Human Nature: Categories & Biases

There is something compelling about seemingly opposing views. There is Mythos vs Logos, Apollonian vs Dionysian, Fox vs Hedgehog, Socratic vs the Sophistic, Platonic vs Aristotelian, Spinoza vs Locke, Paine vs Burke, Jung vs Freud, nature vs nurture, biology vs culture, determinism vs free will, parenting style vs peer influence, etc.

And these perceived divisions overlap in various ways, a long developing history of ideas, worldviews, and thinkers. It’s a dance. One side will take the lead and then the other. The two sides will take different forms, the dividing lines shifting.

In more recent decades, we’ve come to more often think in terms of political ideologies. The greatest of them all is liberal vs conservative. But since World War II, there has been a growing obsession with authoritarianism and anti-authoritarianism. And there is the newer area of social dominance orientation (SDO). Some prefer focusing on progressive vs reactionary as more fundamental, as it relates to the history of the revolutionary and counterrevolutionary.

With the advent of social science and neuroscience, we’ve increasingly put all of this in new frames. Always popular, there is left and right brain hemispheres, along with more specific brain anatomy (e.g., conservatives on average have a larger amygdala). Then there is the personality research: Myers-Briggs, trait theory, boundary types, etc — of those three, trait theory being the most widely used.

Part of it is that humans simply like to categorize. It’s how we attempt to make sense of the world. And there is nothing that preoccupies human curiosity more than humanity itself, our shared inheritance of human ideas and human nature. For as long as humans have been writing and probably longer, there have been categorizations to slot humans into.

My focus has most often been toward personality, along with social science more generally. What also interests me is that one’s approach to such issues also comes in different varieties. With that in mind, I wanted to briefly compare two books. Both give voice to two sides of my own thinking. The first I’ll discuss is The Liberal’s Guide to Conservatives by J. Scott Wagner. And the second is A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind by Robert Burton.

Wagner’s book is the kind of overview I wish I’d had earlier last decade. But a book like this gets easier to write as time goes on. Many points of confusion have been further clarified, if not always resolved, by more recent research. Then again, often this has just made us more clear about what exactly is our confusion.

What is useful about a book like this is that it helps show what we do know at the moment. Or simply what we think we know, until further research is done to confirm or disconfirm present theories. But at least some of it allows a fair amount of certainty that we are looking at significant patterns in the data.

It’s a straightforward analysis with a simple purpose. The author is on the political left and he wants to help those who share his biases to understand those on the political right who have different biases. A noble endeavor, as always. He covers a lot of territory and it is impressive. I won’t even attempt to summarize it all. I’m already broadly familiar with the material, as this area of study involves models and theories that have been researched for a long time.

What most stood out to me was his discussion of authoritarianism and social dominance orientation (SDO). For some reason, that seems like more important than all the rest. Those taken together represent the monkey wrench thrown into the gears of the human mind. I was amused when Wagner opined that,

Unlike all that subtlety around “social conformity-autonomy” and authoritarianism, the SDO test is straightforward: not to put too fine a point on it, but to me, the questions measure how much of a jerk you are. (Kindle Locations 3765-3767)

He holds no love for SDOs. And for good reason. Combine the worst aspects from the liberal elite of the classical liberal variety as found in a class-based pseudo-meritocracy. Remove any trace of liberal-minded tolerance, empathy, kindness, and compassion. And then wrap this all up with in-group domination. Serve with a mild sauce of near sociopathy.

Worse part of it is that SDOs are disproportionately found among those with wealth and power, authority and privilege. These people are found among the ruling elite for the simple reason that they want to be a ruling elite. Unless society stops them from dominating, they will dominate. It’s their nature, like the scorpion that stings the frog carrying him across the river. The scorpion can’t help itself.

All of that is important info. I do wish more people would read books like these. There is no way for the public, conservative and liberal alike, to come together in defense against threats to the public good when they don’t understand or often even clearly see those threats.

Anyway, Wagner’s book offers a systematizing approach, with a more practical emphasis that offers useful insight. He shows what differentiates people and what those demarcations signify. He offers various explanations and categorizations, models and theories. You could even take professional tests that will show your results on the various scales discussed, in order to see where you fit in the scheme of personality traits and ideological predispositions. Reading his book will help you understand why conflicts are common and communication difficult. But he doesn’t leave it at that, as he shares personal examples and helpful advice.

Now for the other approach, more contrarian in nature. This is exemplified by the other book I’ve been reading, the one by Robert Burton (who I quoted in a recent post). As Wagner brings info together, Burton dissects it into its complicated messy details (Daniel Everett has a similar purpose). Yet Burton also is seeking to be of use, in promoting clear thinking and a better scientific understanding. His is a challenge not just to the public but also to scientific researchers.

Rather than promising answers to age-old questions about the mind, it is my goal to challenge the underlying assumptions that drive these questions. In the end, this is a book questioning the nature of the questions about the mind that we seem compelled to ask yet are scientifically unable to answer. (p. 7)

Others like Wagner show the answers so far found for the questions we ask. Burton’s motive is quite the opposite, to question those answers. This is in the hope of improving both questions and answers.

Here is what I consider the core insight from Burton’s analysis (p. 105-7):

“Heinrich’s team showed the illusion to members of sixteen different social groups including fourteen from small-scale societies such as native African tribes. To see how strong the illusion was in each of these groups, they determined how much longer the “shorter” line needed to be for the observer to conclude that the two lines were equal. (You can test yourself at this website— By measuring the amount of lengthening necessary for the illusion to disappear, they were able to chart differences between various societies. At the far end of the spectrum— those requiring the greatest degree of lengthening in order to perceive the two lines as equal (20 percent lengthening)— were American college undergraduates, followed by the South African European sample from Johannesburg. At the other end of the spectrum were members of a Kalahari Desert tribe, the San foragers. For the San tribe members, the lines looked equal; no line adjustment was necessary, as they experienced no sense of illusion. The authors’ conclusion: “This work suggests that even a process as apparently basic as visual perception can show substantial variation across populations. If visual perception can vary, what kind of psychological processes can we be sure will not vary?” 14

“Challenging the entire field of psychology, Heinrich and colleagues have come to some profoundly disquieting conclusions. Lifelong members of societies that are Western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic (the authors coined the acronym WEIRD) reacted differently from others in experiment after experiment involving measures of fairness, antisocial punishment, and cooperation, as well as when responding to visual illusions and questions of individualism and conformity. “The fact that WEIRD people are the outliers in so many key domains of the behavioral sciences may render them one of the worst subpopulations one could study for generalizing about Homo sapiens.” The researchers found that 96 percent of behavioral science experiment subjects are from Western industrialized countries, even though those countries have just 12 percent of the world’s population, and that 68 percent of all subjects are Americans.

