Saturday, July 9, 2016

infosift: cohesion & conflict

On my way to cash my paycheck last week I happened to catch a Here & Now segment in which journalist Ryan Lenz is interviewed about high-profile white supremacist Matthew Heinbach, whom Lenz calls "the youthful face of hate in America." One remark in particular piqued my attention:
It's interesting to note about Heinbach's whole worldview: he disguises or conceals or covers up his racism through what he calls Christian love. He says I don't hate anybody, I just love white people. It's a very interesting moral twist.
Most surprising about this is Lenz's incredulity. This sort of thing isn't "interesting," at least not in any sense synonymous with "unusual" or "unexpected." The obverse of embrace is rejection, after all. One entity cannot be held in preference without depreciation to everything that is not that entity. Booing the Yankees is corollary to cheering the Red Sox. The insider calls it "community spirit;" the outsider calls it "insularity."

And so on.

Famed sociologist William Graham Sumner (Folkways: a study of the sociological importance of usages, manners, customs, mores, and morals, 1906) places in-group cohesion in the position of the cart, drawn into being by the snorting horse of out-group adversity:
The relationship of comradeship and peace in the we-group and that of hostility and war towards others-groups are correlative to each other. The exigencies of war with outsiders are what make peace inside, lest internal discord should weaken the we-group for war. ...
Ethnocentrism is the technical name for this view of things in which one's own group is the center of everything, and all others are scaled and rated with reference to it ... Each group nourishes its own pride and vanity, boasts itself superior, exalts its own divinities, and looks with contempt on outsiders. ... [E]thnocentrism leads a people to exaggerate and intensify everything in their own folkways which is peculiar and which differentiates them from others.
It is by no means a rule that membership in a group or tribe must be purchased through a common ethnic identity—but the fact is that even now, two centuries into the globalization process and two decades after the global village began ballooning into a boom town, the demarcations of group identity often fracture along ethnic lines (as exemplified, sickeningly, by the NRA's "no comment" response to the murderous violation of Philando Castile's Second Amendment rights).

Sociology is a funny discipline. Whereas economics is the dismal science—one works with endless heaps of correlative ratio data, but efforts at predictive modelling are still basically educated guesses—sociology is the dim science: observations abound, but hardly any of them are quantitative. Can the internal harmony of a group be gauged in terms of love points? What's the standard unit of measurement for hostility? Are we pretty much left with an assortment of rules of thumb and aphorisms?

Possibly. Probably. But that doesn't keep people from trying to lend truisms of human behavior some empirical heft—as did one Arthur A. Stein in the 1970s, who weighs Sumner's thesis against a review of germane studies conducted in the fields of anthropology, economics, psychology, and political science ("Conflict and cohesion: a review of the literature," The Journal of Conflict Resolution 1976). The short version? It's complicated, but some definite patterns seem to emerge.

(Wall of Text incoming. A close read isn't necessary; just skimming it will do.)
In a later study, Otterbein (1968) focuses on the occurrence of internal war (i.e., warfare between culturally similar political communities). Again, there is no confirmation of the hypothesis that the occurrence of external war (i.e., warfare between culturally different communities) is inversely related to the occurrence of internal war. Once again, the intervening variable of political complexity (i.e., level of political integration) is introduced. Since centralized political systems (i.e., systems with high levels of political integration) have officials who can prevent unauthorized parties from engaging in war, it is presumed that such officials can ally with similar political communities in order to face a culturally different enemy in warfare. But this hypothesis is not confirmed. External war and internal war are not inversely related even for centralized political systems. ...

These fascinating studies provide a number of plausible, but not sufficiently confirmed, intervening variables. We have already seen that Williams and Coser suggest that the group must exist as a group prior to the involvement in external conflict and must have some prior solidarity. This is confirmed by Otterbein, since culturally similar political communities which had not previously existed as one community did not ally in the occurrence of external war. Cohesion did not result because no group existed prior to the external conflict. It is clear, therefore, that a second set of intervening variables, concerning the internal organization of the group, also exists. Internal cohesion increases as a result of external conflict only when the group possesses a centralized system where the authorities are capable of intervening to create internal cohesion. Internal cohesion is thus dependent on the existence of strong, centralized, internal leadership. ...

The most extensive literature on extreme situations is the literature on disaster (see, for example. Disaster Research Group, 1961). Most scholars detail the solidarity and altruism evidenced by survivors (Chapman, 1962: 16; Demerath, 1957; Fritz, 1961; Loomis, 1960, 1967). Wallace (1957) likens the solidarity feelings to the euphoria and brotherly love exhibited by followers of social revitalization movements. Turner (1967) argues that such solidarity is an example of Durkheim's concept of mechanical solidarity. A postdisaster questionnaire in South Africa reveals positive relationships among fear, affiliative tendencies (both actual and preferred) and severity of threat (Strumpfer, 1970). Thus, the greater the threat, the greater the affiliative tendencies. ...

