The Story of Us: Sources

Influences and related reading

Part 1

Chapter 2

A great video on emergence by Kurzgesagt

Jonathan Haidt: The Righteous Mind

Jonathan Haidt and Craig Joseph: The moral mind: How five sets of innate intuitions guide the development of many culture-specific virtues, and perhaps even modules

David Sloan Wilson:1 A Theory of Group Selection

Robert Axelrod: The Evolution of Cooperation

Smithsonian: What does it mean to be human?

A good Wikipedia article on kin selection. Another good one on inclusive fitness

W.D. Hamilton: The genetical evolution of social behaviour

Elainie A. Madsen, et al: Kinship and altruism: A cross-cultural experimental study

Wladimir J. Alonso and Cynthia Schuck-Paim: Sex-ratio conflicts, kin selection, and the evolution of altruism

Martin A. Nowak, Corina E. Tarnita, Edward O. Wilson: The evolution of eusociality (Nature)

There are also a lot of group selection skeptics. Like:

Steven Pinker: The False Allure of Group Selection

Richard Dawkins: Replicators and Vehicles

Eliezer Yudkowsky: The Tragedy of Group Selectionism

Jerry A. Coyne: Can Darwinism Improve Binghamton?

Chapter 3

Yuval Noah Harari: Sapiens. Chapter 2 especially helped inform and crystalize some of the ideas in this post. Fascinating read for anyone who found this post interesting.

I don’t remember where I first heard Bret Weinstein talk about metaphorical truth, but here he is explaining it.

In researching the psychology of sacredness, and how it can be a lever for tribalism, I kept coming across the work of French sociologist Émile Durkheim. You can read about some of his major theories here.

Regarding the tension between strength and stability as human groups grow in size, you’ll often hear about Dunbar’s Number, which in pop culture has been simplified to the idea that 150 people is a kind of ceiling human groups run up against before losing the ability for intimate relationships to glue the group together. There has been a lot written about Dunbar’s Number—one I found interesting is a series written by Christopher Allen on his blog Life With Alacrity.

Part 2

Chapter 6

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty. The old classic.

I cited author and activist Jonathan Rauch a few times in this post. He’s one of the best at articulating why free speech matters. The long quote I included in this post is part of this excerpt from Rauch’s excellent book Kindly Inquisitors.

Economist Max Roser’s incredibly useful site Our World in Data. Specifically, the page on democracy.

It’s an ongoing debate just how much a country like the U.S. is led by the citizen body vs. by politicians vs. by other components like the media. One interesting take that contradicts the idea that the people lead and politicians follow can be found in John Medearis’s book Joseph Schumpeter’s Two Theories of Democracy. He argues that democracy is more a mechanism that fosters competition among leaders, merely held in check by the electoral process.

Part 4

Chapter 9

There are a lot of great writers on the internet dedicating themselves to helping people think more rationally. I’ve learned a lot from them. Some of my favorites:  

The mecca of rationalism, Less Wrong, run by Eliezer Yudkowsky and his ragtag gang of rationalists. Whenever there’s a cutting-edge new idea making the rounds, Eliezer was writing about it 5-10 years ago. A deep dive on Less Wrong will make you smarter. This collection is a nice place to start.

A Less Wrong offspring, Scott Alexander’s blog Slate Star Codex is a giant pile of clarity. If you liked this post, you’ll really like SSC. Specific further reading on ideas in this post: Scott on motte-and-baileying, weak-manning, and the inoculation effect.

Another big pile of wisdom: Paul Graham’s essays. You can read about his “hierarchy of disagreement” I referenced here.

Julia Galef, co-founder of the Center for Applied Rationality, is a great explainer of rational concepts. Go on a spiral through these sometime.

Adam Grant spends his life using research to embarrass conventional wisdom. Exceptional communicator but very bald.

Shane Snow dives deep on how we can think better, and he makes it fun. His awesome article on intellectual humility is especially relevant to this series.

Other resources:

Wikipedia has nice compilations of cognitive biases and fallacies.

Rapoport’s Rules for how to be a great arguer by doing the opposite of straw-manning (sometimes called steel-manning).

A great collection of research that I referenced in the post: The Cognitive Science of Political Thought. And a summary of some of the findings.

The original explanation of the motte and bailey doctrine by Nicholas Shackel, who coined the term.

The study I referenced about how we process challenges to our political and non-political beliefs with different parts of our brain. By Jonas T. Kaplan, Sarah I. Gimbel and Sam Harris. The article’s citation list is full of interesting research. Other studies I referenced about how politics makes us bad at thinking: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Some nice examples of straw-manning and weak-manning in politics, by Yvonne Raley and Robert Talisse (who seems to have coined the term “weak man”). To go deeper, here’s their paper on the topic.

Research on how progressives tend to be more concerned about the global and conservatives more about the local. By Adam Waytz, Liane Young, Ravi Iyer, and Jonathan Haidt.

The original explainer on the inoculation effect.

Cool interactive exploring how Fox, CNN, and MSNBC differ in what stories they cover and how they present them.

Fun reminder of how idiotic it is to assume correlation implies causation.

A book to remind you that you don’t know shit.