“Jonathan Haidt, University of Virginia psychologist and prepublication reviewer of the article, has said that Heinrich’s study “confirms something that many researchers knew all along but didn’t want to admit or acknowledge because its implications are so troublesome.” 15 Heinrich feels that either many behavioral psychology studies have to be redone on a far wider range of cultural groups— a daunting proposition— or they must be understood to offer insight only into the minds of rich, educated Westerners.

“Results of a scientific study that offer universal claims about human nature should be independent of location, cultural factors, and any outside influences. Indeed, one of the prerequisites of such a study would be to test the physical principles under a variety of situations and circumstances. And yet, much of what we know or believe we know about human behavior has been extrapolated from the study of a small subsection of the world’s population known to have different perceptions in such disparate domains as fairness, moral choice, even what we think about sharing. 16 If we look beyond the usual accusations and justifications— from the ease of inexpensively studying undergraduates to career-augmenting shortcuts— we are back at the recurrent problem of a unique self-contained mind dictating how it should study itself.”

I don’t feel much need to add to that. The implications of it are profound. This possibly throws everything up in the air. We might be forced to change what we think we know. I will point out Jonathan Haidt being quoted in that passage. Like many other social scientists, Haidt’s own research has been limited in scope, something that has been pointed out before (by me and others). But at least those like Haidt are acknowledging the problem and putting some effort into remedying it.

These are exciting times. There is the inevitable result that, as we come to know more, we come to realize how little we know and how limited is what we know (or think we know). We become more circumspect in our knowledge.

Still, that doesn’t lessen the significance of what we’ve so far learned. Even with the WEIRD bias disallowing generalization about a universal human nature, the research done remains relevant to showing the psychological patterns and social dynamics in WEIRD societies. So, for us modern Westerners, the social science is as applicable as it ever was. But what it shows is that there is nothing inevitable about human nature, as what has been shown is that there is immense potential for diverse expressions of our shared humanity.

If you combine these two books, you will have greater understanding than either alone. They can be seen as opposing views, but at a deeper level they share a common purpose, that of gaining better insight into ourselves and others.

Confused Liberalism

Here are some thoughts on ideological labels and mindsets in the United States. I had a larger post I was working on, which I may or may not post. But the following is bite-sized commentary. Just some things to throw out there.

These views are not exactly new to my writing. They are issues my mind often returns to, because I’m never quite satisfied that I fully understand. I can’t shake the feeling that something is being misunderstood or overlooked, whether or not my own preferred interpretations turn out to be correct.

The two thoughts below are in response to this question:

What do we mean when we speak of liberalism?

* * *

We live in a liberal society, in that we live in a post-Enlightenment age where the liberal paradigm is dominant. But what exactly is this liberalism?

What I find interesting is that conservatives in a liberal society aren’t traditionalists and can never be traditionalists. They are anti-traditionalists and would be entirely out of place in a traditional society. These conservatives are forced to define themselves according to the liberal paradigm and so their only choice is to either become moderate liberals or reactionaries against liberalism.

Even if they choose the latter, they still don’t escape liberalism because our identities are shaped as much by what we react to as by what we embrace. In some ways, we become what we react to, just in a distorted way. That is why reactionary conservatives use liberal rhetoric, often unconsciously.

Ironically, the illiberalism of such reactionary politics is only possible in a liberal society. And, sadly, that reactionary politics has become the dominant ideology in a liberal society like this. The liberal and the reactionary are two sides of the same coin.

This is quite the conundrum for the liberal and reactionary alike. Both are chained together, as they pull in opposite directions.

* * *

There are a large number (how many?) of self-identified liberals who aren’t strongly liberal-minded and maybe a bit conservative-minded, aren’t consistent supporters of liberal politics, are wary of liberal economic reforms, are unsure about the liberalism of human nature, and/or doubt a liberal society is possible. These kinds of ‘liberals’ are their own worst enemies. They make it easy for the political right to dominate, for the authoritarians and social dominance orientation types to gain and maintain power.

I’ve come to a suspicion. It’s not just that many of these supposed liberals aren’t particularly liberal. I’d go further than that. Some of them, possibly a large number of them, could be more accurately described as status quo conservatives. But this isn’t to say that some liberals aren’t strongly liberal-minded. My thought goes in a different direction, though. Maybe the crux of the matter isn’t self-identified liberals at all.

Self-identified liberals have proven themselves easily swayed by the rhetoric of reactionaries, authoritarians, and social dominance orientation types. Because of this, the label of ‘liberal’ has become associated with weakly liberal positions and what are sometimes illiberal attitudes. Liberalism has become identified with the liberal class and bourgeois capitalism, with mainstream society and the status quo social order, with a waffling fence-sitting and Washington centrism.

My thought is that most liberal-minded people (specifically in the US) don’t identify as liberals and never have. Instead, the strongly liberal-minded have taken up other labels to identify themselves: independents, non-partisans, social democrats, progressives, leftists, left-wingers, socialists, democratic socialists, communists, communalists, communitarians, Marxiststs, unionists, anarchists, anarcho-syndialists, left-libertarians, etc. Pretty much anything but ‘liberal’.

This is where mainstream thought goes off the rails. The most liberal-minded tend to be ignored or overlooked. They don’t fit into the mainstream framework of ideological labels. These strongly liberal-minded people might be a fairly large part of the population, but they can’t be seen.

We don’t have the language to talk about them, much less study them. We have nuanced language to distinguish people on the political right and this nuanced language is regularly used in collecting and analyzing data. Pollsters and social scientists are often careful to separate conservatives from libertarians, authoritarians, and social dominance orientation types. Such nuance is rarely seen in mainstream thought about the political left.