While solidarity is commonly witnessed, it is by no means universal. Studies of concentration camps (Bettelheim, 1943; Cohen, 1953) show that prisoners acted as individuals, and Cohen therefore suggests that the prisoners should be considered not as a group but as a "crowd." The same can be said regarding disasters. Lang and Lang (1964: 58), for example, argue that "when disaster threatens over a long period of time, the cohesive forces that hold a group together are subject to strain." The result is demoralization and "various forms of bizarre and schismatic behavior." ...

In an early study Wright (1943) shows that frustration increases the degree of cohesiveness of pairs of children and that more time is spent cooperatively and less conflictually. He provides no direct measure of cohesion, however, and no data (see also French, 1944).

One of the first major empirical attempts to investigate the effects of stress on groups is Lanzetta's. Lanzetta, Eiaefner, Langham and Axelrod (1954) find that subjects under the threat of evaluation are more sociable, cooperative and friendly while working on a task than are groups working under no threat. Lanzetta's later study (1955) uses time limits and negative comments to create the stress. Again, he finds that as stress increases there is a decrease in interpersonal friction and an increase in collaboration and cooperation.

Ostlund (1956) tests the hypothesis that a well-integrated college class exhibits a high degree of group integration when placed under stress. Although the hypothesis was verified by observation, it was not confirsned by students' perceptions. In any case. the results do not bear heavily on our discussion since the hypothesis presupposed a well-integrated group.

Feshback and Singer (1957) test the effects of different threats on the expression of social prejudice. Compared to a control group, those feeling only personal threats show an increase in social prejudice, while groups sharing a threat show a decrease in prejudice. Burnstein and McRae (1962) find that when a racially mixed group experiences a shared threat, there occurs a reduction in expressed prejudice in the white members' evaluations of the black members of the group. ...

The psychology literature thus provides powerful empirical verification of the external conflict/internal cohesion hypothesis, given certain conditions. The psychological literature points to a number of important intervening variables. Some of the studies confirm Otterbein's emphasis on internal group leadership. Some confirm the importance of the group being an ongoing one. All of the studies, in focusing on threat and on the individual, confirm the necessity for the external threat to be seen as menacing to the group as a whole. Indeed, the psychological literature goes much further here. All the studies suggest a number of intervening variables related to external conflict. First, the external conflict must involve a threat; this is the key independent variable throughout. Second, each individual must feel the threat personally. This stems from the obvious psychological emphasis on the individual, and it is likely to be problematic when dealing with large collectivities. Third, the rewards to the individual for staying with the group must be higher than the rewards for abandoning it. Fourth, the individual must see the threat as soluble by group effort and see the group as a source of support and comfort. ...

A very popular hypothesis in the alliance literature is that external conflict increases internal alliance cohesion (see Holsti, Hoprnann, and Sullivan, 1973). While the hypothesis is popular, the supporting evidence is drawn from studies of groups (Holsti, Hoprnann, and Sullivan, 1973: 17-18). The best traditional statement and amplification of the hypothesis is to be found in Liska (1962: 100-129). Liska argues that the existence of an external threat is necessary for alliance cohesion, but that for this to be true, the threat must be manageable for the alliance. Unmanageable threats or threats not directed toward all members do not increase cohesion.

The first empirical test of the hypothesis was performed by Holsti (1965, 1966, 1969), who used content analysis to determine whether Chinese and Soviet perceptions of the United States are most similar during periods of high East-West conflict. The hypothesis is reconfirmed by Hopinann (1967). The problem in these studies is that cohesion is operationalized as attitude or orientation similarity. As pointed out in the discussion of the psychology literature, this has generally been seen as a requisite intervening variable. For each member of a group to see the external threat as menacing is a prerequisite for group cohesion and is not cohesion itself. ...

