Criticizing Mooney’s Praise of Haidt

In response to a post by Chris Mooney about Jonathan Haidt, I’ll compare and contrast The Righteous Mind and The Republican Brain. But I’ll begin with a more broad comparison.

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I’ve read both Haidt’s book and Mooney’s book. I’ve also read some of George Lakoff’s books (most specifically relevant is Moral Politics). I’ve read as well a fine book by Marc J. Hetherington and Jonathan D. Weiler (Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics), of which I highly recommend. There are other authors and books I could mention, but I won’t for simplicity’s sake. 

Of these four, the book by Hetherington and Weiler was the most satisfying as an overview of what scientists presently know about ideology and polarization. The other books, in comparison, only sample this vast field. However, Lakoff’s book was most satisfying in offering the most generally useful framework (useful in explanatory power and useful in fairly describing both sides).

Going by a different standard, the books of Haidt and Mooney probably would be the most satisfying to the general reader. Both of them are good at clearly communicating what is otherwise complex and sprawling. It can’t be doubted that Haidt and Mooney have in combination brought this debate to the public in a way that hasn’t been done previously, although Lakoff must be given credit for paving the way.

For the rest of this post, I will solely focus on Haidt and Mooney.

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Personally, I prefer Mooney more than Haidt.

It’s not that Haidt fails in formulating an interesting hypothesis but it certainly requires more research and, I would add, better research. Mooney presented himself as being more intellectually humble in two ways. First, he remained closer to the research itself whereas Haidt constantly speculated and philosophized. Second, he was more upfront in acknowledging the complexities and uncertainties which probably is the reason he wasn’t prone to speculate and philosophize.

Mooney doesn’t attempt an overarching theory like Haidt’s moral foundations theory, instead just following the evidence. Mooney put forth some possible explanations, but he never formalized them into a singular inclusive theory. Mooney’s approach opens up discussion by not claiming to have it figured out. Haidt, on the other hand, can come off as too certain of his own research and arguments.

It’s surprising that Mooney doesn’t perceive the difference between his work and that of Haidt. It was Mooney’s book, among others, that helped me understand the deficiencies of Haidt’s approach.

The best example of this is the issue of research methods (the debate about which unfortunately doesn’t get enough attention in books directed at a more general readership). Haidt has relied on self-reports which are notoriously unreliable whereas Mooney presented reasearch that went way beyond self-reports. Haidt’s self-report research is useful as a preliminary step or else when corroborated by more reliable methods, but such research by itself isn’t adequate for the type of overarching theory he wants to prove.

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Related to this, I kept noticing how selectively Haidt used evidence.

It looked like he was often seeking evidence to fit his pet theory instead of a theory to fit all of the evidence, not that he was necessarily doing this intentionally and consciously. Such cherrypicking would even be expected from one part of his theory. Maybe he doubts the human capacity for objective reasoning based partly on self-observations. Or maybe based on the assumption of human unreason he felt it would be ineffective to appeal to the reasoning of his audience.

Considering the data intentionally or unintentionally excluded from the book, it wasn’t hard for me to find holes in Haidt’s arguments. He needed to do a more wide-ranging survey of data before presenting a theory. This, of course, assumes he wanted to present a rational defense in the first place (i.e., a logical argument that is fair and balanced). I suspect he was intentionally emphasizing persuasion more than reason which would make sense considering that is what he should do according to his own theory.

This does make his arguments challenging to analyze. The standard he was using to make his arguments probably aren’t the same standards I hold to in my own valuing of reason. It seems somewhat pointless to rationally analyze a theory that doubts the validity of rational analysis.

Let me make one thing particularly clear.

I don’t doubt his motives per se. I’m sure he has good intentions. In fact, it is because of his good intentions that, as a moderate or centrist or even right-leaning liberal, he wants to understand conservatives and wants to communicate in a way conservatives will understand. This is praiseworthy as a motivation but not praiseworthy in how Haidt acts on it, at least in the case of his book. Persuasion used to doubt reason is a very dangerous thing.

Haidt ends up bending over backwards to reach out to conservatives. He tries too hard to bring conservatives to his side and so as a consequence he is willing to sacrifice treating liberals fairly in his analysis of moral foundations, going so far as to dismiss large aspects of liberal morality and thus defining his entire theory according to conservative beliefs and values. In doing so, he cherrypicks the evidence which distorts his presentation and biases his argument.

Ironically, this causes his book to fail according to Haidt’s own standards. Instead of acting as a bridge over the divide, he simply switches from a former liberal bias to a conservative bias. This switching of biases doesn’t in any way achieve balance or promote mutual respect and understanding.

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Haidt falls into the typical liberal trap of “The Cult of Centrism”. The most famous example of this can be found in the mainstream media’s love of false equivalence.

It’s odd that Mooney doesn’t see this problem in Haidt as he is otherwise fully aware of this problem among liberals. Haidt wants to be reasonable or at least appear reasonable, but it is this very namby-pamby liberal impulse that ends up making him blithely unreasonable.

Mooney interestingly gives a slight nod to this fact at the end of the post in which he praises Haidt. Even so, he somehow concludes that Haidt essentially agrees with his book. This perception of agreement is shown even more clearly in another post by Mooney. I get the sense that there is more disagreement than either wants to let on… probably for reasons of presenting a strong defense against the naysayers both have faced. I also get the sense that Mooney just wants to stay on good terms with Haidt and so feels compelled to defend him against the criticisms Mooney would more objectively apply to a stranger.

Here is from the post linked above at the beginning of this post:

“I have differences with Haidt myself. Most importantly, I think the research he’s surveying–and the research he himself has done–adds up to a much tougher conclusion about political conservatism than he is willing to lead with (if you read between the lines, though…).”

So, the trick is that you have to read between the lines in order to discover what Haidt really meant. Methinks this is being overly generous.

I would argue that this problematic for any number of reasons.

Readers shoudn’t have to guess what an author actually meant, especially not in a book describing scientific research. Mooney didn’t write in such a convoluted or opaque manner. If Mooney is correct that Haidt wasn’t communicating as clearly and directly as he could have, then this is a major failing of his writing style if not a failing of his entire line of reasoning.

Furthermore, why does Mooney assume he knows Haidt’s secret thoughts and subtly implied meanings? One could read all kinds of potential meanings between the lines. Maybe Mooney is simply wanting to believe Haidt agrees with him more than he does and so is reading into Haidt’s bok something that isn’t there. Maybe Haidt wrote precisely what he meant to communicate without any hidden messages to be deciphered.

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This leaves me a bit confused. I’m not sure what Mooney ultimately thinks about Haidt’s book.

If we take the conservative bias away from Haidt’s argument, then we would have a very different theory than what Haidt presents. It seems Mooney would like to reinterpret Haidt’s book according to his own image. I’d be fine with rehabilitating Haidt’s theory by removing the problematic parts, but I doubt Haidt would like this as he doesn’t see those parts as problematic.

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.

Tea Party Welfare

Books About Conservatism and the Tea Party
By Timothy Noah, The New York Times

“Today, nearly all political centrists are Democrats. And with the rise of the Tea Party, Republicans are experiencing another 1964 moment. Indeed, Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson report in their exceptionally informative book, “The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism,” more than a few Tea Partiers “dated their first political experience to the Goldwater campaign.” But there are important differences between the two movements. For one, the Tea Party, unlike the Goldwater insurgency, has managed to win elections and thereby obtain some power at the national and state level. For another, the Tea Partiers’ anti-­government ideology is tempered by quiet support for Social Security and Medicare. That’s because the activists themselves tend to be middle-aged or older. Tea Partiers aren’t opposed to government benefits per se, according to Skocpol and Williamson; rather, they’re opposed to “unearned” government benefits, which in practice ends up meaning any benefits extended to African-­Americans, Latinos, immigrants (especially undocumented ones) and the young. A poll of South Dakota Tea Party supporters found that 83 percent opposed any Social Security cuts, 78 percent opposed any cuts to Medicare prescription-drug coverage, and 79 percent opposed cuts in Medicare reimbursements to physicians and hospitals. “So much for the notion that Tea Partiers are all little Dick Armeys,” Skocpol and Williamson write. The small government Tea Partiers favor is one where I get mine and most others don’t get much at all.”

“This poses a particular problem for a conservative Republican like Rep. Paul Ryan, who favors privatizing Medicare and shifting more of the financial burden onto recipients. But it’s also a problem for anyone seeking to lower the budget deficit, because it’s the “earned” benefits like Social Security and Medicare that are mainly responsible for runaway government spending. On the other hand, although Tea Partiers, who tend to be comfortably middle class but not wealthy, hate paying taxes, they don’t necessarily mind when other people pay taxes; the South Dakota poll had 56 percent of Tea Party supporters favoring a 5 percent increase in income taxes for people who earn more than $1 million a year.”

This is what I’ve been pointing out again and again.

The Tea Party conservative (and the fiscal conservatives who support them) isn’t against big government and isn’t against welfare. Rather, they are against big government that helps other people who aren’t like them: minorities, immigrants, and the young.

The GOP strongholds are the Deep South and the Far West which are the regions that receive the most federal benefits, meaning they receive more federal taxpayer money than they pay in federal taxes. The Far West, in fact, has been dependent on government funding since the 19th century simply to make the region habitable.

