Liberalism: Weaknesses & Failures

I often criticize conservatives for their tendency toward higher rates (relative to liberals) of motivated reasoning about political issues. It’s not that conservatives are generally less rational on all issues, rather primarily on political issues. It’s not even that conservatives are less informed, rather that they are more misinformed; in fact, the average conservative is more misinformed to the degree they are more informed, a fact that frustrates me endlessly. From global warming to sex ed, it seems impossible to have a straightforward discussion of the facts.

However, when pointing this all out, I want to be absolutely clear that I’m not denying the failures of liberalism, sadly the failures of liberalism being all too apparent to my liberal-minded sensibility. It’s also become clear to me that most people, especially conservatives, don’t understand the actual weaknesses and problems of liberalism. Liberals often get blamed for the problems of conservatism partly because many conservatives don’t want to take full responsibility for their own issues and also because liberals are prone to acting like conservatives, that latter point being one of the oddest aspects of the social science research.

Before I get into more complex factors, let me point out a simple example of liberal bias. There is one particular area where liberals are most strongly prone to motivated reasoning (Chris Mooney, The Republican Brain, Kindle Locations 6130-6132):

“In fact, although many of the psychology studies that I’ve surveyed seem to capture conservatives engaging in more intense motivated reasoning, liberals have been caught in the act too. I’ve shown that the best predictor of liberal bias, in a controlled motivated reasoning experiment, seems to be egalitarianism—e.g., liberals tend to be biased in favor of disadvantaged groups.”

Altemeyer has research showing authoritarians have higher rates of both social conservatism and hypocrisy. Some research confirms this and other research questions it. Part of the confusion might relate to the differences between hypocrisy and other types of biases. Are liberals also prone to their own version of hypocrisy? If so, how?

It is clear that liberals have biases they are prone to, but it isn’t clear that liberals are as predisposed to hypocrisy. It depends on how it is defined. Authoritarians are hypocritical in that they don’t apply the same standards to all people, and this makes perfect sense as authoritarians use criticism to defend their in-group which has nothing to do with the ideal of fairness. Authoritarians treat people differently when they should treat them the same. Liberals, however, have the opposite problem. Liberals treat people the same even when they maybe should treat people differently. Also, liberals in striving for an egalitarian balance of fairness can end up tipping the scale in the opposite direction. In this case, liberals could be judged as hypocritical in failing to achieve their own standard, instead just creating a different state of inegalitarian unfairness.

A real world result of this liberal failure can be found in affirmative action, what conservatives consider ‘reverse racism’. Going by liberal’s own standards of egalitarianism, many liberals have criticized the problems of affirmative action. What liberals criticize isn’t so much the intent as the result. If affirmative action achieved what it set out to achieve, then there would be no problem for liberals. Conservatives criticize it, instead, for its intent; but disagreeing with the intent doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with hypocrisy.

What interests me is less of how liberalism fails according to the conservative worldview and more how liberalism fails according to the very ideals, standards, and values held by liberals. There are certain attributes of liberal-mindedness that undermine liberalism. In some cases, the strengths are inseparable from the weaknesses. One strength of liberals is ‘openness’ (Jeffery J. Mondak, Personality and the Foundations of Political Behavior, Kindle Locations 1214-1221):

“Again, openness to experience partly represents the inverse of dogmatism. People high in openness to experience are not rigid in their own views nor in the expectations they hold for others. Consistent with this depiction, negative correlations have been observed between openness to experience and multiple aspects of prejudice and intolerance. In one recent study with data from the United States and Russia, low openness to experience in both nations corresponded with stigmatizing attitudes toward HIV/AIDS (McCrae et al. 2007). Similarly, other research has identified negative relationships between openness to experience and racial prejudice (Duriez and Soenens 2006; Flynn 2005) and white racial identity (Silvestri and Richardson 2001), authoritarianism (Stenner 2005) and right-wing authoritarianism (Butler 2000; Sibley and Duckitt 2008), political intolerance (Marcus et al. 1995), and homophobia (Cullen, Wright, and Alessandri 2002).”

The research on ‘openness’ fits my own sense of self. I must admit that I’m proud in being less dogmatic, rigid, prejudiced, intolerant, authoritarian, etc. Those all seem like good things to me and I suppose most people in a liberal democracy would at least agree to the merits of ‘openness’ on abstract theoretical grounds. However, liberal-mindedness is defined by other traits as well. For example, liberals measure low on ‘conscientiousness’, a trait like all traits with weaknesses and strengths, but in light of liberalism let me focus on certain strengths that conservatives have in this realm (Mondak, Kindle Locations 1232-1238):

“Unsurprisingly, strong links exist between conscientiousness and job performance. It would be rather odd, after all, for workers who are not dependable, punctual, and hardworking to be named “Employee of the Month” with any great regularity.45 In part, the positive impact of conscientiousness on work performance may reflect the impact of honesty and integrity. In an interesting laboratory study, Horn, Nelson, and Brannick (2004) show a strong correspondence between conscientiousness and honest behavior, whereas Ones, Viswesvaran, and Schmidt (1993) find that integrity is linked positively with job performance and negatively with undesirable work behaviors such as absenteeism and employee theft.”

It’s probably because of ‘conscientiousness’ that conservative values are associated with morality and liberal values with immorality or amorality. Conscientiousness will make someone be the best of whatever they value or idealize. This will make them be hardworking employees, obedient Christians, and dutiful spouses. But this will also make them efficient bureaucrats and lockstep authoritarians. On the liberal side, it is the combination of high ‘openness’ and low ‘conscientiousness’ that leads to what conservatives see as moral relativism. Liberals are flexible and open to change, and this can lead to problems with not seeing morality as black and white, thus potentially turning moral dilemmas into stumbling blocks. Conservatives would morally fail by not questioning rules and commands whereas liberals fail for constantly being in a state of doubt and questioning, plus general curiosity about what is forbidden.

It’s this combination of factors that probably makes liberals more open to alternative views and new info, hence less misinformed about political issues (liberals are maybe no less likely to either be smart or be idiots, but they are less often ‘smart idiots’ — see smart idiot effect). This probably also would be the reason behind liberals being less partisan and more willing to compromise. Liberals aren’t known for their loyalty, even to liberal ideology. Liberalism is anti-authoritarianism which means liberals have a harder time effectively organizing; as it has been described, like trying to herd cats. Liberals dislike rigid hierarchies and strict chains-of-command, dislike strong traditional authority figures. All this makes political activism a bit on the challenging side.

Compare the Tea Party movement to the Occupy movement. The Tea Party, even with in-fighting, had clear leadership take over the movement, what from the liberal perspective seemed like a coopting of grassroots activism, but it was effective. The Tea Party elected many politicians into power. The Occupy movement, on the other hand, spent as much or more time simply making sure every person’s voice was heard in an egalitarian democratic fashion. They created hand signals to ensure communication. They created a sense of true grassroots activism that wasn’t co-opted like the Tea Party. Precisely for these reasons, Occupy hasn’t become a force in Washington like the Tea Party, despite it’s mass support from the American public.

This is where the real problems begin for liberals, beyond the basic challenges of organizing. Liberals are so flexible and so willing to change that they end up being prone to undermine their own liberal nature. On the opposite end, conservatives are so much less flexible and less willing to change that they are more effective in resisting what liberalism offers. This liberal weakness and conservative strength makes liberalism an easy target of anti-liberal tactics such as emotional manipulation and propaganda, especially in terms of fear and disgust which are the foundations of the conservative predisposition and moralistic ideology. Basically, when liberals are overly stressed to the point of feeling overwhelmed, they turn into conservatives:

Political Ideology: Its Structure, Functions, and Elective Affinities
John T. Jost, Christopher M. Federico, & Jaime L. Napier

“Given that nearly everyone wants to achieve at least some degree of certainty, is it possible that conservatism possesses a natural psychological advantage over liberalism? Although answering this question is obviously fraught with challenges, several lines of research suggest that this might be the case. First, a series of experiments by Skitka et al. (2002) demonstrated that “the default attributional position is a conservative response,” insofar as both liberals and conservatives are quick to draw individualistic (rather than system-level) conclusions about the causes of poverty, unemployment, disease, and other negative outcomes, but only liberals correct their initial response, taking into account extenuating circumstances. When a distraction (or cognitive load) is introduced, making it difficult for liberals to engage in correction processes, they tend to blame individuals for their fate to the same degree that conservatives do. Skitka et al. (2002) therefore concluded, “It is much easier to get a liberal to behave like a conservative than it is to get a conservative to behave like a liberal” (p. 484; see also Kluegel & Smith 1986, Skitka 1999). Research by Crandall & Eidelman (2007) takes this general line of reasoning even further, showing that a host of everyday variables associated with increased cognitive load and/or increased need for cognitive closure, such as drinking alcohol, lead people to become more politically conservative. Both of these lines of research are consistent with the notion that conservative styles and opinions are generally simpler, more internally consistent, and less subject to ambiguity, in comparison with liberal styles and opinions (e.g., Tetlock 1983, 2007; Rokeach 1960; Tetlock 1983, 2007). A third reason to suggest that conservatism enjoys a psychological advantage over liberalism comes from research on system justification, which suggests that most people (including liberals) are motivated to adapt to and even rationalize aspects of the status quo, that is, to develop and maintain relatively favorable opinions about existing institutions and authorities and to dismiss or reject the possibility of change, especially in its more radical forms (Jost et al. 2004a). Studies show that justifying the status quo serves the palliative function of increasing positive affect, decreasing negative affect, and making people happier in general, but it also undermines support for social change and the redistribution of resources (Jost & Hunyady 2002, Napier & Jost 2008a, Wakslak et al. 2007).” [ . . . ]

“Although it is abundantly clear that processes associated with social identification, partisanship, and group interest can exert political influence in both liberal and conservative directions (e.g., Bartels 2000, Cohen 2003, Green et al. 2002), Jost et al. (2008a) speculated that—as with epistemic and existential motives—some relational motives could favor conservative outcomes in general. This is broadly consistent with the commonly held notion that conservatives are especially likely to value tradition, conformity, social order, and consensual adherence to rules, norms, and conventions (e.g., Altemeyer 1998, Conover & Feldman 1981, Feldman 2003, Haidt & Graham 2007, Jost 2006). It is also consistent with the assumption that it is generally easier to establish common ground with respect to the status quo than with respect to its many possible alternatives and to communicate effectively by transmitting messages that are relatively simple and unambiguous rather than reflecting the kind of complex, nuanced, and perhaps ambivalent cognitive and rhetorical styles that seem to be more common on the political left than the right (see Jost et al. 2008a).”