The ingroup/outgroup hypothesis may be of considerable utility in studying the cohesion of American political parties. Most studies of cohesion have been synchronic, while the hypothesis might have greater utility in diachronic analysis. One could, for example, ask whether political parties become more cohesive as elections approach (elections being the point in time of greatest conflict). Moreover, one could take a step backward and ask whether partisanship decreases when the entire nation is threatened. During the Second World War, for example, British Conservatives and Labourites joined to create a coalition government (in Israel such "wall-to-wall" coalitions are common when war occurs or appears imminent). Indeed, Davis (1974) points out that coalition politics involved such bipartisanship that Labourites were socialized while in office, and that this socialization is one reason why their foreign relations in the early years of the Cold War resembled Tory more than classic Labour policy. One can also restructure Lijphart's (1968) argument along these lines. Most constitutional democracies were created while the nation was experiencing external stress. or shortly thereafter. One can argue, therefore, that constitutional democracies arise in fragmented political systems where external stress leads to cohesion at the elite level, and a form of elite repression (in this case, cartelization) is instituted to maintain national cohesion (see also Deutsch et al., 1957; and Etzioni, 1965). ...

In sum, then, there is a clear convergence in the literature in both the specific studies and in the various disciplines, that suggests that external conflict does increase internal cohesion under certain conditions. These conditions act as intervening variables and involve, as one could have logically expected, the nature of the external conflict and the nature of the group. The external conflict needs to involve some threat, affect the entire group and all its members equally and indiscriminately, and involve a solution (or at least there must be a useful purpose in group efforts regarding the threat). The group needs to have been an ongoing one with some pre-existing cohesion or consensus, and to have a leadership that can authoritatively enforce cohesion (especially if all the members of the group do not feel the threat). The group must be able to deal with the external conflict, and to provide emotional comfort and support to its members.
Some anecdotal support:

from Buzzfeed

Let's casually consider what we should be looking for, according to Stein. There needs to be an "ongoing group with preexisting cohesion and consensus," and significant portion of the Leave vote was clearly motivated by Anglo nativism. There was a (perceived) external threat in the triplicate form of overbearing EU governance, resident aliens (and/or those of foreign heritage), and the specter of globalization. The heavily circulated photographs of Brexbros celebrating in the pub illustrate the "emotional comfort and support:" from their perspective this isn't a victory for xenophobia, but a celebration of national/community spirit.

Same difference, probably(?).

This is the ugly face of patriotism—which is no different from its fair face, but for the lighting in which it is viewed. Consider the Union Jack in the photographed Brexbro's hand and the "Welcome to Britain" macro: each one implies what the other denotes. (If a nation didn't think itself exclusively special—or indulged in some fairly definite ideas about what its identity is and is not—what need would it have for a flag?)

Having examined and found some evidence in support of Sumner's hypothesis—that internal cohesion is pursuant to external conflict—it might be worth considering a reverse causation. Are group cohesion and community spirit linked to animus towards outsiders?

Most of the literature I've read on the subject is related to the concept of social capital. (Technical meaning of the term, as per Francis Fukuyama: "the ability of actors to secure benefits by virtue of membership in social networks or other social structures.") Call it facile reasoning, but once group solidarity has been achieved, that group should be expected to demonstrate in-group favoritism.

Armin Falk and Christian Zehnder find evidence for this in an experiment conducted in 2007 ("Discrimination and In-Group Favoritism in a Citywide Trust Experiment"):
We address these questions with the help of a field experiment conducted among roughly 1,000 inhabitants of the city of Zurich. The experimental game is a variant of the so-called trust or investment game. In this sequential two-player game first movers send money to second movers, which is tripled by the experimenters. Second movers then decide how much to return. The amounts sent and returned inform us about the levels of trust and trustworthiness, respectively. Studying trust discrimination requires a social environment that defines distinct groups. In our study these groups are defined by the 12 districts of the city of Zurich. We think that districts of a city are a well-suited environment to study trust discrimination: districts are natural geographic entities, have a social meaning and are sufficiently heterogenous to potentially justify different reputations with respect to trust and trustworthiness.  Moreover, district affiliation is relevant in every day transactions, which means that investments observed in the experiment can be interpreted as a proxy for efficiency enhancing and trust-related decisions taken every day, such as car repair or hiring and moving decisions. ...

Our paper offers several contributions to the literature.  First, to the best of our knowledge, it is the first to document trust discrimination based on residential districts, i.e., on a community level. This type of discrimination is particular important in light of the fact that trust and trustworthiness constitute central components of a community's social capital (see, e.g., the definitions in Loury, 1977; Coleman, 1990; Putnam, 2000), which influences a wide range of important economic phenomena, such as governmental and judicial efficiency (Putnam et al., 1993; La Porta et al., 1997), self-governance of communities (Gächter and Herrmann, 2006; Ostrom et al., 1992), financial development and volume of trade (Guiso et al., 2004) or the rate of overall economic growth (Knack and Keefer, 1997; Knack and Zak, 2001). In this sense trust can be seen as a sort of lubricant for economic transactions, especially if markets are imperfect and contracts remain incomplete. ...