I see the same thing in Iowa. Eastern Iowa isn’t as dependent on farm subsidies and so Eastern Iowans don’t elect politicians to make sure they get this type of government welfare which means they more often vote for Democrats. Western Iowans, however, are dependent on government welfare through farming subsidies and so they vote for Republicans who always get federal funds for their constituents.

These kinds of conservatives will complain about spending other people’s money. Yet they are perfectly fine with other people’s money being spent on themselves and on what they care about (e.g., abstinence-only sex education, oil subsidies, military, etc). There is this fundamental disconnect from reality that is mind-blowing. If the Tea Party got rid of government, it is people like the Tea Party supporters (along with others living in Republican-voting states) who would be among those who would suffer the most.

They benefit from the welfare such as farm subsidies created by progressives and attack progressivism. They’ll tell the government to keep its hands off of their Medicare. Where do they think Medicare comes from? Who do they think pays for it? It’s just plain bizarre.

Conservative’s Two Faces of Fear

I’ve noticed that many conservatives (along with many right-wingers) make two contradictory criticisms. They don’t notice the contradiction because they typically don’t make both criticisms simultaneously or else not directed toward the same issues. However, the two criticisms are linked by the same fear which makes the two criticisms seem without contradiction.

They criticize both centralized government and grassroots activism. Both criticisms are based in their fear of democracy. They fear a government that would fairly and equally represent all people, including the poor, unemployed and homeless, including immigrants and minorities. But they also fear the people governing themselves through direct democracy for they fear mobocracy (and the same reason they fear grassroots organizations such as workers forming unions). These aren’t two fears but rather a single fear manifesting in two ways.

What conservatives want is an elite, but an elite that isn’t responsible to the masses. This is why they strongly support capitalist elites and religious elites. They want an elite that represents and enforces their views and not the views of anyone else. They want to create a conservative society where conservatism is forced on everyone whether they want it or not. They want this because to them this is their reality, in fact is reality itself. They truly believe that America is a conservative country and that their sense of morality is a universal truth that liberals seek to deny. To conservatives, forcing their beliefs and values onto others is simply an affirmation of ‘reality’ and so isn’t really force. Those who experience the business end of this force are to be blamed for bringing it onto themselves (the rationalization given for communist witchhunts, for torture of ‘terrorists’, etc).

I’ve noticed a lot of conservative thinking is based on contradictions such as these where what bridges the contradiction is usually a single unifying fear… along with many unstated unconscious assumptions (about reality and human nature). Not all conservatives (and right-wingers) think this way, but enough of them do that it has come to define the conservative movement and become the frame in which their politics is understood and debated (at least in the mainstream).

Fortean Curiosity: Liberalism & Intelligence

I was hanging out with a friend and chatting about important issues of life… such as the existence of Men In Black and the nature of Fortean realities. Ya know, important issues.

My friend mentioned an author he had come across who described his own supposed experiences with Men In Black. He portrayed them as being not all that troublesome. He apparently thought one’s relationship with them could be managed. Just tell them to quit causing trouble and they’d settle down or something like that.

As I recall, this wasn’t how John Keel portrayed the Men In Black. Keel didn’t necessarily see them as dangerous or at least not intentionally dangerous, but they could really mess with one’s head and turn one’s world upside down. However, maybe they can be ‘managed’ in the sense that the less you pay attention to them the less they tend to pay to you.

That is the theory, anyway… not that I have any personal experience of the Men In Black. But in other ways, I’ve had my share of weird experiences in my life. I don’t speculate about it much beyond accepting that the world is a very strange place. If you’re lucky or unlucky (depending on your perspective), the strangeness might peek out at you at some point in your own life. When such happens, it does make one question one’s assumptions about reality.

My friend was explaining that reading about such things just makes him feel disoriented and it seems he didn’t see this as a good thing. I understood where he was coming from. I responded by explaining my own view. As I see it, the universe is vast. Most of the universe is alien to and indifferent to us humans. We are a minor species on a tiny planet in one insignificant corner of the universe. Even on the planet earth, we humans aren’t as important as we like to pretend. For the most part, the vast world beyond human society serves no purpose for human society. There might be little if anything to gain from interacting with Men In Black or exploring Fortean realities. No matter how hard you try, you probably never will understand any of it. Besides, most people don’t seem to care about the world beyond their private little world of family, friends and co-workers… nor are there many good arguments for why they necessarily should care.

On the other hand, if you’re a curious person, it’s hard to ignore curious things. And if the Men In Black come knocking at your door, they apparently can be very hard to ignore. Sure, all things Fortean may not serve any human purpose. But then again, one could argue that nothing in life serves any ultimate purpose besides the purpose we give it. I guess it comes down to each person having to figure out their own purpose, their own priorities and motivations. If your purpose is to be a rational scientist or a good Christian, then maybe you should just ignore all the weird stuff if possible. Just carry on as if everything were normal. But for some of us, we just aren’t good at ignoring the inconvenient and uncomfortable details of existence.

I’m such a person. I agree that it all can be disorienting. But so what? Life is disorienting. We all go along confused in our own heads. Some of us admit to this confusion and others spend their whole lives denying it. At some point in my life, I learned to embrace the confusion. I don’t know that it does me any good, but it’s gotten me this far. As Popeye famously said, “I yam what I yam.”

Those thoughts are interesting enough, but another issue was motivating my putting this all down in words. Just yesterday, I wrote about IQ and about how people are different, specifically in their learning styles. One thing I brought up is the research showing a correlation between liberalism and high IQ. Also, there has been research showing a correlation between liberalism and openness to experience. I was thinking about the relationship of intelligence and openness, and how both would relate to the paranormal.

I’ve written about this a bit in the past. Research confirms the distinction between religiosity and spirituality. People who have spiritual experiences are less likely to go to church, especially after having had their experience(s). That is massively intriguing in its implications, but it does make sense when you think about it. It easier to conform to beliefs of things you’ve never personally experienced. However, once you’ve had experiences, your experiences might not conform to the beliefs which would force you to make a choice between experience and belief.

Liberalism correlates to thin boundary types, a psychological category similar to openness. A thin boundary type experiences less distinction between things: waking and dreaming, reality and imagination (or imaginal), self and other, etc. This relates to openness to experience in that the thin boundary type feels less repulsion and fear toward that which exists outside of their normal sense of self and of their normal sense of reality. This obviously connects with intelligence in terms of curiosity. Intelligent people tend to be people who like learning new things: testing the known and exploring the unknown, questioning beliefs and pushing the boundaries of knowledge. As such, a thin boundaried liberal is more likely to be curious about the paranormal and more willing to entertain possibilities that don’t seem commonsense or don’t seem to have any practical application.

The conservative asks, “Why?” And the liberal asks, “Why not?”

The liberal may be intelligent as measured on IQ tests, but that doesn’t mean they are smart in the everyday sense. Being open to experience doesn’t always lead to ‘smart’ results. For example, intelligent people drink more and do more drugs. As Satoshi Kanazawa concludes in the second link:

“People – scientists and civilians alike – often associate intelligence with positive life outcomes.  The fact that more intelligent individuals are more likely to consume alcohol, tobacco, and psychoactive drugs tampers this universally positive view of intelligence and intelligent individuals.  Intelligent people don’t always do the right thing, only the evolutionarily novel thing.”

Liberals are more likely to engage in behaviors that are evolutionarily novel. Such novel thinking correlates to IQ. The conservative impulse is to stick closely to what has proven to work in the past. Sometimes that leads to the best results in the present and sometimes not. We have, through technology, created a society that is constantly changing and doing so at an ever faster rate. This gives the liberal mindset an edge in the modern world. Even so, human nature remains fundamentally the same and hence the conservative impulse remains valid probably more often than not.

Satoshi Kanazawa further fleshes out his out his hypothesis:

“…common sense is eminently evolutionarily familiar.  Our ancestors could not have survived a single day in their hostile environment full of predators and enemies if they did not possess functional common sense.  That’s why it has become integral part of evolved human nature in the form of evolved psychological mechanisms in the social and interpersonal domains.  Because common sense is evolutionarily familiar and thus natural, the Hypothesis would predict that more intelligent people may be less likely to resort to it.  They may be more likely to resort to evolutionarily novel, non-common sensical, stupid ideas to solve problems in the evolutionarily familiar domains.

“This, incidentally, is the reason I never use words like “smart” and “clever” as synonyms for “intelligent.”  Similarly, I never use words like “dumb” and “stupid” as synonyms for “unintelligent.”  “Intelligent” has a specific scientific meaning – possessing higher levels of general intelligence – whereas “smart” and “stupid” have more to do with common sense than intelligence.  From my perspective, more intelligent people like liberals are more likely to be “stupid” (lacking common sense), whereas less intelligent people like conservatives are more likely to be “smart.””

Whether or not liberal intelligence is healthy or beneficial, it does allow for discovering the new and so increases the probability of improvement (even as it threatens the stability of the traditional social order). Liberals, for whatever reason, have less respect for the argument that something is best simply because it worked at some point in the past. To the liberal, things can always be improved. Plus, it’s just fun and exciting, inspiring even, to adventure forth. Every advancement of civilization can be credited to this liberal impulse.

Why did Galileo feel such a need to scientifically challenge the religious views of his day? Why did the many explorers in the past get in ships to go to places that no one knew existed? Why do we send men to the moon? Why does anyone do anything new and different? What is the point? Does there have to be a point?

