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Monday, October 2, 2023

The dangers of homophily

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As human beings, we are all tribal creatures. We find comfort among our kind and oftentimes, that means those who sound like us, look like us, or share our beliefs or values etc. Our natural tendency is to gravitate towards the familiar, towards what we can relate to. Homophily is a word used to describe our human “tendency to associate with others who are like us.” As human, we find comfort among those we feel are like us.

We feel protected. It gives us a sense of belonging. But as good as homophily may be, it can also be very limiting and even dangerous!

Because of the comfort and security we derive from being around those who we think are like us, in times of adversity or times when we feel our group is being attacked, homophily can also make us visceral. When this happens, rationality goes out the window and groupthink takes over.

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We find comfort in our echo chamber and retreat to our private space where we start demonizing others simply because they dared say something we do not agree with or like. We would spew hateful rhetoric about others and some would even go further to encourage other members of our group to not associate with the person that “offended” our group! The few brave ones in our group will try to be the alpha males and go on the attack. The rest will cheer them on.

It doesn’t matter if what the alpha male spews is senseless, all that matters is that he’s attacking on behalf of our group. We feel duty bound to cheer them on. In so doing, we lose our mind. We become mindless cheerleaders. Right and wrong does not matter. We must stick by our kind at all costs.

If it’s a political party, all members of the party will sing with one voice. If it’s about religion, all members of that religion will sing with one voice. And that is dangerous!

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If your history or footprints show that you have always followed the crowd you associate with, then the danger I speak of with regards to homophily is referring to you. If you find yourself always agreeing with the group you identify with, you are actually a danger to that group! Sadly, because you are only there to make up the numbers, group members will keep you around because in the end, what else would anyone use you for?

Alagie Saidy-Barrow

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