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Review of The Power of Us: Harnessing our shared identities for personal and collective success by Jay van Bavel & Dominic Packer

The Power of Us is a great introduction to the psychology of identity, the challenge of polarization and the ways in which identity can be harnessed to promote cooperation and, sometimes, to encourage dissent and social change.

The authors point out that all of us have multiple identities, which constantly change and develop over time. In any context, we see the world through the lens of our most relevant identity for that context. That can easily change though, for example by putting on a different coloured shirt.

They discuss divisive language, fake news and the challenges of social media and their relationship to a “partisan pandemic”. However, it is not all bad news and van Bavel and Packer also discuss the value of identity and its use in signaling status to others.

They argues that the solutions to partisanship and the other problems of polarization lie in institutions as well as individual behaviours. Both conformity and individualism (and even dissent) have their uses and are not mutually exclusive as can be seen in some of the best examples of leadership (think of Volodymyr Zelenskiy). Our identities are ultimately our agency and autonomy as individuals helping us take control of who we want to be.

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