Part 5

Chapter 10

I did between one and two trillion hours of research for this chapter. The specific citations are all linked and/or footnoted in the text, which seems like a more useful place for them than in a massive list down here. Instead, the below list includes some of the core sources and data, along with some articles I think will make for good reading for anyone who wants to go on the full spiral on this topic. At the bottom, I included a group of links that were the cause of procrastination spirals because you should have to waste time on them too.

Data, Studies, and Reports

A lot of the data in this chapter is courtesy of Pew. Here’s their U.S. Politics homepage. Their giant 2017 report on polarization in the U.S. is full of interesting charts. Another good one from 2018 with more specifics. And their report on how the country may not actually be as polarized as it seems.

The Hidden Tribes of America is a fascinating report that breaks out of the oversimplified Left/Right divide, finding it more accurate to categorize Americans into seven tribes (three of which make up the more extreme “Wings” and four of which make up the less partisan “Exhausted Majority.”) Worth flipping through.

Gallup data that shows a rising percentage of Independents in the U.S. (Alan Abramowitz is skeptical, suggesting that many supposed Independents are “closet partisans”).

The media bias chart I included in the post, from AllSides.

Interesting Pew data about the ideological makeup of different media brand’s audiences, and how much each brand is trusted by people in different parts of the political spectrum.

Voteview is a useful database that shows you the results of every Congress and Senate vote, now or in history (or enter a zip code to see who the representatives are there—if you don’t know who your own representative is, you can find out here and no one will ever know). The three “polarization over time” charts in the post can be found here. You can also look at interesting charts that illustrate the political leanings of everyone in the House and Senate, or the history of U.S. parties and their ideologies. If you want to be pretty bored, you can read about their ideological measuring metric (DW-NOMINATE) here.

Ballotpedia tallies up National Journal’s annual “vote rating analysis,” allowing you to pull up the data on exactly how conservative or liberal each U.S. House member voted the previous year.

An interactive from Time letting you mouse over the states and see how campaign spending has increased since the 80s. Not sure who would want this, but here’s the raw data on campaign spending (and the cost of winning an election table from the post).

Interesting analysis of the distribution of right- vs. left-wing media during the 2016 U.S. election.

A 2014 analysis about the state of journalism—the demographics, ideologies, and attitudes of U.S. journalists today.

Here’s the big analysis of political tweets I referenced.

A meta-analysis of 51 experimental studies, involving over 18,000 participants, on partisan bias. The findings: the Left and Right show similar levels of political bias.

A summary of work from three independent labs that suggests that the U.S. Left and Right are both pretty intolerant in their own way. The “political bigotry” graph I included in the post is on page 31.

A study that explores the rise of negative partisanship (the phenomenon of people voting against a party more than for one) over the past 40 years. An interesting New York Times article about the same topic.

A summary of what we know about the “hostile media effect”—the phenomenon that all partisans tend to think the media is biased against their side.

Further Reading

If you want to go deeper, this collection of articles, compiled by The Monkey Cage, is a good place to start.

Norm Ornstein is a political scientist who has spent years researching political polarization in the U.S. His book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, explains a lot of the history. Here’s an interesting interview with him where he summarizes some of the points in the book.

For some historical context on the modern era, Chapter 3 of this collection of papers (JSTOR link, and a summary of the findings), by David Brady and Hahrie Han, tells a story of political polarization throughout U.S. history. Also: an article about partisan newspapers in the 19th century.

For a nice overarching summary, this essay, by professor Cynthia Farina, is a well-written, balanced examination of how the U.S. got so polarized.

For some disagreement, Alan Abramowitz believes (book, article) U.S. polarization is bad and getting worse, while Morris Fiorina believes (book, article) U.S. polarization isn’t as bad as it seems.

The Big Sort, by Bill Bishop, tells the story of how so many U.S. counties became more politically homogenous in recent decades. And some great visuals from FiveThirtyEight about the same topic.

Random extra: Seems weird today, but in the 1950s, the American Political Science Association urged America’s political parties to become more distinct and divided. They probably didn’t think quite hard enough about that one.

Fun and Procrastinatey

Nicky Case is one of my favorite creators on the internet. Nicky’s website is a delightful spiral for curious people, full of brilliant interactives like the three I featured in this post.

Unrelated, but through Nicky’s site, I found this succulent site, curated by Maarten Lambrechts. I spent a long time there.

Also unrelated, but the Parable of the Polygons interactive featured in the post was co-created by Vi Hart, whose brain Wait But Why readers will enjoy. She has a super fun YouTube channel with fascinating videos like this.

Neat New York Times interactive displaying U.S. presidential election demographic results going back to 1972.

Cool New York Times visuals about how the U.S. parties ideologically map onto the European political scene. The U.S. Left has moved enough that it now matches Europe’s leftness. The U.S. right remains further right of most of the European Right.

More cool visuals: See how your demographic info predicts what your politics are. Here’s the raw data.

Interesting visuals from the Wall Street Journal about how the parties have moved apart in other ways beyond geography—the gap grows between the Left and Right in education and wealth levels, and they increasingly work in different industries.

The CGP Grey video I referenced—he refers to social media postings as “thought germs,” and explains that no type spreads faster than anger. If you haven’t gone on a spiral on his channel yet, put it on the list.

Eli Pariser on online “filter bubbles”, his term for the bubbles of confirmation internet algorithms have us all wrapped tightly in.

A Trump Twitter search tool


  1. Fun Wilson quote: “Selfishness beats altruism within groups. Altruistic groups beat selfish groups.”

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