Tag Archives: conservative

Liberal vs Conservative Psychologists? Definitions Matter


This is a funny little battle between the leftist psychologist and a guy defending the right from his own profession.  It’s a lesson in how not to make a good argument on both sides.  I’ll focus on the first post.

The first blogger goes about defining Liberalism in what he thinks is a meaningful way to describe the modern left – he is wrong:

Liberalism: The genuine concern for the welfare of genetically unrelated others and the willingness to contribute larger proportions of private resources for the welfare of such others.

He uses this to explain why Liberals (that is, leftists) apparently tend to score higher (on average) on IQ tests than people on the right.  His reasoning is that the liberalism he defines above is evolutionarily novel.  In tribal societies and hunter-gatherer situations we had evolutionary pressure to be altruistic towards those in our own group – but to those outside it. So, to be altruistic to those people who are not related to us (are not in “our” group) is something beyond our evolutionary base-line of familiarity, and therefore hard for people who aren’t as intelligent to deal with and understand. 

Liberals are smarter, so they care more.  Conservatives are dumber, so they don’t understand that helping others that you don’t know is a good thing.  That is much of his argument.  Wow …

Here is the biggest problem:

He uses some studies (apparently) showing that people who have more (politically) liberal views tend to have (very) slightly higher IQ’s (again, on average) than people who identify as (politically) conservative.  How much?  The liberals have an average of 104 and conservatives have 94.  (Big deal, both are well within normal range, IQ is a notoriously inaccurate judge of intelligence, and it is not correlated with morality generally.)

The problem is that he’s flipped definitions on us!

What the studies DO suggest is that (ever so slightly) higher IQ is correlated with a POLITICAL self-described liberalism.  But, the above definition he started with is NOT political, it is ethical.  There is a difference.  He’s flipping back and forth. 

The original definition is good, if we leave politics out of it.  But, it is false to say that only leftists define themselves this way.  Most Christians would also – who are generally conservative.  (Think of all of the Christian infomercials asking us to give money to African children.)

The difference is in HOW to contribute those larger proportions of private resources to those who need them.  Leftists feel as though it is the governments job to do this with taxes, and rightists believe that we should do so privately and with private organizations (even that is simplistic, but we’ll go with it for now).  Conservatives are not less morally interested in helping others than the left is.  They just don’t believe that the government is the right arbiter of the resources necessary to make that happen. 

By the first definition, we’re all liberals.  But, politically that is certainly not the case. 

This tendency to be cavalier with definitions is at the root of most arguments people have in politics.  We presume that we are all using the same ones when in fact we rarely are.  We presume that if someone else disagrees with our point of view, they must be either stupid (because they aren’t getting our line of reasoning) or immoral. 

Everyone is suspicious of everyone else.  Motives are questioned.  What is never questioned is simply whether we’re even on the same page to begin with.  Definitions matter. 

Why Are Intellectuals So Opposed to Capitalism?

Robert Nozick

I just found a fantastic article by the late Robert Nozick over at Cato.  It’s titled, “Why do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism?”  Nozick was a major proponent of free markets, and has become a go-to guy for many Libertarians like myself who never liked the Ayn Rand side of the Libertarian crowd. 

In this article he’s poking specifically at who he terms “wordsmiths”.  That is, those people who make their living through words: Novelists, professors in the Humanities, Journalists, etc.  But, I’d include most people in the sciences (with the very obvious exception of Economics).  Most scientist skew heavily toward the left by knee-jerk reaction.  I tend to agree with them in certain particulars (acceptance of global warming, heath-care and education as rights, and general environmentalism) but not categorically so. 

When it comes to their feeling about capitalism and free markets, there is a powerful distrust and distain that seems to color any ability to think about it with fresh and rational eyes.  It has often baffled me how otherwise very bright people, who themselves dislike when others use emotions to justify their beliefs rather than reason, can do exactly that when it comes to any discussion of capitalism.

Nozick has a possible answer.

Intellectuals now expect to be the most highly valued people in a society, those with the most prestige and power, those with the greatest rewards. Intellectuals feel entitled to this. But, by and large, a capitalist society does not honor its intellectuals. Ludwig von Mises explains the special resentment of intellectuals, in contrast to workers, by saying they mix socially with successful capitalists and so have them as a salient comparison group and are humiliated by their lesser status. However, even those intellectuals who do not mix socially are similarly resentful, while merely mixing is not enough–the sports and dancing instructors who cater to the rich and have affairs with them are not noticeably anti-capitalist.


That is, intellectuals have a feeling that what they do is more important than what Phil Knight (the owner of NIKE) does. But, they don’t get paid anywhere near what he does.  Isn’t the service they provide to society more important than a pair of shoes, or an inscribed basket ball?

 Nike LeBron

Nozick then goes on to explain how they may have come to these feelings in the first place.

