Tag Archives: liberals

Liberal vs Conservative Psychologists? Definitions Matter

gladiator-2

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.