It seems, in the mainstream, that it is assumed that ‘liberals’ can be taken as mostly representative of the entire political left. This is based on the assumption that leftists in the US are so small in number and therefore insignificant and irrelevant. But if we define leftists as all those who are to the left of the liberal class found in the Democratic Party establishment and the mainstream corporate media, we might discover there are more leftists than there are so-called liberals. And if many of those leftists are far more liberal-minded than the self-identified liberals, then how useful is the social science research that uses self-identified liberals as a proxy for all liberal-mindedness?

What kind of trust? And to what end?

A common argument against the success of certain societies is that it wouldn’t be possible in the United States. As it is claimed, what makes them work well is there lack of diversity. Sometimes, it will be added that they are small countries which is to imply ‘tribalistic’. Compared to actual tribes, these countries are rather diverse and large. But I get the point being made and I’m not one to dismiss it out of hand.

Still, not all the data agrees with this conclusion. One example is seen in the comparisons of education systems. In the successful social democracies, even the schools with higher rates of diversity and immigrant students tend to have higher test scores, as compared to a country like the US.  There is one book that seriously challenges the tribal argument: Segregation and Mistrust by Eric M. Uslaner. Looking at the data, he determined that (Kindle Locations 72-73), “It wasn’t diversity but segregation that led to less trust.”

Segregation tends to go along with various forms of inequality: social position, economic class and mobility, political power and representation, access to resources, quality of education, systemic and institutional racism, environmental racism, ghettoization, etc. And around inequality, there is unsurprisingly a constellation of other social and health problems that negatively impact the segregated most of all but also the entire society in general—such as an increase of: food deserts, obesity, stunted neurocognitive development (including brain damage from neurotoxins), mental illnesses, violent crime, teen pregnancies, STDs, high school drop outs, child and spousal abuse, bullying, and the list goes on.

Obviously, none of that creates the conditions for a culture of trust. Segregation and inequality undermine everything that allows for a healthy society. Therefore, lessen inequality and, in proportion, a healthy society will follow. That is even true with high levels of diversity.

Related to this, I recall a study that showed that children raised in diverse communities tended to grow up to be socially liberal adults, which included greater tolerance and acceptance, fundamental traits of social trust.

On the opposite end, a small tribe has high trust within that community, but they have almost little if any trust of anyone outside of the community. Is such a small community really more trusting in the larger sense? I don’t know if that has ever been researched.

Such people in tight-knit communities may be willing to do anything for those within their tribe, but a stranger might be killed for no reason other than being an outsider. Take the Puritans, as an example. They had high trust societies. And from early on they had collectivist tendencies, in their being community-oriented with a strong shared vision. Yet anyone who didn’t quite fit in would be banished, tortured, or killed.

Maybe there are many kinds of trust, as there are many kinds of social capital, social cohesion, and social order. There are probably few if any societies that excel in all forms of trust. Some forms of trust might even be diametrically opposed to other forms of trust. Besides, trust in some cases such as an authoritarian regime isn’t necessarily a good thing. Low diversity societies such as Russia, Germany, Japan, China, etc have their own kinds of potential problems that can endanger the lives of those far outside of their own societies.

Trust is complex. What kind of trust? And to what end?

* * *

Does Diversity Erode Social Cohesion?
Social Capital and Race in British Neighbourhoods
by Natalia Letki

The debate on causes and consequences of social capital has been recently complemented with an investigation into factors that erode it. Various scholars concluded that diversity, and racial heterogeneity in particular, is damaging for the sense of community, interpersonal trust and formal and informal interactions. However, most of this research does not adequately account for the negative effect of a community’s low socio-economic status on neighbourhood interactions and attitudes. This paper is the first to date empirical examination of the impact of racial context on various dimensions of social capital in British neighbourhoods. Findings show that the low neighbourhood status is the key element undermining all dimensions of social capital, while eroding effect of racial diversity is limited.

Racism learned
James H. Burnett III

children exposed to racism tend to accept and embrace it as young as age 3, and in just a matter of days.

Can Racism Be Stopped in the Third Grade?
by Lisa Miller

At no developmental age are children less racist than in elementary school. But that’s not innocence, exactly, since preschoolers are obsessed with race. At ages 3 and 4, children are mapping their world, putting things and people into categories: size, shape, color. Up, down; day, night; in, out; over, under. They see race as a useful sorting measure and ask their parents to give them words for the differences they see, generally rejecting the adult terms “black” and “white,” and preferring finer (and more accurate) distinctions: “tan,” “brown,” “chocolate,” “pinkish.” They make no independent value judgments about racial difference, obviously, but by 4 they are already absorbing the lessons of a racist culture. All of them know reflexively which race it is preferable to be. Even today, almost three-quarters of a century since the Doll Test, made famous in Brown v. Board of Education, experiments by CNN and Margaret Beale Spencer have found that black and white children still show a bias toward people with lighter skin.

But by the time they have entered elementary school, they are in a golden age. At 7 or 8, children become very concerned with fairness and responsive to lessons about prejudice. This is why the third, fourth, and fifth grades are good moments to teach about slavery and the Civil War, suffrage and the civil-rights movement. Kids at that age tend to be eager to wrestle with questions of inequality, and while they are just beginning to form a sense of racial identity (this happens around 7 for most children, though for some white kids it takes until middle school), it hasn’t yet acquired much tribal force. It’s the closest humans come to a racially uncomplicated self. The psychologist Stephen Quintana studies Mexican-American kids. At 6 to 9 years old, they describe their own racial realities in literal terms and without value judgments. When he asks what makes them Mexican-American, they talk about grandparents, language, food, skin color. When he asks them why they imagine a person might dislike Mexican-Americans, they are baffled. Some can’t think of a single answer. This is one reason cross-racial friendships can flourish in elementary school — childhood friendships that researchers cite as the single best defense against racist attitudes in adulthood. The paradise is short-lived, though. Early in elementary school, kids prefer to connect in twos and threes over shared interests — music, sports, Minecraft. Beginning in middle school, they define themselves through membership in groups, or cliques, learning and performing the fraught social codes that govern adult interactions around race. As early as 10, psychologists at Tufts have shown, white children are so uncomfortable discussing race that, when playing a game to identify people depicted in photos, they preferred to undermine their own performance by staying silent rather than speak racial terms aloud.