What factor produced feelings of superior value on the part of intellectuals? I want to focus on one institution in particular: schools. As book knowledge became increasingly important, schooling–the education together in classes of young people in reading and book knowledge–spread. Schools became the major institution outside of the family to shape the attitudes of young people, and almost all those who later became intellectuals went through schools. There they were successful. They were judged against others and deemed superior. They were praised and rewarded, the teacher’s favorites. How could they fail to see themselves as superior? Daily, they experienced differences in facility with ideas, in quick-wittedness. The schools told them, and showed them, they were better.

The wider market society, however, taught a different lesson. There the greatest rewards did not go to the verbally brightest. There the intellectual skills were not most highly valued. Schooled in the lesson that they were most valuable, the most deserving of reward, the most entitled to reward, how could the intellectuals, by and large, fail to resent the capitalist society which deprived them of the just deserts to which their superiority "entitled" them? Is it surprising that what the schooled intellectuals felt for capitalist society was a deep and sullen animus that, although clothed with various publicly appropriate reasons, continued even when those particular reasons were shown to be inadequate?

This is backed up by the fact that so many of the worlds most successful entrepreneurs were horrible at school.  Many got straight C’s, scraped by, or simply dropped out.  They were smart, they were creative, but they didn’t have the specific skill set to do well in the environment of school. 

Think of school as an evolutionary selection tool.  It has rules, and where there are rules, there are selection pressures.  If you just happen to have the right series of skills, you will do well, and be rewarded.  But those rules are arbitrary.  Knowing a thing and demonstrating that you know a thing are two totally different things.  And further, the manner in which you ask a student to demonstrate knowledge will greatly affect whether the demonstration of that knowledge is closely tied to the actual knowledge you want them to have.

This was the argument behind many teachers resentment at being forced to deal with “No Child Left Behind”.  By creating a bunch of arbitrary standards, you are leaving those kids behind who DO know the material, but are bad at the particular method of showing that they know the material.

Intellectuals, people who work in these fields of the humanities and the sciences, tend to have been quite good in the world of school, with all of it’s grades and teacher-decided-upon rules.

[NOTE: Now in certain fields like Math and Physics it is demonstrably NOT the case nearly all of the best in the field did well in K-12 schooling.  In fact, many did the opposite and only thrived once they hit graduate school.  But, the reason these fields are so open to people who did poorly in early education is simply because the fields are so quantitative.  If you can demonstrate in any way at all that you are a genius at this stuff, then you’re in.  But, this is not the case in other fields that are more qualitative by nature. 

A simple example is that in the field of Political Science, if you aren’t a professor at a top-tier school, you have very little chance of getting your paper published in a top journal – no matter how good it is.  The selection committee likely won’t even read it.  That would be unheard of in Mathematics where “no names” make remarkable discoveries all the time.]

Nozick then makes what amounts to a “nerd” comment:

There is a further point to be added. The (future) wordsmith intellectuals are successful within the formal, official social system of the schools, wherein the relevant rewards are distributed by the central authority of the teacher. The schools contain another informal social system within classrooms, hallways, and schoolyards, wherein rewards are distributed not by central direction but spontaneously at the pleasure and whim of schoolmates. Here the intellectuals do less well.

It is not surprising, therefore, that distribution of goods and rewards via a centrally organized distributional mechanism later strikes intellectuals as more appropriate than the "anarchy and chaos" of the marketplace. For distribution in a centrally planned socialist society stands to distribution in a capitalist society as distribution by the teacher stands to distribution by the schoolyard and hallway.


So, because intellectuals did better in the classroom (a totalitarian world, ruled by the teacher) and poorly in the schoolyard (a near-anarchy where school-smarts just weren’t enough), then they learned over time to fear systems that functioned similarly to the schoolyard. 


Now he was just positing all of this as a hypothesis, and it would need to be tested and refined to be useful in understanding why so many people in the intellectual class (particularly writers and people in the humanities and softer sciences – including biology) are so anti-free-market.  But, it is an interesting one that sits very well with my own experiences in Academia. 

And, if true, it would help to explain why so many of the people I know in this group have such visceral gut reactions against capitalism and free-markets that supersede their rational abilities. (That isn’t to say that free-markets are categorically good.  They could be bad – I’m always open to a good debate.  But, the responses I get from so many bright people are hardly intelligent nor well researched nor well thought out.)

The Real Sarah Palin: And How to Know if YOU are a Sexist

Polar Bears Endangered?  Sarah Palin Doesnt Care

Polar Bears Endangered? Sarah Palin Doesn't Care

If you are a woman who voted for Hillary Clinton, and are now thinking of voting for McCain because of his vice-Presidential pick, Sarah Palin, then YOU are a sexist voter.  Why?  Because Hillary and Sarah dissagree on nearly every issue there is, while Hillary and Barrack AGREE on nearly every issue.

For example, From Slate

What’s Palin’s record on environmental issues?

The environmental Web site Grist.org has reported that she objected to listing polar bears or beluga whales as endangered in Alaska, fearing it might affect Alaskan drilling projects. She also voted against a proposition to limit mining where runoff would threaten salmon populations. She is outspoken about opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other offshore locations for oil drilling. The Sierra Club has condemned her advocacy for wolf hunting and her eagerness to drill throughout the state.