As a movement, liberalism rarely ever suffers from the condition of being too liberal for conditions have to be perfect for the liberal predisposition to fully manifest. Such perfect conditions don’t come around that often and they tend not to last very long. In moments of peace and prosperity, the general public can forget about possible threats and their emotional response becomes dampened, a contented optimism taking its place. Such a moment occurred after the Great Depression and once again after WWII, but after those brief moments conservatism ruled during the Cold War Era and into the post-9/11 Era. Liberals have at best hunkered down and at worst given their support to the conservative agenda (pushing deregulation, dismantling the welfare state, building up the military, going to war against Iraq, supporting the Patriot Act, maintaining Gitmo, empowering the executive branch, etc). Sadly, the liberal movement doesn’t make much of a worthy enemy for the conservative movement. Conservative leaders just have to say “Booh!” and liberal leaders run for cover.

One of the difficulties with liberalism is that liberal values are more dependent on higher abstract thinking while conservative values have an emotional punch that hits people in the guts. It’s because of the abstract nature of liberal values that many don’t even see them as being moral values at all or else only moral in their relation to conservative values. Conservatives are very good at political rhetoric, as Lakoff and others have noted. The results of this is that most Americans self-identify as conservatives, despite the fact that most Americans support liberal policies; both the public opinion polls and social science research support this conclusion — (another quote from the above linked Political Ideology paper):

“Since the time of the pioneering work of Free & Cantril (1967), scholars of public opinion have distinguished between symbolic and operational aspects of political ideology (Page & Shapiro 1992, Stimson 2004). According to this terminology, “symbolic” refers to general, abstract ideological labels, images, and categories, including acts of self-identification with the left or right. “Operational” ideology, by contrast, refers to more specific, concrete, issue-based opinions that may also be classified by observers as either left or right. Although this distinction may seem purely academic, evidence suggests that symbolic and operational forms of ideology do not coincide for many citizens of mass democracies. For example, Free & Cantril (1967) observed that many Americans were simultaneously “philosophical conservatives” and “operational liberals,” opposing “big government” in the abstract but supporting the individual programs comprising the New Deal welfare and regulatory state. More recent studies have obtained impressively similar results; Stimson (2004) found that more than two-thirds of American respondents who identify as symbolic conservatives are operational liberals with respect to the issues (see also Page & Shapiro 1992, Zaller 1992). However, rather than demonstrating that ideological belief systems are multidimensional in the sense of being irreducible to a single left-right continuum, these results indicate that, in the United States at least, leftist/liberal ideas are more popular when they are manifested in specific, concrete policy solutions than when they are offered as ideological abstractions. The notion that most people like to think of themselves as conservative despite the fact that they hold a number of liberal opinions on specific issues is broadly consistent with system-justification theory, which suggests that most people are motivated to look favorably upon the status quo in general and to reject major challenges to it (Jost et al. 2004a).”

This situation creates a major disadvantage for liberals. Many liberals don’t understand why it doesn’t work to rationally discuss the issues and objectively analyze the facts. Liberals haven’t yet learned (assuming they ever will learn)  how to use rhetoric as effectively as conservatives. Maybe there is something about the liberal predisposition that makes this a weakness. Maybe the intellectualizing tendencies of the ‘openness’ trait causes liberals to get stuck in abstract thinking and so they can’t really grasp gut-level symbolism. As explained by Marc J. Hetherington and Jonathan D. Weiler in their book, Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics (Kindle Locations 1275-1280):

“Many have observed over the past two decades that Democrats insist on fighting “on the issues” (Tomasky zoo4). But it is perhaps better to conceive this approach as emphasizing the programmatic dimension of issues, while Republicans have done battle on their symbolic aspects. Building on President Clinton’s record of military deployment in the 19gos, Vice President Al Gore proposed significantly larger defense budgets than did George W. Bush in their contest for the presidency in zooo. Bush notably articulated a foreign policy doctrine of restraint, including his oft-noted insistence that he was opposed to “nation-building.” But the public did not see this as evidence that the Democrats are “tough” on defense because the public was not forming judgments based on careful inspection of policy differences. Instead, it drew on symbolic understandings of the parties that had been developing over decades.”

Liberals are perceived as weak. This perception has less to do with actual policies or issues of character. Al Gore was even a veteran while George W. Bush was a draft-dodger. But none of that matters in terms of political rhetoric. Bush was seen as being strong on military simply because he had a more masculine persona whereas Al Gore seemed like a pansy intellectual. Despite the superficiality of this public perception, there is a truth behind it. On average, liberals are less decisive and conservatives more decisive. This is why liberal ‘opennesss’ is in such polar opposition to authoritarianism. As such, liberals are weak in that they aren’t domineering.

If Al Gore had been elected president, even with being strong on the military, he probably would’ve been less prone to start wars of aggression like Bush did. Bush attacking Iraq on false premises was both illegal and immoral, but nonetheless it was certainly decisive. Bush in playing the conservative role of being strong did indeed assert America’s military strength, although the wisdom of such an act is questionable… questionable that is to a liberal who would more likely stop to ask questions before acting, especially before acting out of blind rage and vengeance. A pansy intellectual veteran like Al Gore probably would have been a more wise commander-in-chief, not that the American people necessarily value wisdom all that much.

When you want action, conservatives are who you want. Conservatives will act quickly and they will follow through. This decisive strength comes from their low ‘openness’ and high ‘conscientiousness’. Sometimes that is precisely what is needed. If this past decade we had been fighting an authoritarian leader like Hitler, Bush might have made an awesome commander-in-chief. He would’ve sent in American troops to kick ass and take names. But conservatives aren’t well-equipped for less black-and-white situations as we now face where the enemy is hard to determine and even harder to find.

Still, I can’t exactly blame people for turning to conservatives for a clear sense of certainty and direction. It’s simply a fact that liberals aren’t overly talented in this department. Liberals typically do make weak leaders, especially during times of conflict and uncertainty. Obama, for example, has appeared weak because he acts weak, always begging his opponents for cooperation, always willing to compromise on every ideal he espouses and every promise he makes. The only advantage Obama has is that his pathetically weak liberal leadership is refreshing after the massive failures of the conservative style of strong leadership.

It’s this liberal weakness that makes liberalism so hard to understand. The trait ‘openness’ can lead to chameleon-like behavior. This is why it is easier for a liberal to act like a conservative than a conservative to act like a liberal. To a certain extent, when a liberal acts like a conservative for all intents and purposes he is actually being a conservative. It is confusing trying to figure out who is a liberal. I often say Obama isn’t a liberal. In terms of policies, he follows the examples of conservatives, even his health care reform is modeled after the plan developed by Republicans. Obama doesn’t even identify as a liberal and yet he is considered the figurehead of the liberal movement. However, in terms of personality, I have no doubt that Obama would measure higher on ‘openness’ than George W. Bush and lower on ‘conscientiousness’ than John McCain… and so, at least in that sense, Obama is relatively liberal-minded.

In practical terms, this chameleon-like behavior means there has probably never been a consistent application of liberal ideology at any point in history. You might say that most liberals are simply conservatives who sometimes don’t act like conservatives. The failure of liberalism, like the failure of much of the Left in general, is that it has never been fully attempted. Maybe liberalism by nature could never be entirely implemented. Liberalism is weak because it requires perfect conditions to manifest, a slight change in the weather and it wilts. Liberals talk a good game with their idealism, but the uninspiring disorganization of liberals can never compete with the authoritarian-leaning organizational skills of conservatives.

All that liberals are really good for is moderating the extremism of the Right, keeping it from going all the way over the edge to authoritarianism. This is where the misunderstanding is the greatest. Liberalism isn’t just a mirror image of conservatism, rather liberalism relates to conservatism at an angle. In terms of the Left-Right spectrum, liberalism is actually closer to the center between the extremes. It can play this moderating role because of its ability to more easily switch attitudes. Liberalism is less about a specific ideology. What liberalism does is focus on how things relate and thus playing the middle. There is a liminal quality in this, neither fully this nor that.

This is why strong ideologues, both left-wingers and right-wingers, so often strongly criticize liberalism. Liberals don’t want left-wing revolution and they don’t want right-wing counterrevolution. Liberals just want everyone to get along. This makes sense because liberals can only be themselves during times of peace and prosperity. The moment liberals feel threatened, they simply stop being liberals. The reason liberals promote such things as democracy is that they want to create a world where liberalism isn’t constantly under attack, but this ideal has never and may never come to be. The democracy we have is half-assed at best, constantly being undermined by illiberal and anti-liberal forces.

Liberalism is weak and liberals know it. Liberalism can never win through force and conservatives know it.

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34 Responses

  1. ” The reason liberals promote such things as democracy is that they want to create a world where liberalism isn’t constantly under attack, but this ideal has never and may never come to be. The democracy we have is half-assed at best, constantly being undermined by illiberal and anti-liberal forces.”

    You have come to the same conclusion I have by different means, but I suspect our answers to this conclusion are different. I see liberalism as a beautiful dream, but in its moment of conflict, its aims are more utopian than mine. We live in that moment of stirring conflict when liberalism is becoming illiberal to maintain a status quo. That is scary to me because it means that status quo shatters, we don’t know what resources will be able to be marshaled to repair things. In the past this has led to nightmare scenarios that even the most ultra-leftist cringes at.

    • Indeed, liberalism is a beautiful dream. That is one of the talents of the liberal-minded, dreamers of beautiful dreams. It’s because of this that the liberal-minded are drawn to art and the creative fields. Liberals want to dream a new reality and make it come true, but they are better at the dreaming part than they are in following through.

      You probably are correct about liberalism having utopian aims. It often hides its utopianism behind a persona of intellectual hard-headedness or even world-weary cynicism, but if you look closely you can find that ever-present longing for dreams worth dreaming.

      I suspect liberalism is always in a state of stirring conflict perilously hanging over the edge, the pit of illiberalism ever below. Liberals wouldn’t be liberals if they didn’t have the capacity to not be liberals when it really counts. Liberals are dreamers, not doers. We don’t want the hard fight, the ugly toil in the dirt and grime.

      The only thing that competes with the liberal’s love of dreams is the liberal’s love of the status quo. Liberals fear so much of losing what they’ve gained that they too often end up sacrificing everything that is worthy. Liberals know all too well how shaky is the foundation upon which their dreams are built. In clinging so tightly to their dreaming, they allow themselves to become unmoored from the real problems threatening liberal society.

