(Excerpt from Crony Beliefs by Kevin Simler)
I contend that the best way to understand all the crazy beliefs out there — aliens, conspiracies, and all the rest — is to analyze them as crony beliefs. Beliefs that have been “hired” not for the legitimate purpose of accurately modeling the world, but rather for social and political kickbacks.
… we can roughly …divide our beliefs into merit beliefs and crony beliefs. Both contribute to our bottom line — survival and reproduction — but they do so in different ways: merit beliefs by helping us navigate the world, crony beliefs by helping us look good.
…our brains are incredibly powerful organs, but their native architecture doesn’t care about high-minded ideals like Truth. They’re designed to work tirelessly and efficiently — if sometimes subtly and counterintuitively — in our self-interest. So if a brain anticipates that it will be rewarded for adopting a particular belief, it’s perfectly happy to do so, and doesn’t much care where the reward comes from — whether it’s pragmatic (better outcomes resulting from better decisions), social (better treatment from one’s peers), or some mix of the two. A brain that didn’t adopt a socially-useful (crony) belief would quickly find itself at a disadvantage relative to brains that are more willing to “play ball.”