[O]ur findings shed new light on the controversial issue of in-group favoritism. Starting with the famous "Robber's Cave Experiment" by Sherif et al. (1961) many experiments in psychology have demonstrated the presence of in-group favoritism even if group affiliations are created artificially (see Yamagishi et al., 1999, for a survey of this literature). In recent years many economists have become interested in the phenomenon of in-group favoritism in trust decisions. Interestingly, the present state of the literature is fairly mixed. In experiments conducted on the basis of the minimal group paradigm the evidence in favor of an in-group bias is very weak (see e.g., Buchan et al., forthcoming; Güth et al., 2005). But also studies based on naturally defined groups provide ambiguous evidence. While a number of studies find no or only weak evidence for in-group favoritism (see, e.g., Fershtman and Gneezy, 2001; Glaeser et al., 2000; Bouckaert and Dhaene, 2004; Haile et al., 2006), there are two studies which report a significant in-group bias in trust decisions (see, Bernhard et al., 2006; Götte et al., 2006).

We contribute to the emerging literature on in-group favoritism in several ways. First, we show that in the context of city districts in-group favoritism is relevant in naturally occurring groups. Subjects in our study use their experience from every day life to determine how much they trust inhabitants from different parts of the city they live in. Second, we do not only document the existence of in-group favoritism but we are also able to explain at least part of it with subjects' beliefs. Investments to the own district are not only higher because of taste but also reflect the fact that people expect higher returns on investments in their own district.
Long story short, Falk and Zehnder conclude:
Given that Zurich is a relatively homogenous city, in comparison with many other cities, it is quite striking to find discrimination even here. We speculate that discrimination is even more pronounced in more heterogenous cities or regions. Our data reveal that first movers hold particular beliefs about the trustworthiness of different districts, which are associated with their trusting decisions.  These beliefs correspond on average with actual trustworthiness. This is a strong result. It implies that first movers know quite a lot about their city and use this information to determine their decisions. As a consequence, first movers invest more into districts that are actually characterized by higher levels of trustworthiness. In this sense, we can interpret the observed discrimination pattern, at least in part, in terms of statistical discrimination. Rather than being only driven by taste or prejudice, many people in the city of Zurich discriminate on the basis of their relatively accurate beliefs. We also find strong support for the existence of in-group favoritism in trust. Citizens of Zurich tend to favor strangers from their own district, in part because they expect them to be more trustworthy than strangers from other districts.

The fact that people discriminate between strangers from different districts can have important economic and social consequences, not only for an individual living in a particular district but also for districts as a whole. On an individual level it is relevant insofar as many economically relevant transactions involve some element of trust. In the hiring process, e.g., two otherwise equal applicants may be treated differently simply because they come from different parts of the city.  On the level of districts, trust discrimination may foster the process of segregation. The Zurich case shows that districts with a relatively high socio-economic status are also those, [sic] which enjoy the highest reputation of being trustworthy.  Since this reputation favors investments there is an endogenous tendency to reinforce inner city inequalities. Relatively richer districts are trusted more and therefore become even richer. This process is reinforced by housing rents and moving decisions. Those who can afford it will move to high reputation districts, again increasing district inequalities.
This is pretty dry stuff, to be sure—but what we should be taking away from this is the fact that in-/out-group biases appear to exist even within subgroups of a largely homogenous urban society.

In a general explication of social capital, ("Social Capital: Its Origins and Applications in Modern Sociology" Annual Review of Sociology 1998) Alejandro Portes observes the "bounded solidarity" formed between members of a group engaged in a common endeavor or confronting a problem as a collective. In one case, he cites Marx:
By being thrown together in a common situation, workers learn to identify with each other and support each other's initiatives. This solidarity is not the result of norm introjection during childhood, but is an emergent product of a common fate (Marx [1894] 1967, Marx & Engels [1848] 1947). For this reason the altruistic dispositions of actors in these situations are not universal but bounded by the limits of their community. Other members of the same community can then appropriate such dispositions and the actions that follow as their source of social capital.

Bounded solidarity is the term used in the recent literature to refer to this mechanism. It is the source of social capital that leads wealthy members of a church to anonymously endow church schools and hospitals; members of a suppressed nationality to voluntarily join life-threatening military activities in its defense; and industrial proletarians to take part in protest marches or sympathy strikes in support of their fellows. Identification with one's own group, sect, or community can be a powerful motivational force. [James Samuel] Coleman refers to extreme forms of this motivation as "zeal" and defines them as an effective antidote to free-riding by others in collective movements.
Once the patterns of solidarity are in place:
Community or group participation necessarily creates demand for conformity. In a small town or village, all neighbors know each other, one can get supplies on credit at the corner store, and children play freely in the streets under the watchful eyes of other adults. The level of social control in such settings is strong and also quite restrictive of personal freedoms, which is the reason why the young and the more independent-minded have always left. ...