      The real danger is that, when the liberal dream shatters, many liberals will run to the safety of right-wing authoritarianism. The Right often has its strongest support from former liberals who have grown fearful or cynical. A liberal turned into a conservative is a dangerous thing. It’s like how the Orcs are created in The Lord of the Rings, beautiful elves made into destructive monsters.

    • Chris Hedges has made one of the more interesting analyses of the failure of liberalism. I disagree with many things he says, but he seems to get at a core truth. If you’re not already familiar with it, here is a good summary of Hedges’ view:

      http://ronbc.wordpress.com/2011/02/07/chris-hedges-how-the-liberals-lost-their-way/

      I would add that liberals like Hedges are probably part of the problem of liberalism. Hedges’ doesn’t really offer any solution. He is just another liberal afraid of revolution as much as of authoritarianism. Liberals are wary of committing. They’ve fallen in love with their own failed dreams and don’t want to let them go.

  2. But I have thought this necessitates eventual revolution. I am sure that is what you hope to avoid, but we must admit: we now need, at least, something like an Arab Spring. Those rarely ever stay easy.

    • I’m always of mixed response to notions of revolution. At some point, debating about it becomes moot. If things don’t improve, revolution is inevitable.

      That is what I always question of those in power. They seem to be acting in a way that forces the hand of revolution, but it makes no sense to me that the powerful would want revolution. Are the powerful blind to the consequences of their own actions?

      It seems liberals are the only people who would like to avoid revolution. Everyone else is ready for the big showdown, many gleefully egging it on. But one way or another everyone liberals included playing into the same endgame.

      I’m more or less accepting of this fate at this point. Liberals need left-wingers to force what liberals wouldn’t otherwise accept. Only left-wingers can keep liberals honest and only left-wingers can make worthy opponents of the right-wing. Liberals maybe don’t realize it, but they need the revolution in order to keep the liberal dream going.

      • More or less, the left winger probably does have a temperament that is More like the conservative on compromise but not on change. Although most of us are gunning for a revolution rifght now, but even Tom Friedman thinks the government in the us is broken and has macro corruption that is legal. It may be revolution or collapse at the end of the day

  3. Although to be fair for all the fear of the left I see from center-liberals and even some left-liberals: when is the last time we have propagated an illiberal or even anti-liberal discourse? I mean I pick on liberals all the time, but its because they move for peace actually doesn’t lead to peace, it leads to stalling. When it is time to remove a bandaid, the research shows that in most cases it hurts more but does less actual damage to remove it faster.

    • Yeah, I basically agree. I don’t know what is ultimately good, but it is definitely time to try something new. Liberals had their chance, limited as it was. If liberals want to get serious, then they better start acting serious.

  4. I was thinking about Jonathan Haidt is a fairly typical liberal. Even starts his newest book with the famous line, “Can we all get along.” The way he describes his past, it sounds like he was an intellectual liberal who held to standard liberal ideology, certainly not a radical liberal, rather more stuck in the reality tunnel of mainstream academia.

    He then experienced a traditional culture firsthand which gave him an insight to the conservative worldview. Apparently, he had a conversion eexperience of sorts. Now he has taken his liberal framework and filled it with conservative premises, but he still he seems basically clueless in a typical liberal fashion.

    He still doesn’t understand why people can’t just get along. He doesn’t understand why most conservatives don’t give a shit whether or not he thinks they should get along. Simply putting conservative premises into a liberal framework isn’t going to appease conservatives and ends up ignoring whatever is of value in liberalism.

    I personally think there is something of value in liberalism. Liberals tend are among the greatest poets, artists, comedians and philosophers of our society. Also, to the degree left-wing (or even right-wing) ideology is worthy in a democratic society is the degree to which the person holding it has at least some liberal-minded tendencies. Many left-wingers are very liberal-minded and so all the problems I describe in this post would apply to them.

    In this post, I just wanted to be clear that there are some major challenges liberals face. Liberals need to first face their internal problems and weaknesses before they will be able to offer anything of worth to the greater world. If Obama is the best liberals have to offer, we might as well give up and let America become a right-wing fascist state.

    • Yes, actually, I attacked Haidt for his liberal biases which lead him to over-value conservatism and also ignore that two of his rubrics actually do mildly apply to liberals (the purity concern is there, but its a different kind of purity.)

  5. [...] on abstract reason and orientation, but in power, liberalism almost immediately becomes illiberal. Ben at Marmalade blog has been discussing this: This is where the real problems begin for liberals, beyond the basic challenges of organizing. [...]

  6. I had a thought about this whole scenario of liberal behavior. Is a liberal still a liberal when they think and act like a conservative? How is a liberal different from a conservative when they are apparently the same from outward appearances?

    After 9/11, there was little disagreement between liberals and conservatives. Eventually, some liberals come back to their senses. But what good does it do?

    I ask this as someone who identified as a liberal during the Bush era. I was against the Iraq War and even thought the Afghanistan War was mostly pointless. I was certainly against the Patriot Act and Gitmo. As far as mainstream liberalism goes, I was fairly radical. But I can’t say I’ve ever felt particularly radical in terms of ideology.

    To me, I’m just a consistent ‘liberal’ in that I don’t change my liberal-mindedness just because there is something to fear. The greater the fear would mean all the more liberal-mindedness is necessary as an antidote. Maybe that is what makes me less of a liberal in some sense. Maybe to be consistent is to not be liberal in some important factor. So, what differentiates the liberal-minded person who is consistent and the one who acts like a conservative when ever things get bad?

    If so many liberals are inconsistent and weak, then what good is liberalism? Who can save liberalism from the betrayal of liberals?

  7. [...] wrote in which I posed liberal analytical thinking against conservative intuitive thinking and the post before that in which I described the negative side of liberalism or rather liberal-mindedness. I probably also [...]

  8. Hi, Benjamin- it’s such a pleasure to read your thoughts. I’ve interviewed academians on these subjects, including Dr. Mondak, various neurologists, and personality theory experts, but your intuitively multi-disciplinary and unregulated thought process is really helpful to me. I appreciate the attempt you made here to get at some liberal disadvantages, despite your clear leanings ideologically. A question, please, when you have the time and inclination. And I promise to not dwell in the least on Haidt, who I’m sure we’re both a bit tired of discussing.

    I tend to rail a great deal on Descarte’s error as a nearly strictly liberal disadvantage. I’m not sure, but I think that you find that approach a bit barren, perhaps thanks to spiral dynamics and your personality studies. Could you please explain to me your perspective? I mention it because I tend to use Descarte’s error as a clarifier or introduction to many of the problems I see with liberal approaches. Just so you have something to spit on, if you like- I think of Jost’s endless insights into how messed up conservatives are, while keeping in mind 1) that they’re 30% or so of the population for some reason, 2) that we default to their ways on a dime (the vast majority of time, per your above), and 3) there is virtually no academic work that leaves dirt on the liberal living room carpet. I find that beyond annoying, in the context of my long experience with liberal ‘smart’ idiots, both in activism and in the workplace (I’m assuming I can speak freely, and that you’ll be kind enough to address the pertinent points, and not the hyperbole- we’re all committed liberals here. I’ve found it’s not in my nature to defend my ideological weaknesses with fellow liberals: I seem to’ve inculcated our advantages, and cannot give two shakes for the process of validating them with others of my ilk). It simply is not logical to me that we can’t document liberal weaknesses scientifically, outside of loose speculationg about herding cats: to not do so is to suggest superiority, which I can allow in some small degree, since I’m, of course, quite correct in myh ideology- but we can’t allow it enough to warrant a clean rap sheet. Poppycock, I say. Horsefeathers. If that were true, my forefathers would’ve had all these conservatives’ women, and we could’ve snuffed them out back when blue was coo’.

    I think I can admit that, like Haidt, I’ve been smitten by the intuitive side enough to get a good little wave of bias going in the other direction now, as befits both my likely age-induced conservatism and my childhood roots as a conservative. So there’s that. You’re most welcome to kick that shin and kidney if you like.

    Kind regards,

    Scott

    • “your intuitively multi-disciplinary and unregulated thought process is really helpful to me. I appreciate the attempt you made here to get at some liberal disadvantages, despite your clear leanings ideologically.”

      I like the way you described my thought process. It is what you get from an under-educated and over-read mind.

      I suppose I could write a whole series about liberal disadvantages. In some ways, I think they are fairly obvious. The difficult part isn’t pointing out the disadvantages but explaining why they exist and how they play out in actual behavior. I’d love it if there was more research about this.

      However, even the research we already have tells us quite a bit. For example, liberals are more likely do drugs and become addicted to drugs, to become alcoholics, etc. Liberal curiosity and dislike of rigid self-control gets liberals in lots of trouble. I fully understand from a personal perspective the liberal drive to explore and experiment, sometimes leading to wonderful discoveries and sometimes not.

      “I tend to rail a great deal on Descarte’s error as a nearly strictly liberal disadvantage. I’m not sure, but I think that you find that approach a bit barren, perhaps thanks to spiral dynamics and your personality studies. Could you please explain to me your perspective? I mention it because I tend to use Descarte’s error as a clarifier or introduction to many of the problems I see with liberal approaches.”

      I’d like to hear more of your view before responding in great detail. Have you written any blog posts or any articles about this issue that I could read online somewhere? I’m familiar with Descartes’ error, but I’d have to see your reasons for arguing it is “a nearly strictly liberal disadvantage”.

      I read some of Damasio’s book a long time ago, but I haven’t thought much about it since then. By the way, I live in Iowa City where Damasio lived for almost 30 years, up until 2005.

      My own thoughts about Descartes and the Cartesian worldview, like my views on Spiral Dynamics, more come from an integral perspective from reading such thinkers as Ken Wilber and also from having spent some time looking into mind-body theories, from Philosophy in the Flesh by Lakoff and Johnson to various thinkers on enactivism. Here is something I wrote about 4 years ago:

      http://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/03/29/enactivism-integral-theory-and-21st-century-spirituality/

      One idea that I find compelling is that of cartesian anxiety. I’d also connect that to the Western Enlightenment ideal of individualism. Here is something I posted about individualism:

      http://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/11/06/against-individualism/

      Individualism could be thought of as a liberal disadvantage. Individualism is an evolutionarily novel concept, but to us moderns it just seems like normal reality at this point, considering how much we’ve internalized such ideas and values. The Enlightenment even though begun by liberals has at this point also fully infected conservatives as well.

      In recent decades, liberals and those on the left in general have become increasingly wary of the older liberal ideals that came out of the Enlightenment: rationality, individuality, etc. The problem is that, even though many liberals know about the problems, the problems have become so embedded in our culture that even conservatives or rather especially conservatives defend them, although the conservative versions of these liberal ideals and values are even more problematic from the liberal perspective. So, its problems built on problems. Many liberals and left-wingers have become suspicious of the entire Western tradition of civilization.

