want the other party to be evil. Conservatives may actually want Obama to be a communist and liberals may actually want Romney to be universally against women’s rights. These claims fit the self-flattering good versus evil narrative, where the opposing party is the Evil Empire and the partisan’s own team is the heroic Rebel Alliance fighting for good.

So when we ask the question, “Can’t we stop the fighting?”  The answer seems to be, “No, the self-righteous fighting is too much fun!”

~Troy Campbell & Rachel Anderson~