I can see Hillary Clinton fuming!  Just cause someone is pretty and a female is not a good reason to vote for them.

If you LIKE that Sarah Palin is against gay marriage, pro-Life, for the war in Iraq, wants creationism taught in schools (alongside evolution “for the debate”), AND doesn’t think that humans have anything to do with climate change, then you’re probably a member of the Republican base and it makes sense that you’d vote for her.

But, if you DON’T like those things, but are still thinking of voting for the McCain/Palin ticket because you want a woman in the white house … you’re a sexist.

Hillary is voting for Barrack.

FOX News vs. Obama: Racist Bastards

It’s always been amazing to me that people actually watch FOX news and believe what they’re hearing.  I think FOX has the right to be as insane in the membrane as they want to be.  What I lament is the huge swath of Americans who buy into it.  It says something deeply negative about our country.

Liberal Guilt

Ezra Klein gets jiggy with his sad self:

Ross has an interesting rejoinder to Ron Rosenbaum’s defense of liberal guilt, and he asks, “Its political consequences aside, is guilt an appropriate response to the sins of your ancestors (whether biological or ideological)? Or is it a character flaw – a form of self-congratulatory scrupulosity…what’s at issue in the debate over ‘liberal guilt’ isn’t whether Buckley should feel guilty about what Buckley did; it’s whether I, as a twentysomething conservative, should feel guilty about what he did – and, more broadly, whether I, as a twentysomething white American, should feel guilty about what white Americans used to do to black Americans.”

Republican Candidates vs. Evolution

3 of the current Republican Candidates for President don’t believe in evolution. One of them, Mike Huckabee, is ever becoming a major contestant.

A little while back, The Proletariat had an interesting post that discussed Darwinism, evolution, Marxism, and Religion on his blog in response to an article in the Journal of International Socialist Review entitled “Why evolutionary biology creates a problem for the Right?” by Phil Gasper.

Simply put, the religious fundamentalist attack on Darwin’s ideas amounts, in effect, to an attack on the scientific method itself. Rejecting evolutionary biology means rejecting along with it large portions of physics, astronomy, cosmology, geology, and other sciences, which provide evidence for evolution or employ similar methods. But capitalism depends on the accumulation and exploitation of new scientific knowledge. In the short term if religious anti-evolutionists are successful in a particular locality, they can do serious damage to science education, deter researchers from accepting university positions, and create a climate hostile to high-tech industry and investment. In the longer term they can pose a threat to scientific reason itself. Because of this, opposition to creationism and intelligent design has emerged within the conservative movement itself.

It got me thinking about the supposed ‘war’ between science and religion.

I myself am a fervent believer in Evolution. I’m not anti-religion, nor am I a “secular humanist” (I find them silly). I simply think that the evidence is clear, and that the theory of evolution is the strongest theory we have to explain human origins.

It says nothing about whether there is or is not a God. That isn’t the point. The point is that there is genetic variation over time and through processes like natural and sexual selection in response to pressure from their environment and from other species, creatures can (and very often do) change dramatically. It’s about biology and genetics, NOT metaphysics.

There may well have been a God that had a hand in the start of the universe. I, and no one else can know for sure. But, Evolution as a theory makes a remarkably strong case for how species have evolved and branched out ONCE LIFE GOT STARTED.

Evolution does not start with the premise that there is no God. That’s a myth. It just takes us from the moments in the beginnings of life to now. If God is as powerful and all-knowing as Christians say he is, then he is MORE than capable enough to have started this process and allowed it to just ‘do it’s thing’.

I am still convinced that the reason that Creationists and ID folk don’t believe in the theory of evolution is based on a few key points: 1) They don’t fundamentally understand what the theory actually says; and 2) Their fears, born out of that misunderstanding, that evolution is an attack on God, hits too close to home for them to think rationally. It is very hard for anyone to think rationally when they think that those things (or those people, ideas) that they hold dearest are under attack.

But, the fact of the matter is that evolution is NOT an attack on Religion. Period. Of course, I understand that many evolution writers (Dawkins comes to mind) are themselves engaged in what they see as a war between Atheists (and others they deem truly ‘rational’) and Religionists (who they deem decidedly ‘irrational’). But, we must be careful not to confuse the scientific ideas with the non-scientific, philosophical, discussion about the existence of God that happens to be continuing on between some of those who work in these fields.

When a Physicist says that he supports a Democrat for President, it doesn’t imply that the theory of Quantum Mechanics necessitates Democratic policies. That’s absurd. Science is science, politics is politics, and religion is religion.

I am becoming increasingly convinced that the war between Science and Religion is largely a fabrication by those at the extremes to polarize an otherwise intelligent and reasonable public. With full access to the facts, and without the suppression that comes from creationists and those who favor ID to keep evolution out of schools, people would be far more likely to be able see evolution for what it is (and for what it isn’t).

There is no war based on facts. There is simply animosity between groups that don’t really hear one another.