      One of my influences is Derrick Jensen. He isn’t a typical liberal and probably wouldn’t identify as a liberal at all. His type of anarchism, though, would seem to represent that rare flower of extreme liberal-mindedness.

      “It simply is not logical to me that we can’t document liberal weaknesses scientifically, outside of loose speculationg about herding cats: to not do so is to suggest superiority, which I can allow in some small degree, since I’m, of course, quite correct in myh ideology- but we can’t allow it enough to warrant a clean rap sheet.”

      I’m not sure. There is some research like this, as I pointed out. Besides issues with self-control and addiction, liberals are prone to motivated reasoning with egalitarian issues. The difficulty with seeking out liberal disadvantages is that like most disadvantages they also manifest as advantages, depending on the situation and the perception of their value.

      As we live in a liberal society in terms of values and traditions, liberal-mindedness tends to be seen in a positive light. Even drug experimentation often gets romanticized in our culture. For many liberals, of course, such things as the disorganized nature of Occupy seems like a good thing, rather than a disadvantage. Conservative tendencies are inevitably often looked down upon in our liberal society. Conservatism is boring. What sells is sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll (i.e., liberal licentiousness and radical liberty-mindedness).

      “I think I can admit that, like Haidt, I’ve been smitten by the intuitive side enough to get a good little wave of bias going in the other direction now, as befits both my likely age-induced conservatism and my childhood roots as a conservative.”

      In my most recent post, I discuss the relationship of liberals to rationality and the non-rational:

      http://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2012/05/05/the-enlightenment-project-a-defense/

      “Like most liberals and liberal-minded folk, I don’t dislike intuitive knowing, symbolic thinking, or the non-rational in general. In fact, I love such things when taken on their own terms, instead of being conflated with what they aren’t.

      “I would go even further. My defense of rationality is also a defense of the non-rational, the love of the latter motivating my love of the former. I have a mad fascination with the non-rational. I would daresay that I embrace the non-rational to a greater degree than even most of the more anti-intellectual variety of conservatives. It is my liberal-minded ‘openness’ that opens me up to the non-rational, leading me and those like me to seek out new experiences and alternative states of mind.”‘

      At the end of that long post, I share some of my previous writing on the issues. Here are the specific links:

      http://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/08/09/nde-spirituality-vs-religiosity-2/

      http://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2011/12/06/the-monstrous-the-impure-the-imaginal/

      http://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2011/08/30/fortean-curiosity-liberalism-intelligence/

      http://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2011/06/22/american-liberalism-the-occult/

      I don’t think liberalism is inherently rationalistic or at least not in the sense of excluding the non-rational. This is where I would make a distinction between liberalism as an ideological tradition and liberalism as a psychological predisposition. Liberal-mindedness in a general sense is actually quite open to the non-rational. It is this ‘openness’ that makes the boundary seem so thin between rationality and the non-rational.

      By the way, my use of ‘boundary’ here relates to Ernest Hartmann’s research on boundary types. Liberalism correlates to thin boundaries. Interestingly, one of the disadvantages of thin boundary types is that they are more prone to nightmares because of heightened emotional sensitivity in dreams and also because of lessened ability to distinguish between waking and dreaming.

      I hope all of that was helpful in explaining my perspective.

      • Thanks much for the answers, Benjamin. I agree with all your direct points in your comments- as you said, there’s quite the little bits in social science research, though one must dig, and infer- as opposed to research on conservatives, which is quite pointed, definitive, and done at times with blunt instruments. One you didn’t mention that I think is valid is the slight evidence of liberal weakness in emotional stability in some studies. I think there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence of such- certainly some people on the left and right I’ve spoken with share my own opinion that it’s a significant, accurate finding, one that becomes clear outside of self-assessment studies.

        I see other points of primary weakness on our side I’ll address, two of which you alluded to. Two others I think important I’m not clear enough on yet to wobble over with anyone.

        >I’d like to hear more of your view before responding in great detail. Have you written any blog posts or any articles about this issue that I could read online somewhere? I’m familiar with Descartes’ error, but I’d have to see your reasons for arguing it is “a nearly strictly liberal disadvantage”.

        Sorry for not explaining my point re Descarte’s error- that was a little dumb. And I overstated it as a nearly strictly liberal problem- I just notice this problem exclusively among liberals, for reasons that will be obvious.

        We have a worshipful attitude toward rationality. Graduate schools are full of us: even business PhD’s are mostly liberal, while the social sciences are roughly 7:1 liberal. Almost all liberals acknowledge a nonconscious side of life, but that’s a mere rational extension of reality. Even if we apply introspection (which many of us don’t), it doesn’t beat the problems that come from some important aspects of nonconscious control, such as the fundamental attribution error, and other biases that appear in an ideological context.

        From my end, what I see a great deal is a liberal rigidity. I’ve experienced it in academia, and with activists, people I’d consider (usually) very leftist. Academics (liberal) have been shown to be more inflexible with ideas outside their expertise than even priests, which, if you think about it, is a pulsing, throbbing irony for people celebrated for openness. To paraphrase Mr. Montoya, I do not think we know what that word means. Openness is much more about attraction to experience, ideas, fantasy, art, etc. than it is to changing our mind in fundamentally useful way, or even influencing our world view significantly. It’s only a potential pre-cursor for these more fundamental influences, and, I would venture, not a particularly successful one. Our obsession with exposure, if you will, has an ironic aspect of rigidity inherent, as we see in the study of academians.

        You’ve alluded here to openness as a candidate for moral standing- that’s kind of what I’m talking about. We tend to overlay a human/conservative rigidity with a surface orientation toward newness, uniqueness, and intellectual titillation. It acts as a replacement for depth, or maybe a temporary version of it, I’m not sure: satisfies a craving that feels like a morality to us. My own experience with liberals is that what we think of as openness tends to be about titillation- it’s not about dragging the soul into the affair. It is, for instance, a primary way we enable the consumerism we see as engendered by conservative values. It’s why, for me, it’s no more satisfying to talk to liberals than it is to speak with conservatives about controversial subjects, even when liberals ostensibly agree and conservatives don’t. There’s an important way that conscious agreement, even emotionally engaged agreement, is highly overrated as significant with liberals. I’ve been involved with liberals in fund-raising, for instance, seen crowds be very involved, and get results in funds and involvement that were ridiculously inadequate. On the emotional side, there’s a cathartic component to our openness I believe, though I can’t prove it. There seems to be a secret checklist all the time that one must work on: if one has adequate exposure to ideas, arts, movements, etc., one has fulfilled a moral duty, in a sense (I think a compassion dimension is involved here, but let’s keep it simple). And I haven’t seen anything in research about it, other than the work on charity differences between the ideologies which, as you’ve pointed out, can be considered somewhat controversial.

        It’s a very general and broad phenomenon to me, and I can see why social research, which is essentially liberal research, misses it. I’d have to think hard to create studies for it, but a simple way to think about it is that attendance at a TED seminar for a liberal may mean very little, even though they seem to enjoy it- but for a conservative it might tend to be relatively consequential, even though they may not be as enthusiastic overtly. I believe it’s partially that openness is somewhat inert in the absence of Conscientiousness, i.e., a burst of intellectual or maybe emotional involvement that has little carryover into our lives intrinsically. But I don’t think that’s most of it: the rest is simply a cultural unwillingness to admit, a desperation to mask the fundamentally conservative nature of mankind: prone to safety considerations, avoidance of uncertainty, and strong habit orientation. Recall your confession that you are proud of your openness: none of these conservative aspects of all of us are acceptable in a liberal, and yet they’re all there to a significant degree- liberals are only lower on these values than conservatives, and often, not particularly distinguishable from them. We find that unacceptable about ourselves, and employ a specialized, openness-tinged version of Descarte’s error to hide it from ourselves. We have this mechanism to store experiences, data, interests, variety, etc. in a back room, check off a checklist that validates our openness (lack of conservatism, if you will), and go back to our lives as if we integrated all those things. As if we weren’t fundamentally conservative in important ways.

        I tie it to Descarte’s error only because the problem is primarily intellectual in nature, from my standpoint. Another group of personality psychologists call the Big Five Openness “Openness/Intellect” because of the integral connection between the two- liberals tend to equate the two, or, rather, to go back-and-forth between the openness and their intellect as a special kind of Cartesian process that is generally worshipped: artists, explorers, entrepreneurs, etc. Here’s an interesting article that I think gets at the idea a bit (has other really interesting implications as well): http://www.creativitypost.com/psychology/must_one_risk_madness_to_achieve_genius

        I guess I’m trying to say that your point regarding openness being a moral is an ironic truth to me, and I see it as a big problem for us.

        I see two other problems, both of which you allude to. You address the hand signals of Occupy, and a bit about our inefficacy, but there’s a much broader weakness that I think is missing in much thought around liberalism by liberals, and not missing at all on the right’s discussion of us. It’s inherent in the personality aspects we’re both familiar with, especially our lower levels of aspects of Conscientiousness. Not only are we not very efficient: more importantly, we don’t respect efficiency as a value. Democracy, or pluralism, or the wisdom of cat herds trump efficiency at every turn. We don’t see big capitalism as valuable and difficult, and therefore involving a set of useful skills- we see it as full of problems, and assume rather blithely that the fixes are easy and centered around ending evil behavior- or that we could a priori end big capitalism because we can do so much better. Those are highly problematic conclusions, to my mind, that bespeak a disrespect for stability, orderliness, and other important aspects of Conscientiousness. The right-wing’s planning fallacy in national security is ours in almost every other subject, because of our relationship to Conscientiousness. Our mind’s eye has a montage where the project implementation stage should be: Ironman the “scientist” does in a couple of sweaty days what 15 engineers and 150 techs might do in a year, i.e., drag into reality a scientist’s half-baked idea. The idea is the thing to us- get that right, and the rest falls into place (there’s an ubermensch point in there that’s important, but that’s another day). Execution is a detail. As a businessman, I’ve experienced this liberal attitude as deadly: as an activist, highly counter-productive. It’s amazing what we can’t get done in the realm of simple practicalities because of this value problem.