The liberal may not be able to explain why any given thing is worthy, but it is worthy to the liberal because it satisfies their liberal impulse. This liberal impulse, afterall, is a human impulse. It’s part of what makes us humans. It’s the reason we didn’t remain naked primates wandering the plains of Africa. Even conservatives have this liberal impulse, although to a much lesser degree of course.

Nonetheless, it can’t be denied that this liberal impulse can get us into trouble. Civilization itself is a evolutionarily novel behavior relative to most of human evolution. Civilization is definitely nice in many ways, but it has also led to massive problems for the species such as destruction of the environment we require for our survival. Likewise, the liberal impulse can lead people to be so open to the new that the liberally-inclined person may meet dangers they can’t overcome or escape from. Sometimes you can explore the Fortean and come back with tales of adventure and at other times you go insane or worse.

From the conservative position of practical commonsense, it might be ‘stupid’ to explore the Fortean and it might be unhealthy to explore such bizarre things. But if humans were able and willing to thwart the liberal impulse, I wouldn’t now be here writing about such things. In a purely conservative world, there would be no civilization or culture. Instead, we would be ‘traditional’ primates doing what all other primates do.

My friend was wondering if there was any good reason to explore areas he finds disorienting. No, there is no good reason in terms of rationality. A person seeks out the disorienting because, if they are liberally-inclined, that is what they feel compelled to do. In fact, it’s what all humans feel compelled to do, just some people feel this compulsion to a lesser degree.

Re: Education research exposes the theory of multiple intelligences as singularly stupid

— — —
I would separate the theory of different intelligences from the theory of different learning styles.I think they aren’t necessarily referring to the exact same thing. Also, conflating them probably isn’t helpful.
First, are there different intelligences? 
It would seem to be commonsense that some people are better (i.e., more ‘intelligent’) at doing certain activities. Even research confirms this. People can be tested separately for verbal intelligence, for mathematical intelligence, and for spatial intelligence. They have tests designed for measuring these abilities and they use them in schools.
However, this doesn’t necessarily have much to do with traditional teaching or necessarily should it. How is someone being good at sports going to help them learn to read? It’s not. A student may have natural verbal intelligence and not have natural mathematical intelligence, but that kid is still going to have to learn to do math and his verbal intelligence may not help him in any direct way.
The theory that people have different abilities is true, but the theory that these different abilities are different ways of learning isn’t proven, or not in all cases anyway. An ability can’t necessarily be applied as a learning style to learn other abilities.

Second, are there different learning styles? 

I was wondering what research has been done on this area. It’s not something I’ve looked into. However, I have spent years looking at the research on personality types and traits. I think it is a fair assessment to say that there is plenty of research supporting the theory that human brains work differently to varying degrees. There are commonalities to human brain function, but there is also much diversity. It seems obvious to me, going by the research I’ve seen and going by my own observations, that people do process information differently. This potentially could lead to different learning styles, whether or not such learning styles correlates to Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences.

This is an areas I can speak personally about. I had a learning disability as a child, still do. My learning disability just meant I learned differently, but it didn’t mean I was less smart. When I was in early elementary school, I wasn’t keeping up with the other students. They, at first, suspected I might be low IQ. But when they tested me, they found I was actually above average in IQ, at least in certain areas. For example, my ability to solve spatial puzzles was at a twelfth grade level.

So, that is my learning style. I’m very good at seeing patterns and making connections. However, I’m not good a rote memory. Traditional teaching methods didn’t work for me. Fortunately, I went to school that had a very good special education teacher who taught me a different way to learn. A main part of my learning disability is word recall. For this reason, I was behind on my reading and writing ability. One thing the special education teacher taught me was to think of similar words. If I can’t think of one word, I use another similar word. This caused me to increase my vocabulary and after that I was ahead of the other students in reading.

In my case, there was some connection between intellectual abilities and learning styles. If you tested me as a kid, I would have measured as low in verbal intelligence. But if you test me now, I would measure as high in verbal intelligence. So, what is the difference? I learned to use my other strengths (i.e., my other intellectual abilities) to compensate for my weaknesses (i.e., my learning disability, especially word recall). It would seem that word recall is a part of verbal intelligence. It would seem that my limited word recall ability means I lack a certain natural aspect of verbal intelligence. However, because I was intelligent in other ways, I could compensate. People who don’t have other types of intelligence wouldn’t be able to easily compensate. Even I, if I hadn’t had a good special edcuation teacher and parents who were teachers, might not have learned to compensate. If I had been a poor kid in a poor public school, I might have been simply categorized as low IQ and that would have been the end of it. For the rest of my life, I would have thought I was stupid.

As such, I’m a strong proponent of learning styles theory. I wish I had the opportunity to be taught differently all through school. After leaving that particular elementary school, I never again had a teacher that helped me to that extent. Despite being above average in intelligence, I always struggled with learning and so I learned to hate school. Teachers were always teaching rote memory, but I was never good at it. I dropped out of college partly because no one would teach the way I learned. The way I learn is by connecting information, by seeing or creating patterns in data. Isolated factoids are meaningless to me and it’s hard for me to remember them even if only for the short term of taking a test.

I was, however, lucky to have parents who were teachers and very helpful in my education. My mom was a speech pathologist and so she was used to kids who had minds that worked differently. So, despite school, my parents instilled in me a love of learning. I learned how to learn on my own.

Not everyone is a genius, that is true. On the other hand, not everyone who learns differently is stupid.

— 
 — — — 

Even so, I think the research supports the theory of general intelligence. 
If I wasn’t generally intelligent, I wouldn’t have been able to compensate for my learning disability. General intelligence would be the measurement across all testable cognitive abilities: verbal, mathematical, spatial, etc. I was thinking about the research showing that people who learn music early are better at math later on. So, certain aspects of intelligence would probably be more closely correlated than other aspects. I might be above average on general intelligence or maybe not, but I have no particular talent for either music or math. That side of general intelligence is separate, in my personal experience, from verbal and spatial intelligence. But I would guess that, for most people, there is a correlation between verbal intelligence and mathematical intelligence.
Verbal intelligence is, as I understand, often used as a stand in for general intelligence. In traditional education, verbal intelligence is key since almost everything is taught through language. However, there is no reason that needs to be the case. There are some autistic kids who have limited verbal intelligence and yet have vast mathematical intelligence. So, general intelligence is only a generalization and wouldn’t apply to all people. Even if general intelligence is the rule, schools still need to educate those who are exceptions to the rule.
Nonetheless, I see the risk in emphasizing differences over similarities.It fits our cultural ideology to believe that everyone is smart or talented in some way, that everyone has great potential if we could only find a way to tap into it. I’m sure there is much truth to this, but on a practical level it probably makes more sense to emphasize standardized education methods.

It can be an excuse to just dismiss general intelligence just because it is inconvenient to our ideology. I was thinking of two examples where this becomes problematic.

 – – –

The first example is differences in IQ between races.

Some people want to dismiss IQ testing because it has the potential to be used to support racist theories and those racist theories can influence public policy. But the problem isn’t the IQ tests. The problem I see is in understanding what the IQ tests represent.

IQ isn’t simply about natural ability. Kids who don’t get proper nutrition while the mother was pregnant and after they are born will tend to have lowered cognitive development. Kids who experience high rates of social stress and environmental toxins (especially lead poisoning) will tend to have lowered cognitive development. Kids who don’t have access to materials to stimulate their minds and don’t have parents with lots of free time to work on their learning will tend to have lowered cognitive ability. These types of kids are disproportionately found among the poor and minorities are disproportionately found among the poor. So, it’s no surprise that minorities on average have lower IQs when tested.

To demonstrate this, all you have to do is look at the IQ results as kids grow older. When young, there is no clear difference between the IQs of whites and minorities. The difference only shows up in later years of schooling. So, there is no evidence that the racial difference in IQ is genetic.

Because we see these racial differences, IQ testing is all that more important. It helps us to discover the causal factors in these racial differences. In understanding these causal factors, we can change them. We can take actions through public policy that increase the probability that poor children get proper nutrition, have less stressful environments, don’t get lead poisoning, and have intellectually stimulating materials and environments.

– – – 

The second example has to do with the IQ differences between liberals and conservatives.
Many different studies have found that liberals on average have higher IQs. There are many theories for why this is the case, but no one knows for sure the reasons.

Like the liberals who want to dismiss the racial IQ difference, there are conservatives who want to dismiss the ideological IQ difference. There are always people who want to dismiss inconvenient and uncomfortable data. I came across someone attempting to do that with the ideological IQ difference. Satoshi Kanazawa has proposed an explanation for why liberals test as more intelligent. In response, Shawn T. Smith has dismissed that explanation and in doing so seems to dismiss the idea of general intelligence as something IQ tests can measure or else he is just dismissing the correlation of verbal intelligence to general intelligence.

Here is an interaction that shows the conflict between the two views (from the comment section of Shawn T. Smith’s article):

RobertS (April 11, 2010 – 10:25pm): You ignored the studies Kanazawa referenced in his paper SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY QUARTERLY “verbal intelligence is known to be highly correlated with (and thus heavily load on) general intelligence. Miner’s (1957) extensive review of 36 studies shows that the median correlation between vocabulary and general intelligence is .83.” He also cites Wolfle (1980) and Huang and Hauser 1998. My guess is your a conservative who’s offended by Kanazawa’s conclusions.
Shawn T. Smith, Psy.D. (April 12, 2010 – 8:07am): With all due respect, I absolutely did not ignore his citations. Of course verbal intelligence is heavily loaded on general intelligence. So is PIQ. This proves what?

