Predictable Identities: 5 – Outgroup Homogeneity

This entry is part 5 of 27 in the series Predictable Identities

There are more ways for someone to be different from you than to be similar. But psychologically, it works the other way around. We perceive those like us as uniquely distinct and the outgroup as undifferentiated. It’s called the outgroup homogeneity effect.

This effect extends to physical appearance (e.g. faces of other ethnicities looking the same) and mental traits (e.g. people of the other gender all supposedly wanting the same things). Surprisingly, the effect is unrelated to the number of ingroup and outgroup members one knows; it’s not about mere exposure.

I recently wrote about a remarkable case of the outgroup homogeneity effect: Ezra Klein’s strange attempt to make the case that liberaltarian podcaster (and Klein’s co-ethnic) Dave Rubin is a reactionary.

Klein starts by looking at the network graph of podcast appearances which links Rubin to several unsavory reactionaries. But Klein himself is just two podcasts removed from Richard Spencer, so that’s not great. He then defines “reactionaries” narrowly as those who seek “a return to traditional gender and racial norms”. Of course, most of Rubin’s flagship positions (gay marriage, drug legalization, abortion access, prison reform, abolishing the death penalty) have to do with gender and race norms. Specifically: changing them.

I think what happened is that Ezra Klein picked up intuitively on the one important similarity between Rubin and conservative reactionaries: they both strongly dislike him.

People legislate the distinction between pies and tarts and between plums and nectarines, but only geologists care about telling apart inedible rocks. Same with people: it’s important to keep track individually of potential cooperators, reciprocity relationships, etc. But once you model someone as a defector, you don’t need more detail to predict that they’ll defect. The outgroup is good for writing snarky articles about. For this, you don’t have to tell them apart.

Series Navigation<< Predictable Identities: 4 – StereotypesPredictable Identities: 6 – Creeps >>

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About Jacob Falkovich

Jacob is so proud of his blog,, that it's on his online dating profiles. He also tweets @yashkaf.


  1. I think Dave Rubin fits well in a category of “reactionaries” for exactly the reasons that Ezra Klein said, and it is sloppiness in articulating it that allows you an opening to make the proposal seem absurd:

    He argues that reactionaries are unified by their opposition to a progressive project, then he says that they support the status quo.

    If that latter part of the proposition was simply true, there would be no need to define the first part, and it is precisely the difference between those two that I find interesting.

    Rubin, self-consciously defines himself as against “the left” as he defines it, and I’m relatively confident that if you ran a proper survey of his videos, you could track the parts of conversations where his guests try to bring him on side, connect etc. or where he does so, and find common positions on the value of science, of freedom of speech in the particular form of saying unpopular things, and that the excesses of progressive people.

    It’s a shame there isn’t some obvious sentiment tagging available for these videos, but the events should be relatively discrete and possible to identify, if not by machine. You could repeat this process for other members of the same group.

    Then we can verify the core hypothesis, that the link between these people is their opposition to social justice, as they define it.

    I’m fairly confident that that will verify the hypothesis, but in that context, it is interesting to recognise the extent to which these do not add up to any particular positive position, and how their group identity is maintained by opposition to the specific expressions of action towards trying to achieve certain goals.

    And it is in this context, that you can define someone as acting to conserve the status quo:

    Suppose I say I personally believe that the world would be better if we abolished private property, or something similarly dramatic, in order to reduce inequality, but the concrete actions I take apparently on the basis of this position is to attack all those projects that seek to reduce inequality by any other means?

    If someone calls Dave Rubin a reactionary because he spends the majority of his time giving discussion time to niche right wing figures without critique, and complaining about the left, if he never spends time advocating for them, what views he espouses on gay marriage etc. should reasonably be as irreverent as the veganism would be of someone who works in logging of previously unused areas of forest.

    We can reasonably say that whatever someone’s progressive private beliefs are, the practice of their livelihood is systematically devoted in a different direction, towards opposing changes to social norms rather than promoting them, or towards increasing the detrimental effects of humanity upon animal life rather than reducing it.

    Any contradiction there should reasonably directed to the person being analysed, rather than the analysis itself. And as I mention earlier, it should be fairly easy to verify what things Rubin makes arguments for or against, and over what issues he finds agreement.

    Now I’ll note that this is my extension of Klein’s hypothesis, that the reactionary group maintain the contradictions of their positive positions, that could reasonably position each of them as being in each other’s definition of the left, by not actually taking action to advocate for any of those positions, and to emphasise the actions of common enemies instead. It doesn’t matter if I believe in automatic and economy-wide higher wages for women, and you in the removal of women’s right to vote, so long as we both spend our time complaining about the way that a certain company is shamed for their gender pay gap. It is that specific social process of commenting on the actions of other people in negative ways that provides our basis for cooperation.

    Structurally speaking, reaction to progressive causes in practice can form a common ground for communication between commentators who by virtue of their career never actually produce any concrete projects themselves, and so never have to be judged according to those standards. The inconsistencies can be held back at a remove and not questioned, and plausible deniability in terms of loose connections and assertions of your own personal ideological brand means there is no danger of betrayal.

    Each figure can cross promote according to sharing each other’s takedowns of outgroup figures, while withholding critique from each other’s positions.

  2. J Fallica says

    Reactionaries and progressives are two labels assuming all reactionaries and all progressive march in lock step with the same beat of some master drummer.I think anyone who argues on the basis of labels is full of shit. Reactionaries and progressives are both full of shit. People, individual people wouldn’t be so full of shit if they used their humanity and their their divinity thought before they expound.