        The final weakness I think you mentioned in a sense, regarding liberal bias around egalitarian concerns: it’s really a special case of the first I mentioned. I’ve seen and experienced strong liberal disgust responses resulting from conservative rigidity and other ‘sins’. We can become quite hateful and irrational around those who are a reverse-image of our Openness/Conscientiousness profile. It’s a special case of the above because of the moralistic aspect of being high in “Openness/Intellect”. These folks violate the basic precept we have of being open, and of using our intellect in that context, and we experience a moralistic response that’s exacerbated by the second point above, our inability to recognize or value conscientiousness-related reasons for their violation. We can be incredibly rude and unproductive with conservatives. On the surface, that should appear somewhat counter-intuitive, due to our openness, but when you include Openness/Intellect as a moral value that allows right action, it’s revealed as essentially a disgust response, or a moralistic one, anyway. It’s as if we give ourselves a giant waiver to violate “openness” in the case of conservatives, because of this moral violation. It’s kind of a blind spot idea, like the retinal one, or the Blind Spot Bias itself.

        I have something I’m editing on the first and third above I can send you later, and a few rants on the second, but they wouldn’t be much more informative. And I must say, 1) I get pushback on all of these from liberals often, 2) conservatives see the symptoms these points describe as a given, ones they talk about among themselves as big problems all the time, and 3) I have no proof that I know of other than the allusions within research that you already noted. What I always go back to is that conservatives are not imagining these things, and neither am I. Conservatives got some of the keys to the kingdom, I would argue, by virtue of having stuck around genetically until now. Their keys are ones that we could use as individual liberals, if only to get around self-referential, subject-object barriers. Lacking that external reference, we make mistakes that are invisible to us, arguably by definition, while being perfectly visible to conservatives. To speak of their biases and weaknesses as the rationale for their complaints only goes so far: when their assessments are paralleled well by personality theory, we really should be sitting up and paying attention. It is, in fact, quite telling that we don’t.

        I see these as problems of similar magnitude to conservative ones. Whether they are ‘as bad’ or not is immaterial, and is only situationally relevant in any case. They’re much worse issues than the few other points bandied about (rarely) by others as liberal weakness. Although the second is really just a simple extrapolation of personality characteristics, I think the first and third points are not intuitive, not accepted as true in the liberal community, and quite important.

    • There are two reasons I thought of for why liberal disadvantages get less attention.

      First, they are sometimes less noticeable in terms their societal impact. Authoritarianism is a problem of too much order and anarchism is a problem of too little order. The difference, though, is that authoritarians are good at organizing and anarchists aren’t. You won’t find any large movements or political parties based on anarchism. Even when anarchists cause problems, they tend to be on the small-scale. Anarchists are a problem in what they lack, i.e., social order. But this problem offers its own solution in decreasing the influence of anarchists on the greater society.

      Second, in our liberal society, most liberal disadvantages are looked upon with more forgiveness. This is particularly true for the disadvantages of the ‘openness’ trait. This trait has many weaknesses and problems, but they seem more charming than dangerous from the perspective of our liberal culture. Liberals are disorganized. They tend to have messier rooms. They live in “creative chaos”. They are the the archetype of the mindless professor such as Einstein, a person loved by all. Obviously, such disorganization can lead to major problems, both personally and publicly; but these kinds of problems are less melodramatic than goose-stepping authoritarians that form massive armies, invade countries, commit genocide, etc.

      If you want to look at the liberal disadvantages that actually seem like dangerous or undesirable in our society, you’d need to look more to how liberals measure low on the ‘conscientiousness’ trait. To the degree our society has a conservative bent, it is found in this trait which liberals lack. This is the source of the famous “Protestant work ethic”. Just read a description of ‘conscientiousness’ and you’ll see many wonderful traits that liberals tend to lack.

      I would say the liberal disadvantages can be found in the social science research. They are all over the place, if you just look for them.

      • >First, they are sometimes less noticeable in terms their societal impact.

        Yes, less noticeable- to liberals. Conservatives have a fairly clear idea of these points I just made. I think I fundamentally disagree, and point to the abandonment of social sciences in general by conservatives as exhibit A. We both know that there are many reasons why conservatives aren’t in the trenches with us at the moment, but one important reason why is that they see conservative downsides addressed systematically, in excruciating detail, and they see us ignoring what I contend are very significant, obvious liberal downsides, ones they talk about all the time, that they get no research clarity on. In fact, what excites me about Haidt, far more than the actual work, is the fact that he’s throwing conservatives a research bone that liberals can at least consider outside of junk science: what do you know of out there along those lines? At this point, I could care less how truthful his work is, in an important way: just looping people in from the right with something/anything is incredibly useful. We need to cede 4% of the field to them, and do so whenever we can.

        > these kinds of problems are less melodramatic than goose-stepping authoritarians

        I hope you can see how subtly liberal this statement is (now I think I’m being a butt- sorry). First is the assumption that melodrama is more obvious, which I don’t agree with, from a conservative standpoint. Second is the implicit assumption that we as a culture would see
        disorganization as less obvious that goose-stepping authoritarians. Well, I don’t know about the goose-stepping, exaggerated versions, but authoritarians in real life are much less obvious a problem to conservatives than the disorganization of liberals. Again, the obviousness is a function of which ingroup you’re part of, and it’s a testament to liberal bias and weakness that we just don’t see what’s staring us in the face, or we don’t see it as important, or ‘melodramatic’, or ‘noticeable’. I do agree that, from a research standpoint, the important liberal weaknesses are hard to get at, and that’s certainly a lot of the issue.

        >If you want to look at the liberal disadvantages that actually seem like dangerous or undesirable in our society, you’d need to look more to how liberals measure low on the ‘conscientiousness’ trait.

        Zackly. Ibid, baby.

  9. “there’s quite the little bits in social science research, though one must dig, and infer- as opposed to research on conservatives, which is quite pointed, definitive, and done at times with blunt instruments.”

    You probably have a point here, but I’m not sure how extensive this issue is. There is so much research out there. In my own studies, I know I’ve barely scratched the surface. I couldn’t really say what research is or isn’t out there about the diadvantages of liberalism (and whether or not some of it is equally “quite pointed, definitive, and done at times with blunt instruments”). It seems like there should be plenty of research about liberal disadvantages, although maybe as you argue there is a strong bias. Then again, the bias might be less among researchers and more among journalists who report on the research, the bias being on what is reported and how it is reported rather than on what is researched. It’s hard to know.

    On the other hand, one potential problem I keep thinking of is that extreme liberal-mindedness might be harder to study than extreme conservative-mindedness. Those with extreme liberal-minded traits will tend not to be those who have successful careers in academia or politics, won’t tend to accrue a lot of power and influence. The reason is that they aren’t the type to desire to play the social game or even be able to play it well. So, the liberals you’ll find in academia and politics are generally the very moderate liberals who might not have much affinity with or understanding of the more radically liberal-minded.

    Actually, these moderate liberals probably have more in common with moderate conservatives, the key element here is that these people are moderates. I’m willing to bet there are some massive trait differences between moderate liberals and radical liberals, many of the former might not even identify as ‘liberal’ because conservatives have conflated liberalism with radical left-wing politics (Obama doesn’t self-identify as a liberal, for example) and the many of the latter I know prefer to identify as left-wingers rather than as liberals. There might even be an entirely separate personality trait that determines or influences radicalism.

    This would make for a problem in research. The strongly or radically liberal-minded aren’t the type to be joiners. They wouldn’t tend to belong to mainstream respectable careers. They wouldn’t tend to belong to political parties or movements. They wouldn’t tend to belong to any kind of organization at all. They might not even be all that interested in participating in scientific research, quite the opposite probably. The extreme end of liberal-mindedness is egalitarianism and the most extreme manifestation of egalitarianism probably would be anarchism. It would be challenging to study these people or even identify them. They would not only tend to be politically anarchistic but also epistemologically anarchistic. They’d probably feel a strong desire to intentionally resist being identified and defined. The successful social scientist would have a hard time getting at such an elusive prey, assuming they could even comprehend it.

    The academic liberal is far to the right of the radical liberal, so far right that they might be closer to the worldview of the average conservative. This is why scientists tend to be so conservative-minded in certain ways, the scientific method being on the conservative side: very plodding and relatively risk-adverse enterprise, especially risk-adverse in terms of academic scientists seeking to maintain their careers and maintain the respect among their peers. This is how dull scientists are formed:

    http://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2011/11/20/dull-scientists-and-the-reliable-dumb/

    This also connects to another factor. We live in a liberal society, in the West in general and especially in the US. America is a product of the Enlightenment, America as a country not having existed prior to that. Because of America’s liberal beginning, even conservatives in America have adopted liberal ideas and ideals, liberal beliefs and values. They have adapted them to their conservative tendencies and will defend them as if they were their very own. Even the notions from the Protestant Reformation were the liberalism of their day and now the mainstay of conservatism, in fact at the very heart of most of the far right-wing fundamentalism. There is little left of traditional conservatism and so conservatives have been forced to play the role of defender of the liberal status quo of the past. This is why even most conservatives today support the liberal policies from the Progressive Era.

    So, we have a liberal society without having a society dominated by liberals. This relates to how we have the liberal scientific establishment which nonetheless tends to exclude the more radically liberal-minded.

  10. “One you didn’t mention that I think is valid is the slight evidence of liberal weakness in emotional stability in some studies. I think there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence of such- certainly some people on the left and right I’ve spoken with share my own opinion that it’s a significant, accurate finding, one that becomes clear outside of self-assessment studies.”

    Yeah, that is a definite factor to bring into the discussion. That would relate to Hartmann’s thin boundary and nightmares. Thin boundary types are more likely to have imaginary friends as children and more likely to have spiritual or supernatural experiences. They also are less likely to compartmentalize their emotions from their thinking. Thin boundary types are sensitive creatures which relates to the liberal’s hyper-awareness of their environment.

    (By the way, a thin boundary type is more capable of crossing boundaries, both intentionally and unintentionally. They might not even notice boundaries and when they noticed them they’d tend to find them confining. In the shamanic tradition, the oldest and original religious tradition, boundary-crossing was done as part of rituals, such as invoking the sacred or supernatural. Sociologically speaking, there is great power in crossing boundaries, and this is why shamans wielded so much power in tribes and were sometimes feared.)

    I know about the sensitivity issue on a personal level. I suffer from emotional issues, most specifically I was long ago diagnosed with depression (and the same psychiatrist said something about a “thought disorder”, although I was never clear what that meant; I do know thought disorders relate to cognitive boundaries or rather the lack thereof); I also suspect I have a certain amount of undiagnosed social anxiety disorder. I’ve tended to see a connection between my cognitive style of ‘openness’ (curiosity, experimentation, alternative thinking, etc.) with emotional instability, not that most people would perceive me that way (my introversion hides this).