Being Politically Correct Can Actually Boost Creativity
by Marissa Fessenden

The researchers assessed the ideas each group generated after 10 minutes of brainstorming. In same-sex groups, they found, political correctness priming produced less creative ideas. In the mixed groups however, creativity got a boost. “They generated more ideas, and those ideas were more novel,” Duguid told NPR. “Whether it was two men and one woman or two women and one man, the results were consistent.” The creativity of each group’s ideas was assessed by independent, blind raters.

Is Diversity the Source of America’s Genius?
by Gregory Rodriguez

Despite the fact that diversity is so central to the American condition, scholars who’ve studied the cognitive effects of diversity have long made the mistake of treating homogeneity as the norm. Only this year did a group of researchers from MIT, Columbia University, and Northwestern University publish a paper questioning the conventional wisdom that homogeneity represents some kind of objective baseline for comparison or “neutral indicator of the ideal response in a group setting.”

To bolster their argument, the researchers cite a previous study that found that members of homogenous groups tasked with solving a mystery tend to be more confident in their problem-solving skills than their performance actually merits. By contrast, the confidence level of individuals in diverse groups corresponds better with how well their group actually performs. The authors concluded that homogenous groups “were actually further than diverse groups from an objective index of accuracy.”

The researchers also refer to a 2006 experiment showing that homogenous juries made “more factually inaccurate statements and considered a narrower range of information” than racially diverse juries. What these and other findings suggest, wrote the researchers, is that people in diverse groups “are more likely to step outside their own perspective and less likely to instinctively impute their own knowledge onto others” than people in homogenous groups.

Multicultural Experience Enhances Creativity
by Leung, Maddux, Galinsky, & Chiu

Many practices aimed at cultivating multicultural competence in educational and organizational settings (e.g., exchange programs, diversity education in college, diversity management at work) assume that multicultural experience fosters creativity. In line with this assumption, the research reported in this article is the first to empirically demonstrate that exposure to multiple cultures in and of itself can enhance creativity. Overall, the authors found that extensiveness of multicultural experiences was positively related
to both creative performance (insight learning, remote association, and idea generation) and creativity-supporting cognitive processes (retrieval of unconventional knowledge, recruitment of ideas from unfamiliar cultures for creative idea expansion). Furthermore, their studies showed that the serendipitous creative benefits resulting from multicultural experiences may depend on the extent to which individuals open themselves to foreign cultures, and that creativity is facilitated in contexts that deemphasize the need for firm answers or existential concerns. The authors discuss the implications of their findings for promoting creativity in increasingly global learning and work environments.

The Evidence That White Children Benefit From Integrated Schools
by Anya Kamenetz

For example, there’s evidence that corporations with better gender and racial representation make more money and are more innovative. And many higher education groups have collected large amounts of evidence on the educational benefits of diversity in support of affirmative action policies.

In one set of studies, Phillips gave small groups of three people a murder mystery to solve. Some of the groups were all white and others had a nonwhite member. The diverse groups were significantly more likely to find the right answer.

Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension Of American Racism
by James W. Loewen
pp. 360-2

In addition to discouraging new people, hypersegregation may also discourage new ideas. Urban theorist Jane Jacobs has long held that the mix of peoples and cultures found in successful cities prompts creativity. An interesting study by sociologist William Whyte shows that sundown suburbs may discourage out-of-the-box thinking. By the 1970s, some executives had grown weary of the long commutes with which they had saddled themselves so they could raise their families in elite sundown suburbs. Rather than move their families back to the city, they moved their corporate headquarters out to the suburbs. Whyte studied 38 companies that left New York City in the 1970s and ’80s, allegedly “to better [the] quality-of-life needs of their employees.” Actually, they moved close to the homes of their CEOs, cutting their average commute to eight miles; 31 moved to the Greenwich-Stamford, Connecticut, area. These are not sundown towns, but adjacent Darien was, and Greenwich and Stamford have extensive formerly sundown neighborhoods that are also highly segregated on the basis of social class. Whyte then compared those 38 companies to 36 randomly chosen comparable companies that stayed in New York City. Judged by stock price, the standard way to measure how well a company is doing, the suburbanized companies showed less than half the stock appreciation of the companies that chose to remain in the city.7 […]

Research suggests that gay men are also important members of what Richard Florida calls “the creative class”—those who come up with or welcome new ideas and help drive an area economically.11 Metropolitan areas with the most sundown suburbs also show the lowest tolerance for homosexuality and have the lowest concentrations of “out” gays and lesbians, according to Gary Gates of the Urban Institute. He lists Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, and Pittsburgh as examples. Recently, some cities—including Detroit—have recognized the important role that gay residents can play in helping to revive problematic inner-city neighborhoods, and now welcome them.12 The distancing from African Americans embodied by all-white suburbs intensifies another urban problem: sprawl, the tendency for cities to become more spread out and less dense. Sprawl can decrease creativity and quality of life throughout the metropolitan area by making it harder for people to get together for all the human activities—from think tanks to complex commercial transactions to opera—that cities make possible in the first place. Asked in 2000, “What is the most important problem facing the community where you live?” 18% of Americans replied sprawl and traffic, tied for first with crime and violence. Moreover, unlike crime, sprawl is increasing. Some hypersegregated metropolitan areas like Detroit and Cleveland are growing larger geographically while actually losing population.13

How Diversity Makes Us Smarter
by Katherine W. Phillips

Research on large, innovative organizations has shown repeatedly that this is the case. For example, business professors Cristian Deszö of the University of Maryland and David Ross of Columbia University studied the effect of gender diversity on the top firms in Standard & Poor’s Composite 1500 list, a group designed to reflect the overall U.S. equity market. First, they examined the size and gender composition of firms’ top management teams from 1992 through 2006. Then they looked at the financial performance of the firms. In their words, they found that, on average, “female representation in top management leads to an increase of $42 million in firm value.” They also measured the firms’ “innovation intensity” through the ratio of research and development expenses to assets. They found that companies that prioritized innovation saw greater financial gains when women were part of the top leadership ranks.