Let me ask you: do you believe that extrapolating a Full Scale IQ score from a vocabulary test is a valid, reasonable, and accurate thing to do? Don’t tap dance. Give me a straight answer. If you do believe it is a valid thing to do, tell me why. Maybe I’ve got it all wrong.

Also, do you agree with Kanazawa that liberals are more intelligent than conservatives? If so, why?

Yes, I suppose I was personally offended, but not because I am conservative (incidentally, I described my stance briefly in my deconstruction so you would know where I stand). I’m becoming increasingly offended by the degree and amount of irrationality and intolerance in my profession, both in research and in the clinic. It does offend me to see research abused this way. It makes all of us psychologists look silly.

Here is another interaction about the same issue:

MP (November 8, 2010 – 8:16pm): I believe the original author showed a second order correlation between liberalism and verbal intelligence.

This takedown is really really nitpicky, the sort of nitpicky that that “they’re” vs “there” guy was doing earlier.

The correlation is extremely strong, so much as the data shown. The LSE guy might have overstated his case but the numbers don’t lie.

That crap about colleges = liberalism doesn’t weaken the correlation.

>>>>Second, a correlation once-removed is terribly shaky. What Kanazawa did here is akin to saying, “tables have four legs like dogs, and dogs resemble elephants in many ways, therefore tables are elephants.”

Errr no. I was taking you quite seriously until I saw this comment you made. I think your complaints are minor, but fair. But this statement is either stupid or disingenuous. He never claimed that liberals are smart. As we people who understand highschool statistics know, he’s saying there’s a correlation between intelligence and liberalism. That’s like saying a table is more similar to an elephant because both have 4 legs, than to a rock, which doesn’t.

PS: Your analogy sucks.

Shawn T. Smith, Psy.D. (November 8, 2010 – 9:56pm: You said that my criticisms are nitpicky, but you glided right past the most salient ones. For example, I criticized Dr. Kanazawa for extrapolating full scale IQ score ranges from a rudimentary vocabulary test. Do you believe that to be a trivial point?

And I stand by my criticism of second-order correlations. We in the field of psychology have become far too accepting of strained correlations, meta-analyses, and other manifestations sloppy research. You and I may differ on that point because I am a clinician and I deal in individual cases, not numbers. If you deal in statistics – not that it’s good or bad, just different – you will undoubtedly see more value in things like second-order correlations.

But back to my original question: Was Kanazawa correct in deriving full scale IQ ranges from the vocabulary test? (Yes, I realize it can be done statistically. Anything can be done statistically.)

And one more interaction:

Steven (February 1, 2011 – 4:02pm): I read the deconstruction at ironshrink.com primarily because I was shocked by the large difference and wanted to analyze the methodology. Unfortunately, what you gave was incredibly biased in its own right. I will just look at your main two premises:

1) PPVT is not a good measure of IQ

2) Liberal Colleges produce Liberals

The second one is completely illogical. I think we can agree that college graduates are smarter in general. Then you argue, of course college graduates (smarter people) are going to be more liberal, they are taught by liberals! Thus you are accepting the Hypothesis in order to disprove it.

Now the first one, which is an okay complaint, however, your emphasis on it is way too strong. Using PPVT and reporting IQ does damage the accuracy of the study, but to be fair, in order to make the study understandable to the general public IQ needs to be used. Furthermore, there have been studies that show that PPVT is a moderately good predictor of IQ, and you say it is often argued as a fairly good predictor of verbal intelligence.

Thus at best your ‘debunking’ shows that instead he should have written “Liberal are more verbally intelligent than conservatives” not merely intelligent.

Sorry, but your debunking is more biased than the study

Shawn T. Smith, Psy.D. (February 1, 2011 – 4:23pm): Good effort, but I’m not convinced.

1) PPVT is not even close to a measure of intelligence. I won’t restate my case here since I explained it in detail in the deconstruction to which you refer. Kanazawa’s attempt to connect the PPVT to full scale IQ is unsupportable. Had I tried a maneuver like that on my dissertation, I would have been laughed out of grad school. And rightfully so.

2) Evidence does not support the idea that college graduates are more intelligent than non-grads. Intelligence is a multi-faceted construct. College grads tend to do better on the verbal portion of IQ tests, and so it is no surprise that they gravitate toward an environment where verbal strength is an asset. That does not mean that college graduates function equally well in other areas of life requiring other skills. This explains why accountants and mechanics hire each other. They each play to their strengths – at least they do if they’re intelligent.

To summarize, Shawn T. Smith makes three related claims:

1) Standard methods of testing (in education, in psychological research, and in the legal field) isn’t to be trusted as a reliable and unbiased measure of general intelligence. Most studies confirm these standard methods of testing because most studies are biased in the same way. Since the studies of IQ can’t be trusted, the correlations determined by those studies can’t be trusted.
2) “Intelligence is a multi-faceted construct.” Hence, it is to be doubted that there is a singular general intelligence or, if it exists, that it can be measured by the standard methods of testing. Even if liberals were more verbally intelligent, it wouldn’t lead to the conclusion that liberals have a higher rate of general intelligence.
3) Colleges are biased toward both verbal intelligence and liberalism. As such, psychological researchers and the entire field of academic psychology is biased in the same way. Verbally intelligent, liberal psychological researchers are merely prejudiced against those who are different than them: conservatives and those who are intelligent in non-verbal ways.

 – – – 

Here is my response:

Almost all intelligence relates to verbal intelligence. Even a mechanic needs the ability to have good reading comprehension in reading highly technical manuals. If verbal intelligence correlates to liberalism, it would be expected that more successful mechanics would be more liberal on average than less successful mechanics.

Besides, college doesn’t just teach verbal intelligence. If conservatives have other types of intelligence, then they should succeed just fine in certain academic fields just as long as they have moderate levels of verbal intelligence.

I don’t understand why Smith wants to dismiss verbal intelligence. It would be hard to be highly successful in any type of job without at least average if not above average verbal intelligence. If conservatives are below average in verbal intelligence, you’d expect to find them to have below average representation on the successful end of almost all careers.

For example, owners of janitorial businesses are probably on average more verbally intelligent and more liberal than the janitors that work for him/her. A business owner needs verbal intelligence to understand all the complex laws and tax policies and needs verbal intelligence to know how to communicate well.

The correlation still remains strong and still remains relevant. All Shawn has demonstrated is that he doesn’t like the correlation. If he can prove the correlation is false, then he should do some peer-reviewed research that proves his hypothesis. Until then, his empty speculations are simply mindless complaining by an ideologue.

We must base our conclusions on the known facts. Numerous studies have confirmed the correlation Kanazawa has made. There are also conservative psychological researchers. If they disagree with Kanazawa, I’m sure the liberal psychological researchers would welcome quality peer-reviewed research to further understanding of this issue. To put it simply, put up or shut up.

I could counter Smith’s argument by pointing to all of the other studies showing a correlation between liberalism and IQ. For example:
Even Kanazawa mentions other data that corroborates his own study:
Kanazawa quotes from two surveys that support the hypothesis that liberals are more intelligent. One is the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which is often called Add Health. The other is the General Social Survey (GSS). The Add Health study shows that the mean IQ of adolescents who identify themselves as “very liberal” is 106, compared with a mean IQ of 95 for those calling themselves “very conservative.” The Add Health study is huge — more than 20,000 kids — and this difference is highly statistically significant.
But is there any point in mentioning further data? Smith doesn’t trust the methods of these kinds of studies nor does he trust the people doing the studies. Once such mistrust is allowed, discussion becomes impossible. This is similar to the danger in the education system when multiple intelligence theory is used to dismiss standard teaching methods. A conservative like Smith can say all education is biased against conservatives because most teachers are liberal and most teaching methods favor verbal intelligence. There is some truth in this, but it’s not a very helpful criticism.
What is expected? Are schools supposed to have quotas to ensure there are equal number of conservative teachers? And are teachers supposed to stop using verbal teaching methods?
Maybe it would be better to simply try to understand the data we have rather than dismiss it or attack the messenger. If we follow down the pathway Smith points to, we would find we have lost any bearings amidst all of the distrust and paranoia. Instead, we could look for reasons why conservatism correlates to lower IQ in the same way we look for reasons why poverty correlates to lower IQ. For example, we could ask:
What do conservatives parents do in raising children that is different liberal parents?
One answer is that conservative parents are more supportive of spanking. Recent research has found there is correlation between spanking and lower IQ. It’s probably similar to aspects of poverty. Spanking causes a child stress. Research also shows social stress in general correlates to lower IQ. So, conservative parents might want to rethink the conservative practice of spanking, assuming they care about their children’s cognitive development.
— — —
Here is my conclusion:
My point is that a balanced approach is required for understanding such issues. We need to take the data seriously, even when it contradicts our favored beliefs and values and especially when there is consensus among experts and researchers. Also, we need to gather as much data as possible. Sometimes there is elements of truth in opposing viewpoints, and sometimes not.
Furthermore, I’d differentiate between knowledge and practice. It could be factually proven that multiple intelligences exist and yet that doesn’t prove that this is helpful in teaching. Or it could be factually disproven that multiple intelligences exist and yet that doesn’t disprove that different teaching styles/methods are helpful to different students. We need to base teaching on what is demonstrated to work rather than on theory of what should work.