    Conservatives care about social order and in relation to this they also are focused on emotional order. Liberals, however, are the masters of cognitive complexity. Liberals are so flexible that we can get ourselves into trouble. I remember being taught in a martial arts class that flexibility is dangerous in that if you allow your limbs to be bent too much major damage can be caused; then again, the Taoists recommend bending in order to avoid breaking entirely.

  11. “We have a worshipful attitude toward rationality. Graduate schools are full of us: even business PhD’s are mostly liberal, while the social sciences are roughly 7:1 liberal. Almost all liberals acknowledge a nonconscious side of life, but that’s a mere rational extension of reality. Even if we apply introspection (which many of us don’t), it doesn’t beat the problems that come from some important aspects of nonconscious control, such as the fundamental attribution error, and other biases that appear in an ideological context.”

    This is where I would point out the essential distinction between an academic liberal and the average liberal, and between an academic liberal and the radically liberal-minded. Academic liberals, of course, have a worshipful attitude toward rationality. It is their business, their life, their way of thinking about the world, their group identity. The New Age spiritual liberal outside of academia, however, is very opposite of this worshipful attitude toward rationality. The radically anarchistic egalitarians are even more mistrusting of this attitude of mainstream academia. The liberal-minded traits come in many varieties and are manifested to varying degrees.

    “From my end, what I see a great deal is a liberal rigidity. I’ve experienced it in academia, and with activists, people I’d consider (usually) very leftist. Academics (liberal) have been shown to be more inflexible with ideas outside their expertise than even priests, which, if you think about it, is a pulsing, throbbing irony for people celebrated for openness.”

    We must be careful here. Many activists and academics on the left are left-wingers. However, many left-wingers aren’t liberals or liberal-minded. As the research shows, in left-wing countries, left-wingers tend to be authoritarians. Even in countries such as the US the average left-winger may not be liberal-minded or strongly liberal-minded. Also, another thing to keep in mind is that research shows that the politically active are very different from the average person, much more partisan and dogmatic. None of this directly relates to liberal-minded traits.
    The people who measure the highest on ‘openness’ are probably the people you least often find in academia and organized politics.

  12. To paraphrase Mr. Montoya, I do not think we know what that word means. Openness is much more about attraction to experience, ideas, fantasy, art, etc. than it is to changing our mind in fundamentally useful way, or even influencing our world view significantly. It’s only a potential pre-cursor for these more fundamental influences, and, I would venture, not a particularly successful one. Our obsession with exposure, if you will, has an ironic aspect of rigidity inherent, as we see in the study of academians.”

    There is much here that needs to be disentangled. Once we’ve disentangled it, there might be another side to ‘openness’ as you suggest. Openness is about the ability and willingness to change one’s mind, but it has little to do with anything obviously useful (in the conservative pragmatic sense). It certainly is just a precursor that can manifest in so many different ways. In lesser degrees of openness, it might not manifest in particularly worldview-changing ways. It’s possible that it takes massive amounts of ‘openness’ before you begin to see this worldview-changing side of it being expressed. I would never claim liberal-mindedness as being successful per se, at least not successful in terms of what the mainstream judges. Liberal-mindedness (with high ‘openness’ and low ‘conscientiousness’) is pretty much the opposite of success-mindedness.

    Openness is an odd trait. As I’ve pointed out, it might in some ways undermine its own expression. It allows for so much flexibility that it seemingly makes it easy for the average liberal to think and act like a conservative. This probably also relates to why extreme liberal-mindedness is so rare. Openness is such an unstable condition of the human mind, at least unstable within the social context of a more conservative mainstream society. I suppose one could theorize that openness could be made more stable by promoting a more open society where openness is normalized and so allowed to manifest in more socially useful ways. In some ways, tribal societies are less obsessed with social order than modern conservatives or else there is something more natural and less forced about the social order of tribal societies. It’s easy to forget that modern conservatism is entirely different, even oppositional, to traditionalism (the basic argument made by Corey Robin).

    “You’ve alluded here to openness as a candidate for moral standing- that’s kind of what I’m talking about. We tend to overlay a human/conservative rigidity with a surface orientation toward newness, uniqueness, and intellectual titillation. It acts as a replacement for depth, or maybe a temporary version of it, I’m not sure: satisfies a craving that feels like a morality to us.”

    Now, that is an interesting theory. I’ve speculated that liberalism isn’t an opposite to conservatism, rather an addition to or simply an alternative factor.

    If this were the case, this could explain my differentiation between the strongly liberal-minded and the less strongly liberal-minded. In traits theory, traits are on a spectrum. So, a person can measure high both on high ‘openness’ and low ‘openness’, meaning they are capable of both. However, the liberal archetype of high ‘openness’ and no low ‘openness’ might be very rare. It would be difficult for a person to become permanently stuck in high ‘openness’ mode, no matter the situation.

    This could further relate to how liberal-mindedness is defined by multiple traits. Theoretically, liberal-mindedness is both high ‘openness’ and low ‘conscientiousness’. My theory about academics is that they would tend to be either less high on ‘openness’ or less low on ‘conscientiousness’, most likely the latter, or else both.

    As for intellectual titillation and replacement for depth, maybe this relates to someone who is only moderate high on ‘openness’ and who also has easy access to low ‘openness’ cognition. Such a person would probably still identify as a liberal or as liberal-minded for they have that capacity to some degree, but it isn’t necessarily well-established as a permanent part of who they are. It is just a potential they can play with. The person permanently stuck in high ‘openness’ mode, however, would be completely different in that ‘openness’ would be at the core of their being, rather than mere superficial titillation.

    “My own experience with liberals is that what we think of as openness tends to be about titillation- it’s not about dragging the soul into the affair. It is, for instance, a primary way we enable the consumerism we see as engendered by conservative values.”

    Your description here is of mainstream moderate liberalism, not radical liberal-mindedness. Maybe that is fair in the sense that mainstream moderate liberalism is what is generally meant by liberalism, radical liberal-mindedness being so rare as to be relatively insignificant. Still, I would make this distinction since the radically liberal-minded do exist, no matter how small in number they may be.

    Here is the problem I have with speaking of liberalism in terms of mainstream moderate liberalism. Such liberalism ends up like simply a form of diluted conservatism. It’s just conservatism with a superficial layer of ‘openness’ to moderate it enough that it doesn’t manifest as authoritarianism or fundamentalism. It’s a relatively illiberal form of liberalism (for example, Obama’s laughing at the idea of legalizing marijuana, despite most Americans supporting this very notion, which means a liberal like Obama is more conservative than the average American). It might represent many liberals or at least mainstream liberals, but it doesn’t capture my own sense of liberal-mindedness (nor would it describe the experience of many liberals to the left of Obama).

  13. “It’s why, for me, it’s no more satisfying to talk to liberals than it is to speak with conservatives about controversial subjects, even when liberals ostensibly agree and conservatives don’t. There’s an important way that conscious agreement, even emotionally engaged agreement, is highly overrated as significant with liberals.”

    It’s true that liberals appreciate agreement or at least the seeking of mutual understanding and appreciation. I don’t know if it is overrated. I’d simply say it is one of many aspects or potentials of egalitarianism. Liberals just want everyone to get along. This is a noble dream, even if it is rarely fulfilled. The challenge for liberals is that many moral injustices can only be righted through conflict. Getting along better might initially require confronting those who refuse to play well with others.

    “I’ve been involved with liberals in fund-raising, for instance, seen crowds be very involved, and get results in funds and involvement that were ridiculously inadequate.”
    I think that is true of all fund-raising. My conservative dad is involved in fund-raising. We were discussing how in any given fund-raising project most people don’t donate much or at all. Most donations come from a small percentage of people.

    “On the emotional side, there’s a cathartic component to our openness I believe, though I can’t prove it. There seems to be a secret checklist all the time that one must work on: if one has adequate exposure to ideas, arts, movements, etc., one has fulfilled a moral duty, in a sense (I think a compassion dimension is involved here, but let’s keep it simple). And I haven’t seen anything in research about it, other than the work on charity differences between the ideologies which, as you’ve pointed out, can be considered somewhat controversial.”

    Maybe. I couldn’t say. This hypothetical cathartic component does entice my curiosity a bit. If we are discussing emotions, then how might this relate to emotional instability?

    Maybe it has to do with emotions in terms of empathy and social-mindedness. Research has shown that liberals are constantly checking their environment and the people in their environment, a major reason for liberals lacking focus and being easily distracted. Liberals are hyper-sensitive to social environments in particular, a major reason for why liberals want everyone to get along. This liberal social awareness and empathetic hyper-sensitivity probably leads to a certain kind of moral sensibility, moral duty even. Liberals feel responsible in relation to others and to the world at large. Liberals are incapable of simply focusing on one thing or doing their own thing, even more incapable of focusing narrowly on their own in-group while ignoring the fates and suffering of all others. Liberals see all the potential things they could be doing, all the possibilities, and so this might lead to a feeling of all the things they should be doing. Liberals are haunted by the sense of inaction in that they are hyper-aware of all the things that they have little control or influence over. This could lead to emotional and cognitive paralysis.

    Also, lack of conscientiousness can cause liberals to be inconsistent and lack persitence. Liberals mean well, but often don’t have good follow through. Liberals get quickly distracted by some new project or possibility. Liberals can easily fall into being dilletantes, ever trying to do more than they are practically capable of doing, and so not doing any single thing well.

    “It’s a very general and broad phenomenon to me, and I can see why social research, which is essentially liberal research, misses it. I’d have to think hard to create studies for it, but a simple way to think about it is that attendance at a TED seminar for a liberal may mean very little, even though they seem to enjoy it- but for a conservative it might tend to be relatively consequential, even though they may not be as enthusiastic overtly. I believe it’s partially that openness is somewhat inert in the absence of Conscientiousness, i.e., a burst of intellectual or maybe emotional involvement that has little carryover into our lives intrinsically.”

    Openness and conscientiousness are two separate traits. Many people would be high in both or low in both. The archetypal liberal of being high openness and low conscientiousness (with none of the opposite side of the spectrum) probably isn’t all that common, at least not in its extreme forms. I would particularly suspect that mainstream liberal professionals (whether scientists or academics or politicians or businessmen) are going to tend to measure more highly on conscientiousness than liberals who don’t have more mainstream professional careers. Still, mainstream liberal professionals would probably measure lower on conscientiousness than mainstream conservative professionals, although the degree might be smaller than one would imagine, small degrees of difference in cognition however can manifest as major differences in behavior.

