Did the end of the Cold War lead to today’s political division?

Michael Greiner
6 min readMar 15, 2019
Photo by Soviet Artefacts on Unsplash

Us vs. them, king of the hill, so says the research

Something that is hard-wired into us as humans is the idea of us belonging to an in-group and others belonging to an out-group. We do everything we can to identify ourselves with our chosen in-group, and we dehumanize the “others.” Our goal becomes one of completely destroying the other. To do so, we have to dehumanize them. After all, if they are like us, we may experience qualms in our attempts to kill them.

You can see how this instinct served us well from an evolutionary standpoint. After all, when we were living in caves, we often had just a second to decide when someone was running toward us if they were friend or foe. If foe, they might kill us, so it’s better to be on your guard, ready to kill the other to save your own life. If friend, however, you hate to make that mistake.

So we adopt certain biases and prejudices, what are called cognitive heuristics. They are essentially shortcuts our mind uses to categorize things and people. It might be the way a person looks, the color of their skin, tattoos on them, the way they talk, the way they dress… you get the picture. Our ability to make snap judgments as to whether someone was friend of foe helped us survive to the modern era.

What’s more is that the best insurance for us to have food and other resources is to put ourselves above the other groups. In times of shortage, we will be the ones to have food; they will go without. It’s like when children play king of the hill. For them it’s a game. Back then, it meant survival. We see many of these behaviors in our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, the chimpanzees, by the way.

You can see where these ideas served us in the past, but they might not be so useful today. Now, just because someone looks different from you, they might not be the “other.” What’s more, maybe there is enough for everyone; we no longer need to dominate the other.

Unfortunately, such instincts are hard-wired into us. It takes a lot to get over them.

Obviously, these characteristics can form the basis for racism. But they also help us understand our current climate of polarization. According to the Pew

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Michael Greiner

Mike is an Assistant Professor of Management for Legal and Ethical Studies at Oakland U. Mike combines his scholarship with practical experience in politics.