Conservatism, Murders & Suicides

Why some politicians are more dangerous
Belinda Webb

James Gilligan’s new book, ‘Why Some Politicians Are More Dangerous Than Others’ (Polity Press, 2011) could be reduced to a few key statements, the main one being ‘Republicans are very bad for your health’. Gilligan, Professor and MD at New York State University, has combed the statistics on violent deaths (homicide and suicide), from 1900 through to 2007 in order to determine political causation.

His findings confirm what many have hitherto instinctively and experientially known: murders and suicides increase under Republican rule. Why? Because they also create inequality and unemployment, both of which produce an employer’s market that keeps wages down. In fact, unemployment figures – in rate and duration – have increased during every Republican administration, and decreased during every Democratic administration. Ironically, despite Republican policies that favour employers and cause greater levels of inequality and unemployment, their policies then inculcate shame amongst the unemployed – blind – or to coin a much-favoured Republican word, ‘evil’ to the fact that they are its main cause. The Republican ideology – hypocritical and misanthropic – fosters the most rancid shame that goes like this: can’t find a job? It’s your own fault. Lost your job? What did you do, must have done something. Not rich. That’ll be your own fault too – or ‘thats God’s plan for you’. Addicted? Can’t hold your damn liquor. Single mum? Slut. Had an abortion? Murderer and slut. Moaning about low pay? You should thank god you’ve got a job. The list goes on. It is a terrible, cruel, vicious circle in which people become imprisoned. In short, Republicans are architects of despair that leads to suicide, and of rage that leads to murder.
 – – –  

More suicides under Conservative rule
BBC News

Suicide rates per million 1901-1998 England and Wales by prime minister

Period Suicide rate Main prime minister in power
1901-1905 101 Balfour (Conservative)
1906-1910 102 Campbell-Bannerman (Liberal)
1911-1915 96 Asquith (Liberal)
1916-1920 85 Lloyd-George (Liberal)
1921-1925 101 Baldwin (Conservative)
1926-1930 123 Baldwin (Conservative)
1931-1935 135 MacDonald (National coalition)
1936-1940 124 Chamberlain (Conservative)
1941-1945 92 Churchill (Conservative)
1946-1950 106 Atlee (Labour)
1951-1955 107 Churchill (Conservative)
1956-1960 116 Eden (Conservative)
1961-1965 137 Macmillan (Conservative)
1966-1970 118 Wilson (Labour)
1971-1975 101 Heath (Conservative)
1976-1980 112 Callaghan (Labour)
1981-1985 121 Thatcher (Conservative)
1986-1990 118 Thatcher (Conservative)
1991-1995 110 Major (Conservative)
1996-1998 103 Blair (Labour)

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Political Labels – Meaningless? Divisive?

I keep coming across the problem with political labels. I’m actually a fan of labels when they are used to accurately represent fundamental differences, but too often that isn’t how they are used. I probably don’t have much hope to disentangle that which has been intentionally tangled. Still, I can at least explain my own understanding of the entanglement.

First, there is a difference between European and American political histories. In Europe, conservatism has traditionally been supportive of government. In America, conservatism opposed the government because the government was founded on a liberal vision. So, American conservatism is radicalized and contradicts traditional conservatism. To speak of the conservative tradition in America is to speak of an idiosyncratic tradition. The American conservative tradition isn’t traditionally conservative. It’s more complex than that, but there is a basic truth to this explanation.

Second, there is a difference between mainstream politics and majority public opinion. America was inspired by a vision of populist liberalism, but the founding fathers were mistrusting of this vision and so they created a new entrenched ruling elite (rich white males, landed aristocracy, plutocratic owner class). So, American politics has an inherent conflict. The original vision that inspired the American Revolution has yet to be fulfilled. This puts conservatives in a weird position when they try to defend the American tradition. Are they defending the radically liberal vision or are they defending the ruling elite? In some sense, the two are so mixed that they can’t easily be separated. The founding fathers were liberal for their day and yet socially conservative compared to present society, especially in their favoring a hierarchical society built on slavery where most citizens are disenfranchised from voting and holding political office.

Third, about a century ago through lies and deception corporations gained the legal rights of personhood. At that time, there was a populist revolt against the capitalist oligarchy. But it didn’t last as the ruling elite quickly destroyed it and co-opted the rhetoric. With corporate personhood, the founding father’s plutocracy was turned into a corporatocracy. Yet it’s a corporatocracy that retains the external elements of America’s social democracy. Corporatocracy is what Ike was warning about when he spoke of the Military-Industrial Complex. The 20th century has been the history of that warning not being heeded. The result is that the entire mainstream political spectrum has been pushed toward the right (toward a fiscal conservatism defined by the plutocratic ruling class of business owners, CEOs, bankers, investors, lobbyists, and corporatist politicians).

Fourth, there used to be a left-wing and a right-wing in both parties. This changed when the entire country had a political switch over the past half century or so. The Democratic Party used to be strong in the South, but is now strong in the North. However, the Democratic Party still is strong with poor, minorities, and other disenfranchised demographics even in the South. And the Democratic Party has maintained both a left-wing and a right-wing (Democrats are almost equally divided between those who identify as liberals, conservatives, and moderates). The Republicans were the party of Lincoln, the leader of the Northern Aggression who forced the South to end slavery. Republicans were the party that defended government instead of attacking it. Republicans were called that because they believed in the ‘republic’ which is the government. Earlier in the 20th century, there were still many progressive Republicans like Eisenhower. But there was a purging of the left-wing of the GOP which has caused the conservative movement to become radicalized toward the far right, specifically the far right of social conservatives. This radicalization has, as research has shown, led the conservative movement to become strongly aligned with right-wing authoritarians (a specific label with a specific definition as used in research).

All of this together has led Americans to have a very confused sense of politics.

When polled: If Americans are given a choice between identifying as liberal, conservative or moderate, the majority chooses moderate. If Americans are only given a choice between liberal or conservative, the majority chooses conservative. However, when asked about specific political positions and policies, liberals and moderates are largely in agreement. What usually is defined as ‘liberal’ positions are supported by a majority of Americans.

So, there is an apparent contradiction between what Americans label themselves as and what Americans actually support. This is because for decades the word ‘liberal’ has been portrayed in very negative terms which the American public has internalized. Mainstream politicians and media pundits have increasingly portrayed liberalism as the far left which is obviously not the case since moderates and the majority agree with liberals. The political spectrum has been pushed so far to the right that the far left is almost entirely excluded from public debate. The vacuum left from the banishment of left-wingers has forced moderate liberals to fill that position on the left end of the spectrum.

The political center in Washington isn’t the political center of the American public. Most Americans are moderates, but most politicians are polarized in their rhetoric. Also, most activists are polarized as well. This leaves a moderate silent majority which is in fact the liberal silent majority. Most liberals are probably so silent because they don’t even know they are liberals.

On top of that, the majority of Americans don’t vote because America has a history of disenfranchising the masses (which was intentionally created by the founding fathers). Conservatives, like the founding fathers, don’t trust the masses and are suspicious of democracy because it gives power to the masses. The silent majority isn’t just silent but silenced. Our political system is technically a democracy (however imperfect and corrupt), but even admitting this fact is a concession conservatives are unwilling to make. Conservatives will say that we live in a republic, not a democracy. I find that funny since there is no inherent conflict between the two. Yes, we are a republic AND we are democracy. Anyway, there is nothing inherently good about a republic. China is a republic.

A further confusion is that many Americans, especially among conservatives, don’t understand the difference between a liberal, a socialist, a communist, and a fascist. It’s all one and the same to them. As I’ve already pointed out, the contemporary American liberal is actually a moderate and, I would add, a small ‘r’ republican (in that they support our republican government). Beyond that, a socialist isn’t a communist isn’t a fascist. Socialism is a broad category which gives power to individuals and to communities of individuals. To varying degrees, socialism can be found in many churches, local organizations, unions, etc. Communism and fascism, on the other hand, are specifically about governments. A communist government owns the means of production. And a fascist government is controlled by those who own the means of production. But the distinction is often blurred. For example, the Nazis were fascists who used socialism to label themselves while killing and imprisoning socialists as well as communists. If you were a socialist being killed or imprisoned by Nazis, you wouldn’t be comforted by the fact that Nazis labeled themselves as ‘socialists’.

Yet another confusion, especially among conservatives, is that libertarianism and classical liberalism is true conservatism. Now, that is a confusion of labels worthy of a propagandist. The original libertarians and classical liberals were radically liberal and not conservative in any sense. Some of them thought free markets were potentially beneficial, but they were also very wary of capitalism not constrained by the morality of public good. The first libertarians were labor movement socialists (which makes it all the more ironic that most self-identified libertarians today are mostly from the privileged upper class). The godfather of American libertarianism, Henry David Thoreau, criticized the capitalism of his day which is the very same 19th century capitalism that right-libertarians today like to romanticize. The original vision of America was described by Thomas Paine who was a classical liberal of the bleeding heart liberal variety. Even so, left-libertarians like Thoreau and radical liberals like Paine are today so far to the left that they are no longer even included on the political spectrum. Even militant secessionists get more media attention and mainstream respectability. Washington politicians are simply being good conservatives when they speak about overthrowing the government, but when a moderate liberal defends the moral justification of the government they get labeled as a far left socialist.