Racial diversity can deliver the same kinds of benefits. In a study conducted in 2003, Orlando Richard, a professor of management at the University of Texas at Dallas, and his colleagues surveyed executives at 177 national banks in the U.S., then put together a database comparing financial performance, racial diversity and the emphasis the bank presidents put on innovation. For innovation-focused banks, increases in racial diversity were clearly related to enhanced financial performance.

Evidence for the benefits of diversity can be found well beyond the U.S. In August 2012 a team of researchers at the Credit Suisse Research Institute issued a report in which they examined 2,360 companies globally from 2005 to 2011, looking for a relationship between gender diversity on corporate management boards and financial performance. Sure enough, the researchers found that companies with one or more women on the board delivered higher average returns on equity, lower gearing (that is, net debt to equity) and better average growth. […]

In 2006 Margaret Neale of Stanford University, Gregory Northcraft of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and I set out to examine the impact of racial diversity on small decision-making groups in an experiment where sharing information was a requirement for success. Our subjects were undergraduate students taking business courses at the University of Illinois. We put together three-person groups—some consisting of all white members, others with two whites and one nonwhite member—and had them perform a murder mystery exercise. We made sure that all group members shared a common set of information, but we also gave each member important clues that only he or she knew. To find out who committed the murder, the group members would have to share all the information they collectively possessed during discussion. The groups with racial diversity significantly outperformed the groups with no racial diversity. Being with similar others leads us to think we all hold the same information and share the same perspective. This perspective, which stopped the all-white groups from effectively processing the information, is what hinders creativity and innovation.

Other researchers have found similar results. In 2004 Anthony Lising Antonio, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, collaborated with five colleagues from the University of California, Los Angeles, and other institutions to examine the influence of racial and opinion composition in small group discussions. More than 350 students from three universities participated in the study. Group members were asked to discuss a prevailing social issue (either child labor practices or the death penalty) for 15 minutes. The researchers wrote dissenting opinions and had both black and white members deliver them to their groups. When a black person presented a dissenting perspective to a group of whites, the perspective was perceived as more novel and led to broader thinking and consideration of alternatives than when a white person introduced that same dissenting perspective. The lesson: when we hear dissent from someone who is different from us, it provokes more thought than when it comes from someone who looks like us.

This effect is not limited to race. For example, last year professors of management Denise Lewin Loyd of the University of Illinois, Cynthia Wang of Oklahoma State University, Robert B. Lount, Jr., of Ohio State University and I asked 186 people whether they identified as a Democrat or a Republican, then had them read a murder mystery and decide who they thought committed the crime. Next, we asked the subjects to prepare for a meeting with another group member by writing an essay communicating their perspective. More important, in all cases, we told the participants that their partner disagreed with their opinion but that they would need to come to an agreement with the other person. Everyone was told to prepare to convince their meeting partner to come around to their side; half of the subjects, however, were told to prepare to make their case to a member of the opposing political party, and half were told to make their case to a member of their own party.

The result: Democrats who were told that a fellow Democrat disagreed with them prepared less well for the discussion than Democrats who were told that a Republican disagreed with them. Republicans showed the same pattern. When disagreement comes from a socially different person, we are prompted to work harder. Diversity jolts us into cognitive action in ways that homogeneity simply does not.

For this reason, diversity appears to lead to higher-quality scientific research. This year Richard Freeman, an economics professor at Harvard University and director of the Science and Engineering Workforce Project at the National Bureau of Economic Research, along with Wei Huang, a Harvard economics Ph.D. candidate, examined the ethnic identity of the authors of 1.5 million scientific papers written between 1985 and 2008 using Thomson Reuters’s Web of Science, a comprehensive database of published research. They found that papers written by diverse groups receive more citations and have higher impact factors than papers written by people from the same ethnic group. Moreover, they found that stronger papers were associated with a greater number of author addresses; geographical diversity, and a larger number of references, is a reflection of more intellectual diversity. […]

In a 2006 study of jury decision making, social psychologist Samuel Sommers of Tufts University found that racially diverse groups exchanged a wider range of information during deliberation about a sexual assault case than all-white groups did. In collaboration with judges and jury administrators in a Michigan courtroom, Sommers conducted mock jury trials with a group of real selected jurors. Although the participants knew the mock jury was a court-sponsored experiment, they did not know that the true purpose of the research was to study the impact of racial diversity on jury decision making.

Sommers composed the six-person juries with either all white jurors or four white and two black jurors. As you might expect, the diverse juries were better at considering case facts, made fewer errors recalling relevant information and displayed a greater openness to discussing the role of race in the case. These improvements did not necessarily happen because the black jurors brought new information to the group—they happened because white jurors changed their behavior in the presence of the black jurors. In the presence of diversity, they were more diligent and open-minded.

The Living Apocalypse, A Lived Reality Tunnel

I was recently wondering about the root and rot of the tree of liberty. America is a crazy experiment and these are crazy times. I’m not sure if to embrace the crazy or resist it. Ironically, the new immigrants hated and/or feared by the nativists are about the only Americans left who (naively?) believe in the American Dream.

Matt Cardin over at Teeming Brain just posted a bunch of links that are as interesting as usual. There is the apocalypse thingy:

Adieu: On the downward slope of empire
William Deresiewicz, The American Scholar

This will not be pretty. I mean our national decline, and yes, it’s going to happen, sooner or later, one way or another. We can stave it off for a while, especially if we manage to get our heads screwed on a little straighter about a number of things—like immigration, which has always been the source of our renewal, or clean technologies, which might provide another burst of economic growth. China could stumble, as it seems to be doing right now, and in any case there’s still a lot of kick left in the old mare. But empires fall as surely as they rise, and mostly for the reasons that we’re seeing now: they overextend themselves; their systems grow sclerotic; their elites become complacent and corrupt. There’s almost something metaphysical at work. The national sap dries up; the historical clock runs out.

In America’s case, the end is likely to involve a lot more bang than whimper. 

The Comforts of the Apocalypse
Rob Goodman, The Chronicle of Higher Education

We’re living through a dystopia boom; secular apocalypses have, in the words of The New York Times, “pretty much owned” best-seller lists and taken on a dominant role in pop culture. These are fictions of infinite extrapolation, stories in which today’s source of anxiety becomes tomorrow’s source of collapse.

