“The declines of patriotism, tribalism, and trust in hierarchies are in part a legacy of the new historiography,” writes Steven Pinker in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature. Across the globe more accurate histories of the universe, of mankind, and of specific regions has made it clear that many belief systems are little more than myth. Stories of great heroes and gods are little more than exaggerated myths and glorified exaggerations of individual grandeur and tribal greatness. At worse, such stories are apologetic narratives explaining the domination of humans over nature, animals, and other humans. As better history uncovers these stories for what they are, societies and relationships within those societies change in ways that can create a lot of conflict.
Pinker writes, “[UCSB Anthropologist Donald] Brown looked at twenty-five civilizations in Asia and Europe and found that the ones that were stratified into hereditary classes favored myth, legend, and hagiography and discouraged history, social science, natural science, biography, realistic portraiture, and uniform education.” This quote demonstrates that societies with distinct inequalities are fearful of accurate histories. They use myth, legend, and heroic figures to justify the stratifications and inequalities within their society. At some level, their objection to science and education demonstrates a recognition that their social inequalities are not based on merit or anything other than historical privilege, stigma, and discrimination.
I find this a helpful frame for understanding modern American political divisions. In general, the Republican party in the United States is whiter and more religious than the Democrat party. White Christians have held dominant social status positions and have been more wealthy than other groups in society. Part of that dominance included slavery and Jim Crow laws which deliberately limited the prosperity and success of minorities. More accurate histories of the United States, revisionist histories that emphasize the role of racial and class discrimination for example, threaten the current status quo that has resulted in our country. It is not surprising that the Republican Party is more threatened by secular education, more resistant to science, and less tolerant of school curriculum that takes a critical examination of the history of racism and slavery in the country. Republicans also seem more willing to view our founding fathers as quasi saints, heroes who could do no wrong and should always be respected and viewed in a near worshipful manner. Pure self-interest and a desire to ignore the inconvenient truths that accurate historical narratives and science reveal fuel the current political zeal within the Republican party for many of its members and adherents. This is not just something that we currently see in the United States, but something that can be observed across time and place in human societies.