The confusions abound. Many people think of America as a Christian nation, but only a minority of Americans regularly attend church and atheists know more about the Bible than most who claim to be Christian. Republicans use fiscal conservatism as rhetoric, but when asked it’s self-identified liberals who state the most interest in balancing the budget. Tea Party supporters and many right-libertarians idolize the constitution, but some of these people have proposed repealing the 14th amendment just because they don’t like immigrants and they’ve sought to take away the rights from the working class by busting unions. It’s hard to know what to make of all this.

Even though I think of myself as a liberal, I don’t mean to just blame conservatives. When I read about traditional conservatism, I find elements of it quite appealing. I’ve always been mistrusting of radicalism and not just because the radicalism of American conservatives. I’m like Paine in that I want to believe in our democratic government. Paine would be disappointed to see our country becoming ever more fascist, but he would be quite uplifted by the fact that the government finally ended slavery which he wanted the government to do right from the beginning. I want to believe in America, including the government. In this sense, I’m ‘conservative’. But being this kind of a ‘conservative’ in America means that you’ll likely feel more at home with those who identify as ‘liberals’. As such, I praise conservatism even as I criticize conservatives.

I had no grand purpose in analyzing all these labels. I just wanted to explain my own understanding. I keep hearing the same muddled labels being argued about… which is annoying. I also find it annoying when someone claims the labels are meaningless, that the left/right dichotomy was created to divide and conquer. My problem is most people who think labels are meaningless seem to do so because of ignorance about the history of those labels. Yes, those in power do use tactics of divide and conquer, but they also use tactics of keeping the public so ignorant that they can’t make intelligent distinctions.

I feel harshly judgmental (which isn’t unusual for me), but that isn’t the point. Maybe those who think the labels have become meaningless are right. I don’t know if it matters. The labels themselves, of course, are just words. What matters is that which words are intended to represent. From my perspective, the loss of meaningful labels is the loss of meaningful discussion. What these labels represent is history. There is something sad about the collective forgetting of our collective past.

– – –

After writing the above, I had some further thoughts (surprise, surprise). I want to expand on a few points I made and maybe offer some corrections or clarifications.

I think the confusion of politics has always existed in America. It goes beyond the radicalization and polarization of the 20th century.

I was particularly thinking about political groups such as right-libertarians, objectivists, and anarcho-capitalists. I often consider these groups to be ‘conservative’ in the broad sense. Certainly, they are right-wingers. It makes me wonder what is the relation between conservatives and right-wingers. As I already pointed out, liberals and left-wingers often have very little in common. Many left-wingers choose not to identify as ‘liberals’ and many self-identified liberals disavow left-wingers. I’ve noticed similar dynamic can be found between right-wingers and conservatives (which, to an outsider like me, often appears as a conflict between those who emphasize fiscal conservatism and those who emphasize social conservatism).

The confusion in this area has two main aspects.

  1. Those on the right tend to conflate liberals and left-wingers and those on the left tend to conflate conservatives and right-wingers.
  2. If you go far enough to the right or left, you often end up around the same place: left-libertarians and right-libertarians, anarcho-syndicalists and anarcho-capitalists, etc.

Both the left-wing and right-wing in America have some origins in classical liberalism (because America has its origins in classical liberalism). My complaint is that the right-wingers often want to claim classical liberalism for themselves. I’ve argued that classical liberalism has more in common with the left than the right. Ignoring the two wings, it’s obvious that liberalism in general has its origins in classical liberalism, although much has changed since the time of classical liberalism. On the other hand, one would have to make a major stretch to argue that contemporary conservatism overall has much to do with classical liberalism. Right-wingers make a simple mistake in assuming that classical liberalism automatically means minarchism or anti-statism. The early classical liberals, prior to the American and French revolutions, were against the governments of the time because those governments were monarchies with state-sanctioned religions. But they weren’t against all government in principle. For damned sure, classical liberalism isn’t just another name for anarchism.

That said, I must admit that I’m not an expert on classical liberalism. I think some right-wing ideologies have a case for their origins in classical liberalism, but they don’t have a case for sole possession of classical liberalism nor as the rightful inheritors, the official standard-bearers of all classical liberalism. When they attempt to make this argument, they discredit themselves with their own arrogant self-righteousness. I’m willing to share classical liberalism with them, but I won’t allow them to eliminate the liberalism from classical liberalism.

Here is what I see as the source of the confusion about classical liberalism. I’ve noticed two diverging tendencies within the founding generation of America. Both were liberal relative to the monarchy they were collectively opposing, but one was more liberal than the other. Some of the founders wanted a ruling elite based class, education and property. These founders were successful in implementing this vision to varying degrees in federal and state laws. Opposing them, were those who agreed with Paine which largely included those not a part of the ruling elite (Paine himself was born into the working class). Paine’s vision inspired the American Revolution, but was shoved to the side once the American ruling elite was freed from the British ruling elite. Paine was a radical liberal in the tradition of social democracy and so that meant that Paine was a classical liberal who didn’t hate government. He realized that a democratic government was the only protection from a new ruling elite. And many of the other founders feared democracy because they realized it limited their own power as the ruling elite while empowering the average person (i.e., the ‘mob’).

So, the right-winger today who self-identifies as a classical liberal tends to be in the American tradition of a capitalist ruling elite (plutocracy) that opposes other ruling elites (such as monarchies and often government in general) while simultaneously opposing the vast majority of citizens who potentially could oppose their own position of ruling elite. They see themselves as part of a meritocracy and so believe that they, unlike others, have earned their position as the ruling elite. However, it’s a bit misguided to call this classical liberalism. Classical just generally refers to the liberalism prior to the 20th century. Paine absolutely was a classical liberal. He was definitely liberal for politics of his day and his vision is still radically liberal by today’s standards. The right-wing founders were liberal in wanting to replace a monarchy with a republic, but they were conservative in wanting to maintain a ruling elite. I find it almost disingenous to call people classical liberals who feared giving people basic freedom and human rights. Paine wanted everyone to be absolutely and equally free, but many of the founders didn’t want to end slavery or give voting rights to all citizens because they believed maintaining their own freedom necessitated limiting the freedom of others. That is a very distorted and uninspiring notion of classical liberalism.

Many right-wing libertarians to this day find themselves in this conundrum of simultaneously praising and fearing freedom. Many right-wing libertarians and minarchists are fine with any constraints on freedom that help maintain their position of power and the social order that upholds it (e.g., strong border control and military). They like capitalism (or rather their version of big business corporatism) even if it means (or because it means) undermining democracy and disempowering those of the lower classes (e.g., union busting, Citizens United). This attitude may have elements of classical liberalism in terms of rhetoric, but it is also a response of wanting to deny the unadulterated and unrestrained vision of classical liberalism as proposed by Paine. Even though it seemed relatively liberal a couple centuries ago, this right-wing ‘classical liberalism’ is extremely conservative compared to the present leftwing ideologies that seek to free and empower all people of all classes and races. I prefer my classical liberalism taken straight and not watered down.

Unlike most of the founders, Paine was a genuine progressive. It is interesting to note that progressivism isn’t always or entirely aligned with big government and with liberalism. Some of the founders who wanted to maintain the status quo of a ruling elite (meaning they were afraid of Paine’s populist progressivism) were for that reason also for having a strong central government. Paine didn’t disagree with having a strong central government, but he wanted it to be balanced by localized grassroots democracy. The ideal of progressivism existed at the beginning of America’s political tradition. Progressivism and populism have tended to gone hand in hand. In the Populist Era a century later, Paine’s vision was reawakened but it served both socially conservative agendas (e.g., religious revivalism, Prohibition) and socially liberal agendas (e.g., feminism)… and, oddly, it often was the seemingly social liberal feminists who were promoting the socially conservative agendas such as Prohibition. Still, at the heart of it, there was the same basic impulse that motivated Paine. The Populists were progressive in that they believed by making changes in the social order the average person would be empowered to change themselves. It’s the ideal of grassroots democracy, of direct political action.

Once upon a time, the Republican Party was the progressive party. Republicans ended slavery and maintained the union, created the national park service, built the interstate highway system, created the EPA. Et Cetera. These aren’t inherently liberal or conservative issues. Maintaining the union was maintaining the status quo and protecting the social order, both conservative impulses in a fundamental sense (although they’ve come to be identified with contemporary liberals). Conservative used to mean ‘conserving’ such as conserving land and resources by creating national parks and by creating the EPA which protects (i.e., conserves) the environment. Even unions aren’t inherently liberal. Maintaining living wages for workers maintains social order and ensures a healthy community and stable families (all of which are issues central to conservatives) which is why Catholic communities have also tended to be union communities.

In conclusion:
The liberalism of America’s past gets claimed by many American conservatives today.
And the conservatism of America’s past becomes identified with Americans labeled as liberals today.
But the radical left of America’s past and present usually gets forgotten and ignored.

– – –

I just finished writing another post that is in some ways a continuation of what I wrote above:

Is Classical Liberalism Liberal?

By the way, this is a topic I’ve grappled with often. This post is a summarization of analysis I’ve made and data I’ve gathered in previous posts:

Then they came for the trade unionists…

Here is something that has been quoted many times before, but it deserves being quoted many times more.

First They came… – Pastor Martin Niemöller

Timbre Allemagne 1992 Martin Niemoller obl.jpgFirst they came for the communists,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me

and there was no one left to speak out for me.