. . . All of this literature is the product of what the philosopher John Gray has described as “a culture transfixed by the spectacle of its own fragility.” Call it dystopian narcissism: the conviction that our anxieties are uniquely awful; that the crises of our age will be the ones that finally do civilization in; that we are privileged to witness the beginning of the end.

Of course, today’s dystopian writers didn’t invent the ills they decry: Our wounds are real. But there is also a neurotic way of picking at a wound, of catastrophizing, of visualizing the day the wounded limb turns gangrenous and falls off. It’s this hunger for crisis, the need to assign our problems world-transforming import, that separates dystopian narcissism from constructive polemic.

I’ve been too depressed for too long to get overly excited by the ravings of the apocalyptic crowd. I’m also too well informed to almost ever feel surprised. When the 9/11 attack happened, after drowsily and surreally waking up to the radio report, my first coherent thought on the matter was how sadly inevitable was such an incident. For anyone who knows the history of US government meddling, blowback was unavoidable and was going to have real consequences one way or another (see: All of Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror by Stephen Kinzer).

Many of the horrible apocalyptic scenarios have a plausibility about them, maybe even a fair probability, if not entirely unavoidable. Why the continuous surprise about horrific events? And why the paranoid obsessiveness that tries to make them into something more they are? How is global warming a shock considering how much pollution we’ve dumped into the soil, water and atmosphere? It is so boringly predictable.

As for America the empire, we are simply playing out the story many other empires have played out before, although with some new twists. Move along, folks, there is nothing to see here.

I’m not being cynical or I’m not trying to be. It just that somethings begin to seem excruciatingly obvious after awhile.

It is easy for humans to get trapped in reality tunnels, media bubbles and echo chambers. That is how the obvious becomes less-than-obvious in our thoughts and perceptions. We come to take things for granted and don’t even realize there is something to be questioned and doubted. We seek to maintain our sense of reality, the status quo social order, the known and familiar… simply for the sake of it for what else would we do?

It is all about keeping ourselves occupied and distracted, keeping up with the Joneses, keeping on keeping on. And the potential forced ending of all that can indeed feel apocalyptic. Everything comes to an end eventually, whether the ending be death and collapse or an awakening.  Although this game can’t go on forever, we will try to keep it going for as long as we can. I guess that is just human nature.

This brings me two other links Cardin offered and I’ll present some of the text as well:

On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs
Strike! Magazine

Rather than [technology] allowing a massive reduction of working hours to free the world’s population to pursue their own projects, pleasures, visions, and ideas, we have seen the ballooning not even so much of the ‘service’ sector as of the administrative sector, up to and including the creation of whole new industries like financial services or telemarketing, or the unprecedented expansion of sectors like corporate law, academic and health administration, human resources, and public relations. And these numbers do not even reflect on all those people whose job is to provide administrative, technical, or security support for these industries, or for that matter the whole host of ancillary industries (dog-washers, all-night pizza deliverymen) that only exist because everyone else is spending so much of their time working in all the other ones. . . . These are what I propose to call ‘bullshit jobs.’

It’s as if someone were out there making up pointless jobs just for the sake of keeping us all working. . . . Through some strange alchemy no one can quite explain, the number of salaried paper-pushers ultimately seems to expand. . . . If someone had designed a work regime perfectly suited to maintaining the power of finance capital, it’s hard to see how they could have done a better job.

In Praise of Laziness
The Economist

Yet the biggest problem in the business world is not too little but too much—too many distractions and interruptions, too many things done for the sake of form, and altogether too much busy-ness. The Dutch seem to believe that an excess of meetings is the biggest devourer of time: they talk of vergaderziekte, “meeting sickness”. However, a study last year by the McKinsey Global Institute suggests that it is e-mails: it found that highly skilled office workers spend more than a quarter of each working day writing and responding to them.

Which of these banes of modern business life is worse remains open to debate. But what is clear is that office workers are on a treadmill of pointless activity. Managers allow meetings to drag on for hours. Workers generate e-mails because it requires little effort and no thought. An entire management industry exists to spin the treadmill ever faster.

All this “leaning in” is producing an epidemic of overwork, particularly in the United States. Americans now toil for eight-and-a-half hours a week more than they did in 1979. A survey last year by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that almost a third of working adults get six hours or less of sleep a night. Another survey last year by Good Technology, a provider of secure mobile systems for businesses, found that more than 80% of respondents continue to work after leaving the office, 69% cannot go to bed without checking their inbox and 38% routinely check their work e-mails at the dinner table.

This activity is making it harder to focus on real work as opposed to make-work.

I pondered this in a more personal way some years ago – The Elephant that Wasn’t There:

My job at the parking ramp is cashier. In the large picture, it’s kind of a pointless job. With developing technology, it’s almost obsolete for all practical purposes. I sometimes envision myself working there in the future after the robots have taken over the job and my only purpose will be to wave and smile at the customers as they drive out. My job is merely representative of most of the pointless work humans occupy themselves with… but is it really pointless? Or is there some purpose being served that is less than obvious? Work is a ritual that sustains our society, the reality tunnel of our culture, of our entire civilization. From a practical perspective, most jobs could be eliminated and many things would run more smoothly and effectively without all the wasted effort of keeping people employed. But if all the pointless jobs were eliminated, there would be chaos with the masses of unemployed. Employing the mindless masses keeps them out of trouble and keeps them from revolting. Make them think their life actually has purpose. Still, a purpose is being served even if it’s simply maintaining social order. My point is that social order is merely the external facet of any given collective reality tunnel.

In enacting our social rituals and retelling our social myths, what kind of reality are we collectively creating? When I look upon a structure like an ugly parking ramp, what kind of world am I looking upon? Why are we creating such a world? What is the motivation? If we stopped enacting these social rituals and stopped retelling these social myths, what would happen to this consensus reality of civilization we’ve created and what would replace it? Or what would be revealed?

Ultimately, the apocalyptic vision isn’t necessarily about the losing of the known at all. The more fundamental fear is the facing of the unknown… which will transform the known, give it new context and meaning. What is fearful about this process is that the unknown once known can’t be made unknown again, can’t ever again be easily forgotten or entirely denied.

