Understanding the Rise of Transgender Identities


“People’s extraordinary sensitivity to the beliefs and behaviors of others, especially successful and socially visible others, contributes to the spread of useful skills and ideas and is critical to building and maintaining cultural knowledge. The benefits that follow from this sensitivity, however, come with the risk of being swept up in popular delusions. As Mackay noted, “We find that whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object, and go mad in its pursuit; that millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one delusion, and run after it, till their attention is caught by some new folly more captivating than the first.”

Susceptibility to popular delusions appears to be a human universal, although some people are more susceptible than others. These delusions can coalesce around just about anything the human mind can imagine, from get-rich-quick schemes to fear of demonic possession to blaming outgroups for moral decay. And though they are sometimes innocuous, they are also potentially dangerous. In Europe from 1500–1700, for example, tens of thousands of women and men were killed for being witches.”


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