This post comes a week earlier than my usual date because I have a quick update to make on last week's post. That post's gist was that party loyalty seems to trump rational decision making, and that, therefore, we have to consider the possibility of significant evolutionary advantages being found in privileging group loyalty over rationality. The forum in which I first noticed the prominence of this discomforting threat to the supremacy of rationality as a defining ideology was political talk radio.
Imagine my surprise when, the very next day, Michael Medved, one of the cooler but no less partisan heads prevailing on the nationally broadcast, right wing Salem Radio Network, trotted out a piece by New York Times columnist David Brooks on the same subject, published on the same day! Brooks' post contained far less epistemological agonizing than mine, which made it in many ways a far better read, but what really drew my attention was the fact that Brooks cited a study done some years previous, (based on an implicit association test) that seemed to provide empirical evidence suggesting that the phenomenon I had witnessed was more than mere coincidence, that there was statistical data to support the anecdotal evidence I had amassed, and that the party-over-prefrontal-cortex mindset I deplored was frightfully widespread.
The study's results, which I have cleared only cursorily of egregious sampling errors, indicate that party membership trumps not only many other group membership impulses (including race) but also rational evaluation of hiring criteria and credentials. In other words, I may not be wrong in seeing what (to me) represent retrograde, almost atavistic, decision-making processes outweigh the rationality I exalt -- in many, if not most, individuals -- when rationality would threaten group membership.
Interestingly, not all commentators find this possibility as distressing as I do. For a quite different look at "party-spirit" as "matter of the heart" rather than of the mind, look here. Russell Muirhead's perspective does seem to throw a rather less depressing light on the subject, as we are all inclined to tolerate excesses of feeling when it comes to matters of the heart, but when it comes to policy making and therefore decisions affecting millions of people, it might do to remind sympathizers of the partisan heart of an old adage: "Love is blind."