The world is an ever-changing place. Apocalypse and transformation are two sides of the same chrysalis. We worry about the destruction of what we know, but that is just a perception. Take the perspective of someone in the past and the present we seek to save can be seen as the destruction of the past world that others sought to defend. Take the perspective of someone in the future and maybe we in this period are seen as standing in the way of a better world, mere children clinging to our blankeys. We are pretty fucking clueless is all I can say. Some of us are more analytical and all that, but it is mostly just a front, a rationalization we present as a lucky charm to protect us against evil.

We all have our favorite story. I’d go so far as to say we all live out a story, usually without full consciousness, assuming consciousness is involved whatsoever in most cases. I read a good articulation of this in a story by Quentin S. Crisp (“The Mermaid”, Morbid Tales):

I believe that everybody has a story. It falls to their life’s epicentre like a meteorite. Even before the story has actually happened the person knows somewhere, with an infallible sense of precognition, what that story is. They predict it again and again in all sorts of ways. They are bound to it by irresistible forces of gravity and magnetism. That is why, knowing they are inevitably taken up with their own story, they feel they are missing something and look to the lives of others with envy. But even those who are envied are enslaved in private by their own particular stories. The hardest part of it all is that stories take place over time. Nothing is revealed all at once. One scene follows closely upon another leaving no gaps, fitting tightly together, slowly and carefully picking out details so that all sense of fulfilment is perpetually in abeyance. And in each new scene we are no longer the same person who wanted the things that scene brings. It is the story of how we age. But if our stories tie us down, make us particular, limit us, they also offer us consolation. In my case, I have tried to escape the sequence of my own story and its temporal limitations by writing more stories, expressing things that I hoped would attain permanence beyond my life. I have learnt, however, that the story in my own life is far more important than any story I might present to the world. Now that it has happened I feel real. Why should I need to write stories when I am a story?

Unlike the storyteller, few of us ever become so self-aware. Stories are most engrossing when we don’t even realize they are stories and that it is we who are telling it. The story becomes real by being mistaken for reality and in doing so our reality is altered. Stories become self-fulfilling prophecies and self-reinforcing reality tunnels. That is certainly the power of religion, but it is the power of everything, including science.

We sometimes forget how young we are as a species and how younger still is science. We’ve barely scratched the surface of the reality around us and within us. Even within science, people have their favored theory and of course other people’s favored theory is bullshit.

I came across this type of thing just the other day with a blogger who goes by the pseudonym of JayMan. He is an human biodiversity (HBD) proponent. HBD is a theory that is so far outside of mainstream science as to have little scientific research backing it up at present. There is some data offering clues, but the scope and quality of research is severely lacking at present. HBD proponents would claim this is because most scientists are being politically correct. Maybe so and maybe not.

What interested me about the incident was the response he gave when I brought up another alternative theory involving non-Darwinian evolution. He called it bullshit. It was one thing to discuss his favored alternative theory and a whole other matter with someone else’s favored alternative theory. It wasn’t even my favored alternative theory. I was merely pointing out that there was research-based theories that were being discussed by scientists, but JayMan would have none of it. He is a smart guy, but it just didn’t fit into his reality tunnel. It wasn’t political correctness to ignore what he disagreed with. That was simply plain reality. Reality is reality. Deal with it! *sigh*

I’m one who will defend facts when I think they are true, but I must admit that I’m not a big defender of specific theories. I pretty much will fairly look at any perspective. If I was worried about political correctness, I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole either HBD or non-Darwinian evolution. It was JayMan who was obsessed with political correctness and judging theories accordingly. That is the power of reality tunnels. I have my own reality tunnel as well, but it happens to be a bit more porous and malleable (which can also be problematic in other ways).

I bring this HBD example up for two reasons. The first reason is that Cardin linked to another article about scientific reductionism which is definitely what JayMan and many other HBD proponents leans toward (I wouldn’t make this charge against hbd chick, though, for she is more careful in her analysis; she has the intellectual humility to admit that she isn’t doing science in her blog and that her favored theory could be wrong). The second reason goes back to the post I first linked above (The Root and Rot of the Tree of Liberty).

That post was largely a response to hbd chick. Like JayMan, she is definitely attracted to scientific reductionism. She has said many times that culture comes from biology for to all of human reality is biological and most of biology is genetics. I think hbd chick has a brilliant mind and she is definitely an awesome researcher, but to my mind her theory smacks too much of scientism. It’s not just an obsession with science but specifically the hard sciences.

I’m biased, of course, coming more from a social science perspective. If not for the social sciences, we wouldn’t know how easily scientists can get sloppy, even to the point of shaping the results they get and the conclusions they come to. If not for the social sciences, we wouldn’t have developed better scientific methodology such as double blinds. I have less trust in a hard science perspective that isn’t heavily grounded in the social sciences, and my trust is even less when we are talking about human nature which is the focus of HBD proponents. My speaking of reality tunnels is essentially grounded in my study of the social sciences.

HBD proponents tend to have a very narrow focus. JayMan told me once that we should just focus on the facts and not their implications. This seems naive to me. There is no such thing as just the facts. Everything is built on ideas, assumptions, beliefs, biases, perceptions, interpretations, etc. It is because HBD proponents (and other similar types) are so narrowly focused that they so easily fall into certain kinds of apocalyptic thinking. We live in a world of dangers and possibilities, but what they worry about is that the immigrants are going to destroy America. This seems strange to me. The immigrants are America. There would be no America without centuries of mass immigration. If they aren’t trying to protect this America that has existed for centuries, then what mythical America are they hoping to save?

I guess that is the problem with all apocalyptic thinking. It is in the end grounded in fantasy. There are real fears it feeds upon, but those real fears are often incidental or secondary. We obsess about apocalypse because we’d rather ignore the even worse problems that surround us. Instead of apocalypse and paranoia, others turn to watching lots of tv, getting lost in social media, drinking and drugging, obsessive dieting and exercising, and other options are available as well. This is also why we project problems onto others and make them into scapegoats for then we don’t have to focus on our own issues and our own personal contributions to societal challenges. Whatever is the case, the type of distraction isn’t important.