    Even two people who measure the same on conscientiousness would behave quite differently if they measured differently on openness. This difference, as you argue, might be of how inert is openness, meaning how apparent and effective is openness in changing or influencing the world. Being too high on conscientiousness, however, would also have problems of effectiveness or problems of the results of that effectiveness, the effectiveness becoming so controlled that it becomes narrowed down to some inconsequential focal point such as obsessive-compulsive behavior or else it becomes so domineering that it manifests destructively. There is probably an ideal middle point of balance where productive and beneficial behavior is made more likely.

  14. “But I don’t think that’s most of it: the rest is simply a cultural unwillingness to admit, a desperation to mask the fundamentally conservative nature of mankind: prone to safety considerations, avoidance of uncertainty, and strong habit orientation. Recall your confession that you are proud of your openness: none of these conservative aspects of all of us are acceptable in a liberal, and yet they’re all there to a significant degree- liberals are only lower on these values than conservatives, and often, not particularly distinguishable from them. We find that unacceptable about ourselves, and employ a specialized, openness-tinged version of Descarte’s error to hide it from ourselves. We have this mechanism to store experiences, data, interests, variety, etc. in a back room, check off a checklist that validates our openness (lack of conservatism, if you will), and go back to our lives as if we integrated all those things. As if we weren’t fundamentally conservative in important ways.”

    This is where I will strongly disagree with you.

    Although there is something fundamental about conservatism, there is also something fundamental about liberalism. I’m not entirely clear about this fundamental nature, the proportion between conservatism and liberalism. But what I do feel clear about is that everyone has both conservative and liberal traits. I suspect being completely one or the other would mean being dysfunctional. One of the defining factors of the human species is our curiosity about the world. If not for this liberal curiosity, we would not be humans. Hence, we would not have explored the world and ended up inhabiting every continent and we would not have developed civilization. Everything that makes us distinct as such a successful species is fundamentally intertwined with liberalism and hence intertwined with the ancient personality traits that are the foundation of liberalism.

    Even the most primitive tribes required the liberal-minded to be shamans, storytellers, trackers, and traders. It’s hard to imagine how even the most primitive of tribes could function without a significant degree of liberal-mindedness among at least some if not all those who belonged to the tribe. If humans didn’t have the liberal trait of adaptability, we would have died out as a species long ago. Humans came so close to dying out a number of times, but we kept adapting. Liberal-mindedness saved the human species from extinction.

    Speaking of people who clearly identify as liberal or conservative, it is true that many or even most would be disinclined to admit to having some traits of the opposite ideological mindset. I just would point out that this isn’t a specifically liberal failure.

  15. “I tie it to Descarte’s error only because the problem is primarily intellectual in nature, from my standpoint. Another group of personality psychologists call the Big Five Openness “Openness/Intellect” because of the integral connection between the two- liberals tend to equate the two, or, rather, to go back-and-forth between the openness and their intellect as a special kind of Cartesian process that is generally worshipped: artists, explorers, entrepreneurs, etc.”

    There is a connection between openness and intellect, but it isn’t absolute. Intelligence is only a very small part of openness (I would point out that intelligence more generally speaking isn’t limited to intellectuality, by which I mean that there is a kind of intelligence in openness taken on its own terms, although less so when it goes over the edge of madness). The larger aspects of openness may have nothing directly to do with intellectual intelligence, other than the fact that openness often works well with intellectual intelligence in creating the conditions for innovative thinking, genius not being possible without both. It’s only in our post-Enlightenment society that openness becomes more equated with intellect, and even then it is mostly mainstream intellectuals who would conflate these two in a more direct and absolute way.

    As I’m not a mainstream intellectual, I don’t agree with this conflation (for example, I don’t see general intellect as being limited to rational thought). I suspect that many liberal-minded people don’t necessarily conflate the two, at least not in any simplistic way. I would still argue there is a correlation between the two in that a certain amount of ‘openness’ makes more extreme forms of intellectuality (i.e., genius) both possible and likely. I’d like to see more research in this area before coming to a conclusion for I wouldn’t be surprised if openness predisposes one to developing intellectual intelligence, assuming one has the potential to be developed. As a side note, I’d point out that even conservatives have some degree of openness as a capacity, even if they don’t desire or feel capable of using it as regularly or as extremely; and so there is no reason to assume conservatives are incapable of innovative thinking, rather they would just have less potential and/or less tendency to use that potential.

    “Here’s an interesting article that I think gets at the idea a bit (has other really interesting implications as well):
    “http://www.creativitypost.com/psychology/must_one_risk_madness_to_achieve_genius”

    That was a good article. The following two quotes captured the essence of the article:

    intelligence and apophenia are on opposite ends of the simplex. Intelligence is all the way at the top, and apophenia is all the way at the bottom, both separated by lots of different tests. In other words, even though they live on the same planet, they are miles away from each other. At the same time, all of the measures that appear on the simplex are positively related to the overall Openness/Intellect domain. Thus, the paradoxical nature of the simplex. As the researchers note, “some forces cause intelligence and apophenia to vary together, whereas other forces cause them to vary inversely”.

    “Genius requires penetrating insight into reality, whereas madness is confusion about reality. Nonetheless, both madness and genius appear likely to be positively related to the broad trait of Openness/Intellect. Without the tendency to perceive patterns that is fundamental to Openness, Intellect may by unlikely to lead to the creativity required for genius. Perhaps, then, genius is most likely to emerge given the combination of high Intellect and high Openness, and one must risk madness to achieve genius.”

    Liberalism correlates to openness. And it is openness that transforms mere intellect into genius. All geniuses, therefore, will be liberal-minded to some degree, probably liberal-minded way beyond average. This is interesting research for this was understood to some degree even in the past. Richard Hofstadter, in Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, made an important distinction between being smart which everyone including conservatives value and being intelligent which is most strongly valued by liberals. Hofstadter’s view of intelligence seems more equivalent to what is referred to as ‘genius’ in the above article, the combination of IQ and openness, although Hofstadter was speaking more generally beyond just extreme genius-level manifestations of innovative thinking (genius requires innovative thinking, but innovative thinking doesn’t make genius inevitable).

    Anyway, this combination of the analytical (IQ) and the creative (openness) fits into some important aspect of liberalism or rather maybe just how liberalism manifests in our society. Liberals put more value on such things as science and the scientific method which is the analytical side of things. At the same time, liberalism is correlated to the creative (and madness-inducing) tendencies of openness. In liberalism, there is an ideal balance that strives for ‘genius’, even if it probably more often fails to reach the mark.
    This could be an aspect of the difficulties of liberalism. Go too far on the openness and all you get is madness. This is also why liberalism in its extreme forms will rarely create great leaders of large nation-states or large political movements. Liberalism is too unstable and only manifests in its best form in very rare cases. The average liberal maybe saves themselves from madness simply by never strongly manifesting their own liberal tendencies.

  16. “I guess I’m trying to say that your point regarding openness being a moral is an ironic truth to me, and I see it as a big problem for us.”

    We tend to have a very limited and limiting way of defining morality according to conservative-mindedness which excludes the liberal-minded traits that exist in all (all humans who are somewhat normal and not dysfunctional), even if only as potential unused. What liberal morality does is challenge this lack of moral imagination and hence expands the moral purview. To a liberal, morality should be broad and inclusive for if morality doesn’t apply to all aspects of human nature, liberal-mindedness included, then what good is it? That is the sad irony to me.

    “I see two other problems, both of which you allude to. You address the hand signals of Occupy, and a bit about our inefficacy, but there’s a much broader weakness that I think is missing in much thought around liberalism by liberals, and not missing at all on the right’s discussion of us. It’s inherent in the personality aspects we’re both familiar with, especially our lower levels of aspects of Conscientiousness. Not only are we not very efficient: more importantly, we don’t respect efficiency as a value. Democracy, or pluralism, or the wisdom of cat herds trump efficiency at every turn.”

    Conservatives would argue that liberals are very efficient, so efficient that we are about to take over the world with communism. Conservatives tend to give liberals a lot more credit in being efficient or at least in being effective. The trouble I have with conservatives is that they project their own authoritarian tendencies onto liberalism, creating a weirdly distorted dystopian vision of liberalism that connects in no way with what is found in social science research. I wish liberals were capable, as conservatives fear, of taking over the world.

    However, it is true that conservatives are able to be a bit more accurate in their understanding of liberalism when it comes to other aspects. Liberals love democracy and democracy is inefficient by design, divided power and democratic processes and all that. That seems to be central to why conservatives criticize democracy, the whole wastefulness of inefficiency. Authoritarianism, of course, is much more efficient. I don’t know that liberals don’t value efficiency, but we do mistrust it as a value when it isn’t balanced by other values. Getting somewhere efficiently isn’t desirable if the end result isn’t moral or compassionate or socially beneficial. Liberals rightly perceive the potential heartlessness in the efficiency agenda.

    We don’t see big capitalism as valuable and difficult, and therefore involving a set of useful skills- we see it as full of problems, and assume rather blithely that the fixes are easy and centered around ending evil behavior- or that we could a priori end big capitalism because we can do so much better. Those are highly problematic conclusions, to my mind, that bespeak a disrespect for stability, orderliness, and other important aspects of Conscientiousness.”

    We seem to live in entirely different realities. I’ve rarely met such liberals as you describe. Most liberals I’ve known are fine with capitalism or at least would rather have capitalism than communism. I know the rate of small business ownership and stock-trading is higher among liberals than found in the general population. The problem I’ve found with liberals is that they don’t see any easy fixes, either becoming cynical or apathetic or indifferent. The Millennial generation both is the most liberal generation to ever exist in American history and also very accepting of big business (along with big government).

    Also, I’d point once again to Corey Robin’s theory. He thinks that, because of the Enlightenment, modern conservatives (especially in America) are radicalized and, in terms of attitude, un-conservative or even anti-conservative. The greatest enemy of modern conservatism is the traditionalist, the former having arose specifically in opposition to the failures of the latter during the Enlightenment. Because of these weird circumstances, liberals have taken on the role of traditionalism, thus we now have the conservative-minded (i.e., moderate and non-radical) mainstream liberal commonly found in American politics (e.g., Obama).

    Liberals are the only demographic that has major fear of social instability and disorderliness (the one demographic most clearly seeing the danger of revolution and desirous of avoiding this pitfall), but I don’t know if this necessarily has anything to do with Conscientiousness itself (at least not as a permanent trait). It’s more of a circumstantial issue of where liberals find themselves. Liberalism has become the dominant culture and yet liberals don’t dominate, hence liberals fearing the loss of what little they’ve gained and fearing their powerlessness to defend against such loss. When liberals are out of power as they are now, they tend to act like conservatives, in this case acting more conservative than even conservatives.

