Tom Wolfe is simply brilliant. His 2006 Jefferson Lecture succinctly explains how identity myths govern behavior:
Even before I left graduate school I had come to the conclusion that virtually all people live by what I think of as a “fiction-absolute.” Each individual adopts a set of values which, if truly absolute in the world–so ordained by some almighty force–would make not that individual but his group . . . the best of all possible groups, the best of all inner circles. Politicians, the rich, the celebrated, become mere types. Does this apply to “the intellectuals” also? Oh, yes. . . perfectly, all too perfectly.
The human beast’s belief in his own fiction-absolute accounts for one of the most puzzling and in many cases irrational phenomena of our time. . . . .
The 2004 election came down to one state: the state of Ohio. Whoever won that state in the final hours would win the election. Northern Ohio, the big cities of Cleveland, Toledo on the Great Lakes, were solidly for Kerry. But in southern Ohio, from east to west, and in the west was the city of Cincinnati, Ohio went solidly for George Bush. And the reason? That great swath of territory was largely inhabited by the Scots-Irish. And when the Democrats came out in favor of gun control, the Scots-Irish interpreted this as not merely an attack on the proliferation of weaponry in American life but as a denunciation, a besmirching, of their entire way of life, their entire fiction absolute. Guns were that important in their scheme of things.