– – –

If only people understood those words, we wouldn’t have all these problems that continue to plague us.

People look around the world and think other people’s problems aren’t their problems. Who cares about the poor who are exploited and oppressed in other countries? Who cares about the working class and the unions? Most people see those who are different as the enemy. To business owners, the workers are the enemy. To non-union workers, union workers are the enemy. To well off whites, poor minorities are the enemy. To poor Americans, immigrants are the enemy. To fundamentalists, social gospel Christians are the enemy. Et Cetera. And history just keeps on repeating.

I was reminded of what Niemhöller wrote because of the recent attacks on unions by Republicans and corporations. Unions have been greatly disempowered since the Taft-Hartley Act and since the Reagan administration, but still even in weakened form they are the only defense the working and middle classes have left in fighting against the ever growing corporatism in America. Of the top 10 campaign contributors, all are corporate PACs besides 3 which are unions. With the unjust elimination of ACORN, the poor and working class need the unions more than ever. Organizations like unions and the former ACORN help inform the public about important issues and help to encourage the poor get to the voting booths.

There is one very important thing to note from the Niemöller quote. The Nazis didn’t go after Jews right from the start. No, they first went after the Communists and unions. The Nazis had to first eliminate the groups that represent average people, the groups that are the pillars of grassroots democracy. Once they are eliminated, any other group can be freely attacked without the possibility of organized resistance. Just look at Wisconsin right now. Besides unions, there is no other group that could organize average Americans to such an extent. Unions are the very last defense. Unions don’t just defend their own workers. Unions, in defending the working class, defend the rights of all.

I was recently reminded of a fact most people don’t know. Check out these maps:

Party Affiliation (2009)From ’08 to ’10

State of States Political Party Affiliation, 2008

State of the States Political Party Advantage Map, 2010

Many states (such as in the South) that people think of as solidly Republican in reality aren’t that solid at all. In conservative states, a divide exists that doesn’t isn’t found in liberal states. Poor people in conservative states tend to vote Democratic whereas the rich tend to vote Republican (however, both the poor and the rich in liberal states tend to vote Democratic). So, how do Republicans maintain control of states that have populations mixed between the two parties? It’s rather simple. The rich Republicans control the politics, control the media, control the corporate contributions. The organizations that represent the poor are few and getting fewer.

Here is an article about 2006 voting data and a map of unionization:

Want to know why Democrats won the election? Because union members and their families voted for them.

Here’s the breakdown – non union members split evenly according to the CNN exit polls 49% to each party. Union members went 64% Democratic, and 34% Republican.

This actually underestimates the case, because unions are more than half of the Democratic ground game. It’s not just that union members vote Democratic – it’s that union members work for Democratic candidates and against Republican ones. They knock on doors, they organize, they phone pool. Any decent union has a hardened corps of organizers from their day to day work, and around election time those guys fan out. They are tough, experienced, don’t fear rejection and are mostly solidly working class.

If you look at a map of the US by union membership, like the one above, what you’ll see is that it looks awfully familiar – where unions are strong, Dems win. Where they aren’t, they lose or struggle.

The South, in particular, has a long history of disenfranchising the poor and the minorities (both of whom vote Democratic, of course). Most Americans don’t vote because most Americans feel disenfranchised from the entire political process. This perception is partly true and partly false, but the corporate media wants people to believe it because the continued dominance of the rich is dependent on this perception. If this perception of disenfranchisement falters even for a moment, protests and revolutions (or, at least, political upsets) can happen.

I’ve often heard conservatives (including democratically elected politicians) criticize democracy calling it mobocracy (two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner). Let me break down this criticism. So, who is this ‘mob’? It’s the masses, the general public, the average American, the majority of adults who feel so disenfranchised that they don’t vote. Conservatives are afraid of the majority because they know the majority doesn’t support their views and policies (see: ). Conservatives are afraid of grassroots democracy like unions because they know grassroots democracy won’t benefit corporations.

One argument conservatives give is that unions have already served their purpose. Conservatives will initially try to deny what unions have accomplished, but when that fails they’ll argue that there is nothing left for unions to accomplish. However, from my liberal perspective, unions are the only thing stopping our society from returning to 19th century capitalism. So, what exactly was 19th century capitalism like? There are some positive examples like the Shakers (which is a socialist model of capitalism that conservatives don’t like) and there are many negative examples like the following (from my post ):

Each mining camp was a feudal dominion, with the company acting as lord and master. Every camp had a marshal, a law enforcement officer paid by the company. The ‘laws’ were the company’s rules. Curfews were imposed, ‘suspicious’ strangers were not allowed to visit the homes, the company store had a monopoly on goods sold in the camp.
The doctor was a company doctor, the schoolteachers hired by the company . . . Political power in Colorado rested in the hands of those who held economic power. This meant that the authority of Colorado Fuel & Iron and other mine operators was virtually supreme . . . Company officials were appointed as election judges. Company-dominated coroners and judges prevented injured employees from collecting damages.
[The Colorado Coal Strike, 1913-14, pp. 9-11]

I personally don’t want to return to a society where such capitalist systems existed. I’m fairly sure most Americans wouldn’t want to return to this either. And it’s good to keep in mind that this kind of capitalism (or similar variations) still exists in other parts of the world where unions don’t exist or don’t have as much political influence. So, I think it would be unwise to dismiss the role unions play in our society. Our grandparents and great grandparents fought and died for the rights we take for granted.

– – –

– – –

Ignoring history (which is never a wise thing to do), what can we say about unions in our present society? For example, does allowing teachers unions to have collective bargaining lead to negative impact on the public education system?

– – –

Anyway, how much power do unions actually have? A picture is worth a thousand words. Totals by Sector from OpenSecrets.org:

lobbying expenditures vs. campaign contributions

If money talks, politicians are listening to louder voices than unions.

Even so, unions are more likely to get heard by Democrats.

Top Democratic and Republican Donors in 2010

Top Overall Donors to Republicans:

Elliott Management (a Hedge fund company)
Koch Industries (note: the billioaire who is the main financier of the Teabaggers)
Every Republican is Crucial PAC
Associated Builders & Contractors
(so-called) “Freedom” Project (a Republican PAC)

NOTES: Top Republican supporters are billionaires, contractors, and hedge funds…and keep in mind this applies to the Teabagger movement as well. They are supported by the same billionaires, contractors, and hedge funds.

Top Overall Donors to Democrats:

ActBlue (composite of many, many small, grassroots donations)
Intl Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
Laborers Union
Machinists/Aerospace Workers Union
EMILY’s List (composite of many, many small grassroots donations)
Plumbers/Pipefitters Union
National Assn of Letter Carriers
Ironworkers Union
United Auto Workers
United Transportation Union
American Postal Workers Union
UNITE HERE
AmeriPAC: The Fund for a Greater America

NOTES: Top Democratic supporters are unions and grassroots donors.

Seems to me the contrast is really quite sharp: Billionaires vs. working and middle class.

Where unions are strong, do they make a society better or worse? Here is from a post I wrote comparing the US and Germany:

In this video, there was one particular point about Germany that stood out. Germany is 1/5 the size of the US and yet has the second highest trade surplus in the world (after China). They’ve accomplished this while having higher rate of unionization and higher pay. Interestingly, the US economy was also doing better when unionization and pay was higher in the US.

Unions in the US are considered socialists even though they represent the working class. In Germany, it’s required for worker representation to be half of board members of companies. In Germany, the industrial and financial sectors are highly regulated keeping jobs from being outsourced and ensuring main street benefits rather than just wall street. According to conservative ideology, this kind of socialist practices and union power should destroy the economy and destroy innovation and yet the complete opposite is the result.

This seems to support Noam Chomsky’s arguments. Chomsky thinks the world would be a better place if workers had more power to influence the companies they work for and influence the economy they are a part of. As a socialist liberal, Chomsky genuinely believes it’s good to empower the average person. It would appear Germany has done exactly this and has become immensely successful by doing so.

A major factor I discussed in that US and Germany post was about income inequality. Here is a graph showing both the data of union coverage and inequality:

Union coverage decreases inequality chart

For what it’s worth, here is a study about unions in three comparable countries:

In particular, unions tend to systematically reduce wage inequality among men, but have little impact on wage inequality for women. We conclude that unionization helps explain a sizable share of cross-country differences in male wage inequality among the three countries. We also conclude that de-unionization explains a substantial part of the growth in male wage inequality in the U.K. and the U.S. since the early 1980s.

– – –

I just responded to some comments from one of my previous blog posts () which touch upon a central issue in American politics. Here are my two responses:

I agree with you about the misleading notions of American “conservatives”. It would make life easier if they used a different term to label themselves. Looking at the history of Western conservatism, American conservatives don’t seem all that conservative. In Britain, the conservatives are the Tories. In early America, Tories defended Britain against the radical revolutionaries. I find it odd that American conservatives worship the founders who were radicals. Thomas Paine inspired the entire revolution and his writings were as liberal as they get.

I was reading Henry Fairlie’s view on Toryism. I realized that traditional conservatism more closely describes Democrats than Republicans. Democrats are the ones interested in conserving our present system. On the other hand, Republicans attack our present system. And, as you note, their fantasies about the past are actually radical visions that would entirely remake American society. They don’t want to conserve anything. If American conservatives actually wanted to conserve the past, they’d first have to read something other than revisionist history.