    Many people mistake the rhetoric of conservatism for the reality of conservatism. In reality, conservatism has little to do with conserving. Sure, conservatives want to conserve their social position and political power, then again so would any other group in the same situation.

    “The right-wing’s planning fallacy in national security is ours in almost every other subject, because of our relationship to Conscientiousness. Our mind’s eye has a montage where the project implementation stage should be: Ironman the “scientist” does in a couple of sweaty days what 15 engineers and 150 techs might do in a year, i.e., drag into reality a scientist’s half-baked idea. The idea is the thing to us- get that right, and the rest falls into place (there’s an ubermensch point in there that’s important, but that’s another day). Execution is a detail. As a businessman, I’ve experienced this liberal attitude as deadly: as an activist, highly counter-productive. It’s amazing what we can’t get done in the realm of simple practicalities because of this value problem.”
    You may have a point here, but I’d repeat a warning. Don’t mistake self-identified liberals as representing all or even most people with liberal-minded traits. Most liberal-minded Americans don’t self-identify as liberals. So, you are speaking about one tiny slice of the liberal-minded demographic.

    “The final weakness I think you mentioned in a sense, regarding liberal bias around egalitarian concerns: it’s really a special case of the first I mentioned. I’ve seen and experienced strong liberal disgust responses resulting from conservative rigidity and other ‘sins’. We can become quite hateful and irrational around those who are a reverse-image of our Openness/Conscientiousness profile. It’s a special case of the above because of the moralistic aspect of being high in “Openness/Intellect”. These folks violate the basic precept we have of being open, and of using our intellect in that context, and we experience a moralistic response that’s exacerbated by the second point above, our inability to recognize or value conscientiousness-related reasons for their violation. We can be incredibly rude and unproductive with conservatives. On the surface, that should appear somewhat counter-intuitive, due to our openness, but when you include Openness/Intellect as a moral value that allows right action, it’s revealed as essentially a disgust response, or a moralistic one, anyway. It’s as if we give ourselves a giant waiver to violate “openness” in the case of conservatives, because of this moral violation. It’s kind of a blind spot idea, like the retinal one, or the Blind Spot Bias itself.”

    An interesting way of looking at it. First, in terms of partisanship, people on both sides tend not to understand or like one another. Nothing surprising or new about that insight. As for your latter point, I’d put it into the context of liberals playing the role of traditionalists in America. This fits into why liberals don’t fit our expectations of how liberals are supposed to act and the same for conservatives. There is a basic misunderstanding here about traits which exist on a spectrum that easily shifts. Everyone has all traits to varying degrees at various times. Trying to limit people to single traits at all times and in all situations isn’t helpful and certainly doesn’t fit what social science shows.

    “I have something I’m editing on the first and third above I can send you later, and a few rants on the second, but they wouldn’t be much more informative. And I must say, 1) I get pushback on all of these from liberals often, 2) conservatives see the symptoms these points describe as a given, ones they talk about among themselves as big problems all the time, and 3) I have no proof that I know of other than the allusions within research that you already noted. What I always go back to is that conservatives are not imagining these things, and neither am I. Conservatives got some of the keys to the kingdom, I would argue, by virtue of having stuck around genetically until now. Their keys are ones that we could use as individual liberals, if only to get around self-referential, subject-object barriers. Lacking that external reference, we make mistakes that are invisible to us, arguably by definition, while being perfectly visible to conservatives. To speak of their biases and weaknesses as the rationale for their complaints only goes so far: when their assessments are paralleled well by personality theory, we really should be sitting up and paying attention. It is, in fact, quite telling that we don’t.”

    I guess I feel more cautious in my analysis. I realize there are tons of confounding factors and tons of issues that aren’t yet clear. In talking about this subject, it is too easy to conflate political liberalism and liberal-mindedness. The two are closely correlated, but they aren’t the same and sometimes they diverge greatly.

    “I see these as problems of similar magnitude to conservative ones. Whether they are ‘as bad’ or not is immaterial, and is only situationally relevant in any case. They’re much worse issues than the few other points bandied about (rarely) by others as liberal weakness. Although the second is really just a simple extrapolation of personality characteristics, I think the first and third points are not intuitive, not accepted as true in the liberal community, and quite important.”

    I’ll keep all of this in mind. I don’t have any absolute conclusions at this point.

  17. Thanks for all the input, Benjamin. Sorry for the delay in response- my life is a bit of an opposite to yours, with lots of travel and demi-dramas stitched between…I was not able to divine well the distinction you’re making between liberal-mindedness, which you seem to see as a bit of an absolute concept, and political liberalism, more relative. I kind of get it, but you speak as if there’s some generally-accepted differentiation – if you’d be so kind as to point me somewhere in your work, that’d be great, otw, I can certainly wend my way through some of your earlier entries under the liberalism tag to find it.

    You mention a disagreement between us regarding whether mankind is fundamentally conservative or not, but I couldn’t divine a disagreement, only an overlay on your part that everyone’s got a little liberal within. No argument there. My point doesn’t contradict, at least you provided no direct counterpoint to mine re conservative tendencies. Maybe it’s because I did not imply a symmetry between the two ideologies as they brew within mankind. As you say, the notion of balance around a central pole in the ideologies is not usually helpful. My point is mostly quite simple and, to me, not particularly refutable: we have, as humans all, a tendency to avoid uncertainty at great cost, per bias studies, liberal and conservative alike; a betimes misplaced urge to safety, probably quite befitting life a few thousand years ago; a tendency to find and follow their own accepted authority, which I see as a natural extension of our need for minimized uncertainty; and in-group behaviors. And all of these tendencies become worse, and nearly absolute, under greater and greater stresses. I don’t see a symmetrical foundation of liberalism under stress, though there’s a good argument for us becoming more liberal in more relaxed conditions. Your point that liberalism is also endemic makes sense to me, but it’s true that I see conservatism as more fundamental to human nature, both in the sense of an older set of values, and as a default when thangs get tough. In fact, most of the complaints I have about liberal behavior and discussion have to do with negative conservative characteristics they tend to urgently pretend are not there. One way I see a behavioral ideological difference is that liberals have a tendency to be unaware of their attraction to certainty, etc., while conservatives tend to be explicit about the appeal. I think those two things explain a lot by themselves, that it’s important to think about the ways that being “open” allows one to be closed, for instance: that’s what I was talking about in my longer, second comment.

    I hope to get back to your other points later, since I haven’t done your comments justice- just really busy right now.

    • “I was not able to divine well the distinction you’re making between liberal-mindedness, which you seem to see as a bit of an absolute concept, and political liberalism, more relative.”

      Sorry for my delay as well. I noticed your comment right before I left for vacation. I went down to Southern Indiana where I was doing genealogy research. Such research puts my brain in an entirely different mode than the above discussion, but let me shift gears for a moment in order to respond.

      Part of my own understanding has come from personal struggles with my own identity. I’ve gone back and forth with labeling myself as a liberal. Most significantly, my ‘liberalism’ relates to the trait ‘openness’.

      That is the tricky part. Probably most American left-wingers measure high on ‘openness’. As I recall, American libertarians (AKA right-wing fiscal conservatives) measure high on ‘openness’. I would imagine that many, if not most, fiscal conservatives who aren’t social conservatives wouldn’t measure low on ‘openness’ and the same for many moderate conservatives. My conservative parents, especially my more fiscally conservative father, are relatively high in certain ways with ‘openness’.

      So, when I speak of liberal-minded people, I’m not just speaking about self-identified liberals. I’m even including some people who overtly hate liberalism. Leftwingers and libertarians are some of the biggest critics of liberalism, yet they criticize from a liberal-minded point of view.

      “I kind of get it, but you speak as if there’s some generally-accepted differentiation – if you’d be so kind as to point me somewhere in your work, that’d be great, otw, I can certainly wend my way through some of your earlier entries under the liberalism tag to find it.”

      You could look through all of my posts about liberalism, but that might take a while. Let me just offer a couple of links that hopefully will help you understand my own confused thinking on the matter.

      This first one was my attempt to make sense of diverse data:

      http://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2011/11/03/liberalism-label-vs-reality-analysis-of-data/

      In another post, I focused on cultural differences, both between liberalism and conservatism and within liberalism.

      http://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2012/01/11/deep-south-traditional-conservatism-future-possibilities/

      There is no single liberal tradition in the US (Yankee liberalism is different from Midlands/Midwest liberalism is different from West Coast liberalism is different from Southern classical liberalism is different from Appalachian Scots-Irish liberty-mindedness). Even American conservatism largely originates from classical liberalism, rather than traditional conservatism. This connects back to my thoughts on why liberals are more concerned about conserving than are present conservatives, although American conservatives at one time had a fair amount of focus on such matters; after all, it was the Republican Theodore Roosevelt motivated by a conservative view who created the national park system and it was the Republican Eisenhower motivated by a conservative view who created the interstate highway system.

      I don’t know if that is helpful for you. My thinking has developed over recent years.

      “In fact, most of the complaints I have about liberal behavior and discussion have to do with negative conservative characteristics they tend to urgently pretend are not there.”

      Of course, I have no conclusive opinion at the moment. My general view, though, is that it is hard to make absolute distinctions. In reality, people are NEITHER purely liberal NOR purely conservative. The base nature of humans is mixed and complex. I would agree that liberals would be wrong to ignore their own conservative traits. However, I would equally argue that conservatives would be wrong to ignore their own liberal traits.

      At this point in my thinking, I don’t see any clear evidence that points out that one side or another is more prone to ignoring the traits of the other side. I know Haidt argues otherwise, but I think his argument fails and I do have a half-written post about this issue which I may eventually post if I ever get around to finishing it (not a high priority at the moment).

      Everything I say is tentative. I don’t wish to defend liberalism per se, but I do wish to defend liberal-mindedness in a more general sense. I learned much of my own liberal-mindedness from my conservative parents and so my sense of liberal-mindedness isn’t limited to liberalism nor does it exclude conservatism. It’s also a relative thing, any normally functioning person having some degree of liberal-mindedness.

  18. [...] a liberal bias in this sense. Truth be told, Americans as a whole have a liberal bias, even though most Americans don’t identify as liberals: “Since the time of the pioneering work of Free & Cantril (1967), scholars of public opinion [...]

  19. […] more thoroughly discussed this issue in a post of mine from last year. That post goes a long way in explaining why liberals easily get confused […]

  20. […] JFK, Liberal | Marma… on Liberalism: Weaknesses &… […]

  21. […] JFK, Little Bit Mudd… on Liberalism: Weaknesses &… […]

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