The same strong ties that bring benefits to members of a group commonly enable it to bar others from access.
Waldinger (1995) describes the tight control exercised by white ethnics——descendants of Italian, Irish, and Polish immigrants——over the construction trades and the fire and police unions of New York. Other cases include the growing control of the produce business by Korean immigrants in several East Coast cities, the traditional monopoly of Jewish Merchants over the New York diamond trade, and the dominance of Cubans over numerous sectors of the Miami economy. In each instance, social capital generated by bounded solidarity and trust are at the core of the group's economic advance. But, as Waldinger (1995, p. 557) points out, "the same social relations that...enhance the ease and efficiency of economic exchanges among community members implicitly restrict outsiders."
Francis Fukuyama (who infamously declared that 1989 marked The End of History, but we won't hold that against him here) gives us another overview of the social capital concept ("Social Capital and Civil Society," 1999) which touches on the ways in which in-group trust can constitute a net loss for a wider social radius:
[G]roup solidarity in human communities is often purchased at the price of hostility towards out-group members. There appears to be a natural human proclivity for dividing the world into friends and enemies that is the basis of all politics. It is thus very important when measuring social capital to consider its true utility net of its externalities. ...

Virtually all forms of traditional culture——social groups like tribes, clans, village associations, religious sects, etc.——are based on shared norms and use these norms to achieve cooperative ends. The literature on development has not, as a general rule, found social capital in this form to be an asset; it is much more typically regarded as a liability. Economic modernization was seen as antithetical to traditional culture and social organizations, and would either wipe them away or else be itself blocked by forces of traditionalism. Why should this be so, if social capital is genuinely a form of capital?

The reason, in my view, has to do with the fact that such groups have a narrow radius of trust. In-group solidarity reduces the ability of group members to cooperate with outsiders, and often imposes negative externalities on the latter. For example, in the Chinese parts of East Asia and much of Latin America, social capital resides largely in families and a rather narrow circle of personal friends. It is difficult for people to trust those outside of these narrow circles.
Strangers fall into a different category than kin; a lower standard of moral behavior applies when one becomes, for example, a public official. This provides cultural reinforcement for corruption: in such societies, one feels entitled to steal on behalf of one's family.
Note: this spells out why police brutality is and will continue to be an excruciatingly intractable problem. We're not only dealing with racial prejudice, we're not only trying to persuade or force an entrenched institution to voluntarily surrender power and privilege, but seeking to dictate to a tribe from outside of that tribe. The "Fraternal Order of Police" appellation bespeaks a familial society. Despite any oaths or mottoes (protect, serve, etc.) suggesting the contrary, a member of a group is usually going to prioritize the interests of other group members (in this case, cops) over those of out-group members (in this case, everyone else), regardless of circumstance. (Remember the Iliad?) In the face of external pressure, the first recourse of a tribe is to close ranks.

(Postscript: oh, great.)
The final factor affecting a society's supply of social capital concerns not the internal cohesiveness of groups, but rather the way in which they relate to outsiders. Strong moral bonds within a group in some cases may actually serve to decrease the degree to which members of that group are able to trust outsiders and work effectively with them. A highly disciplined, well-organized group sharing strong common values may be capable of highly coordinated collective action, and yet may nonetheless be a social liability. I earlier noted the fact that strongly familistic societies like China and central-southern Italy were characterized by an absence of a broader, generalized social trust outside the family. At best, this prevents the group from receiving beneficial influences from the outside environment; at worst, it may actively breed distrust, intolerance, or even hatred for and violence toward outsiders. Certain groups may be actively harmful to other parts of society-criminal organizations like the Mafia or the Crips and Bloods come to mind. ....

[I]nternal cohesiveness is often based on strongly shared norms and values within a group: both the Marines and the Mormon Church are examples. But the very strength of those internal bonds creates something of a gulf between members of the group and those on the outside. Latitudinarian organizations like most contemporary mainline Protestant denominations in the United States, by contrast, easily coexist with other groups in the society, and yet are capable of a much lower level of collective action. Ideally, one would like to maximize [internal cohesion] and and minimize [distrust of outsiders]: such would be the case, for example, in a professional organization that socializes its members into the values of its particular profession, while not at the same time breeding distrust of other professions or being closed to influences from them.
I wonder if that's even possible? It seems to me like wishful thinking, given that each variable appears to increase in proportion with the other.


No conclusion, but I encourage you to consider the implications of all this until your head hurts as much as mine does.

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