My suspicion is that the idiosyncrasy of American conservatism makes a bit more sense when taking into consideration the psychological research done on ideologies. Brain scans show that conservatives tend to have a larger part of the brain that deals with fear. Other research shows that conservatives have a stronger disgust response toward anything unusual or improper (such as rotting fruit).

America is unusual in that the status quo of our society isn’t the power of a particular church or of a royal lineage or of a specific ethnicity. The only status quo we have in this country is that of change. Ever since the first Europeans came here, it has been endless change. At a fundamental level, conservatives hate change and so American conservatives hate the status quo of the society they were raised in. They would like to create a status quo that never changes which, oddly, would require radically changing the present status quo. Conservatives seem like hypocrites because they are conflicted by their own psychological predispositions. In the US, they can’t win for losing. The country was founded on a radical liberal vision and has continued to radically change ever since. To be an American conservative is to hate the founding status quo of America.

(note: I admit ‘hate’ is a strong word. Let us just say conservatives are strongly conflicted by the founding status quo of America.)

I’ve just started a book titled Thomas Paine and the Promise of America by Harvey J. Kaye. It’s very fascinating. It’s odd that I don’t recall having learned much about Paine in my public education or even in various documentaries I’ve watched about early America.

There seems to be a love/hate relationship with Paine. His writings were what inspired the American Revolution and probably what kept it from failing, but his vision was so radically democratic that he fell out of favor with many of the others in the founding generation who just wanted to create a new ruling elite (which essentially is what they did).

It’s very interesting that this radical vision is at the heart of what defines America. Paine wanted to end slavery, wanted Native Americans to keep their land, wanted women, blacks, and the poor to have as much power as rich white men. He wanted America to become an example of genuine freedom that would inspire revolution all over the world. Paine was a bad ass. His vision is radical even by today’s standards.

America would not exist without Paine’s far left democratic vision. He inspired the revolution, inspired people to keep fighting, inspired people to support the fight for independence in all ways. The American people, especially the lower classes, were fighting for Paine’s vision of America. Paine dedicated his whole life to the cause of liberty. He never made any profit from any of his writings. He risked his life many times and even fought hand-to-hand combat. He was a hardcore revolutionary. He didn’t grow up with privilege. Unlike the most of the Founding Fathers, he was born working class and was an immigrant. Paine believed in the American Dream before there was a country called America.

Paine is the reason conservatives are endlessly outraged in America. Like many in the founding generation, conservatives are scared shitless about the vision that Paine proposed and that vision still exists as a seed waiting to sprout. Paine failed because the rich white males of the time were too afraid to embrace a truly free society. The Populists in the late 19th century attempted again to achieve that vision, but once again the ruling elite coopted the revolutionary energy for the purposes of the corporate elite. Now, we once again face the potential of Paine’s vision. People once again begin to remember what inspired the founding of this country in the first place. Those in power and those on the right will do everything they can to squash democracy. Everyone understands that democracy is the most dangerous vision that any human has ever conceived.

Maybe you’re right about liberals tending to focus on freedom from. When considering radical freedom, we can only know the past from which we are trying to free ourselves from. We can’t know where radical freedom will lead. It’s an experiment. Paine explicitly thought of America as an experiment. If you want safety and security, then you can’t have freedom. That is the hypocrisy of what America has become. Paine realized that even the ruling elite could only have as much freedom as everyone was allowed. Paine knew that the only way to have democracy was to have an educated public and the ruling elite knew the only way to control the masses was to keep them ignorant. But control can never lead to freedom.

Even the data proves this. In societies with high economic inequality, there are more social problems (see: ). The rich may be relatively better off than the poor in such a society, but the rich in such a society are relatively worse off than the rich in a society that has more equality. The rich people in an unequal society have, for example, more health problems (probably from the stress of living surrounded by poverty, crime, and social conflict).

Paine understood this centuries ago. The ruling elite at the time dismissed his radical vision. And the ruling elite today continue to dismiss his radical vision. Yet his radical vision remains. The potential of America continues to be wasted because of those who have power don’t have vision and those who have vision don’t have power. Paine began the revolution and the revolution is still happening. The reason America has never stopped changing is because a large segment of American society has always refused to give up on the vision Paine first described.

Many might consider Paine to have been naive for actually believing in freedom. But dammit I wish there were more idealists. The only thing that makes ideals unrealistic is the cynical ruling elite that always stands in the way. Why is democracy considered naive? Why is freedom seen as a threat?

To this day, the conservatives still fear the masses of the poor and minorities. If you look at the demographics of the Southern states, they actually aren’t solidly Republican by a long stretch. If all the poor and minorities voted, Democrats would win by a landslide in the South and all across the coutnry. Conservatives know this and that is why they do what they can to destroy organizations like Acorn and unions that represent the poor and disenfranchised. Most Americans don’t vote because the entire history of America has been about the ruling elite disenfranchising the masses. Even when they do vote, their votes might simply not be counted as happened in Florida. It’s fucked up.

If Paine was here, he’d start a new revolution. Paine was a Marxist revolutionary before there was a Marx. He realized that the fundamental issue is always class war. It was so when immigrants first came to America, many of whom were political dissidents, oppressed poor people, and indentured servants. And it’s still true.

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Let me finish by pointing out a couple of things related to those comments.

First, here is a passage from the book I mentioned above (Thomas Paine and the Promise of America by Harvey J. Kaye, Kindle location 1129):

“in all countries where the freedom of the poor has been taken away, in whole or in part, that the freedom of the rich lost its defence,” he insisted that “freedom must have all or none, and she must have them equally.” Paine was not naïve. He knew freedom could be dangerous, but he pointed out that “if dangerous in the hands of the poor from ignorance, it is at least equally dangerous in the hands of the rich from influence.” Dismissing neither possibility, he suggested ways of addressing them. To prevent ignorance he recommended education. And to prevent political corruption he again demanded democracy: “numerous electors, composed as they naturally will be, of men of all conditions, from rich to poor.”

When people fear mobocracy, what exactly do they fear? Is it fear of the possibility of radical freedom that democracy envisions? Or is it fear that one’s vested interests would be undermined if everyone had equal education and equal opportunity? It’s true that ignorant masses are easier control, but a society can’t simultaneously serve both the realpolitik of control and the ideal of freedom. More importantly, Paine understood that to try to control others meant endangering one’s own freedom. A person can only have what they are willing to offer to others.

Second, the comments above (right before the quote from Kaye’s book) are from a blog post of mine () that touches upon this same issue of fear and mistrust of democracy. My point in that post is that this conservative response is based on an attitude of not having faith in the average American and not having faith in the strength of democracy. As such, conservatives don’t have faith in the fundamental vision of the American experiment. Here is how I ended that post (and with it I’ll also end this post):

The unions did manage to win in certain ways, but the liberal vision of the working class was integrated into the Federal government. Eventually, the Democrats became the party for unions and for the poor. This altered the dynamic causing the class wars to be less clear, especially as class has been mixed up with race and culture. The Democratic party has done some good things for the working class and so that is why the poor working class is loyal to the Democrats to this very day. The vision of Democrats is that the average person can actually be served by his representatives in Washington. The vision of liberalism is that democracy is strong and not easily destroyed.

Conservatives are less confident. They see democracy as constantly threatened and that is why they are much more partisan in their support of big government. It’s also why conservatives support big military despite claiming to be against big government. Conservatives live in fear of democracy being destroyed. Enemies are everywhere. The enemy threatens both from outside (Russia, Islamic terrorists) and from within (Communist witchhunts, social programs, gun rights). Conservatives don’t trust any governments. They only trust our own state government to the extent it might protect us from foreign state governments, but idealy they’d love to live in a world where state governments didn’t exist at all or else had very little power which means they wish they lived in early America.

My above commentary was inspired by this comment:

http://blog.beliefnet.com/crunchycon/2009/09/i-was-wrong-about-5000-year-le_comments.html

John-in-Exile wrote:

It is fascinating to me to have “The Naked Communist” resurface, even as a second work of fiction by a newly rediscovered author. When I was in high school (1960 to 1963) I listened to a series of radio lectures by (apparently) W. Cleon Skousen which culminated in a pitch for his book, The Naked Communist, which was going to expose the evil plans of the terrifying international communist conspiracy. I bought the book and read it and found myself nagged by one question that stayed with me for years. The core presumption of Soviet communism was that people would work hard for the well-being of the state, even with no personal payoff. That always seemed unlikely to me–in fact so unlikely that I always believed that Soviet communism was destined to fall of its own weight. The communist conspiracies were inconsequential because the system was certain to fail. I was then struck by the odd perception that the people most paranoid about the rise of this doomed ideology were the conservatives who should have been the most confident of the ultimate success of the American economic experiment. They were instead the least confident and the most fearful of being overwhelmed by the Soviet system.

When communism fell at last I was not surprised because it seemed to me always destined to fall. Why was my liberal mind more confident of our system than the conservatives that constantly pronounced us doomed to fall to the evil Soviets?

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Conservatives don’t seem to have much faith in the American people or the American experiment. I understand having doubts and I even understand being pessimistic. But, faith or not, do conservatives care more about their ideology or about real people? I know many conservatives do actually care. So, why do they keep voting for Republican politicians who again and again implement policies that hurt average Americans? What is to be gained by attacking unions that protect the working class, social services that help the needy, and public schools that educate the next generation?

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