The problem that finally gets us will probably be the problem we don’t see coming. The problems we’re worried about are the ones that usually are the least dangerous. That is the point. We focus on fake threats and paranoid fantasies because they are an escape from boring reality. They are safe and easy. That way we can avoid the deep soul-searching and hard work to make the world a better place or simply not make it worse.

The above felt like a good ending point, but hardly inspiring. You can stop there if you so desire or follow me a bit further into my personal motivations and wonderings.

The reason I care about society or even HBD is because I have insatiable curiosity. Humanity fascinates me, humanity and all that it entails. People like Matt Cardin and hbd chick seem to share this sense of curiosity which is more important to my mind than our agreeing about everything.

I had a discussion with hbd chick about culture. I tend to see culture more of as a mystery whereas she tends to see it as a set of data points. It is pretty much a difference of whether the whole is merely the sum of its parts or greater than the sum of its parts, or so it seems to me but maybe hbd chick would state it differently.

Then again, I do have strong tendencies toward being a pansy liberal with weird spiritual experiences and notions about reality. The HBD crowd aren’t known for their pansy liberals. I try to communicate with them through the lense of the libertarian side of my personality. From my crazy liberal-minded perspective, I find it hard to conform to any single theory. I’m a thin-boundaried possibility thinker and proud of it, dammit! I don’t mind too much those who lean toward scientific reductionism. We all have our role to play. That tolerance and love of diversity is part of my crazy liberal-mindedness.

I find myself always restraining my personal idiosyncracies and illnesses. I do have severe depression and probably a few other mental conditions, maybe borderline something thrown in there or else maybe some aspergers. Whatever is my personal ailment, my brainstuff obviously doesn’t work normally. This is why the strangeness of the world, 9/11 attacks included, don’t surprise me. It seems normal to me that the world is a crazy place. Do I love America so much because it is such a crazy experiment or do I love thinking of America as a crazy experiment because I’m crazy? That is definitely something to ponder.

JayMan is a typical hardcore scientific-minded atheist. It is either hard science or bullshit. There are no other options and no middle ground. The science vs religious issue confuses me. I eternally exist in the middle, the intermediate, the interstitial, the liminal or whatever it is. I’m a both/and kinda guy.

In a society obsessed with science as ours is, what takes the place of religion is secular apocalypse, paranoia, conspiracy theory, alien abductions, and on and on. It’s all fun. I don’t disparage it in and of itself. I love the Fortean. The trick, though, is to see it for what it is. I want to get to the root of fears and fantasies. That is where the tasty morsels are to be found.

We aren’t just sets of data. We are living humanity. We don’t just get trapped in reality tunnels. I might go so far as to say we are reality tunnels. We embody stories and gods. The apocalypse plays out in our souls before it ever manifests in the world.

As such, a culture is an emergent property. It can’t be predicted by that which precedes it or explained by which it consists of. In our discussion, I compared culture to consciousness, both being beyond present scientific knowledge. We can look at snapshots and the mechanisms for the physical correlates, but we are almost completely ignorant about the thing itself. We can’t objectively study culture and consciousness because we are the thing we seek to analyze.

To counter this, hbd chick stated that culture is a lot less complex and mysterious than consciousness for we can point to specific data of cultures. She used the term ‘flavor’ and I thought that a good way of putting it. So, I extended her thought. Maybe the flavor of a culture (violent, universalist, or whatever) is to a culture as personality is to consciousness. I pointed out how we are able to and have measured personality traits of both individuals and groups, including at the level of regions. Personality traits is the flavor of humanity that is the meeting point of consciousness and culture, the individual and the collective.

Cultures, like religions, are reality tunnels. But that sounds dismissive. Reality tunnels are the only reality we have and so I don’t mean to disregard them as mere negative traps to be escaped, as if we are the prisoners of a gnostic demiurge. It is simpler and more complex than that. It is simply the only reality we know and we don’t know what we don’t know.

Religions, like cultures, are lived realities. We can’t truly know them from the outside. The scientific data about cultures is to cultures as the rituals of a religion are to the mystic’s vision of the divine. A living god is a thing to behold and so is a living culture, no matter what your belief is about such things.

The same goes for an apocalypse. They are real to those know them in their own reality. They are so real that we can sometimes even make them physically real if we try hard enough. So, in our collective obsessions with apocalypse or more mundanely with work, what kind of world are we creating? More importantly, what kind of world do we want to create? If we weren’t limited by our fears and doubts, what would we collectively strive to achieve and become?

To Not Feel, To Not Care, To Not Know

This relationship of racism and lack of empathy is sad beyond comprehension. Talk about empathy isn’t just a philosophical debate or an academic exercise. White privilege is a very real thing with real impact on real people in the real world.

One of the benefits for whites of white privilege is that people, both whites and blacks, not only take your pain more seriously but they perceive it as being greater and more real than the pain felt by blacks. Racial prejudice is internalized and becomes unconscious. It’s just there, hidden and below the surface, but the effects are real and the consequences are great

This probably relates to why jurors, both white and black, punish blacks more harshly than whites for the exact same crimes. To say someone doesn’t feel pain strongly is to imply that they are less human, less worthy. Scientists used to do dissect living and conscious animals because they believed animals didn’t feel pain.

Empathy and the lack thereof is the core issue upon which so much else pivots.

Here is the article that brought so much sadness to my thoughts:

I Don’t Feel Your Pain
A failure of empathy perpetuates racial disparities.
By Jason Silverstein

Read that article and then read a post I wrote last year:

Republicans: Party of Despair

Considering conservatives have been shown to have a less inclusive sense of empathy, is it surprising what results from when they gain political power? Or to return to the issue of white privilege, which party in recent generations has fought against civil rights and racial equality? Also, might empathy inequality be at the core of economic inequality?

It reminds me of something said by Tim Wise (see the video at the end of my post, Knowledge Doesn’t Matter). What white privilege ultimately allows is for one to be ignorant of privilege itself. It isn’t just about not feeling and not caring. It is about not even knowing, ignorance of even one’s ignorance. Complete blindness and numbness, no voice to be heard, as if the uncomfortable reality didn’t exist. Like the three monkeys with hands over ears, eyes and mouth.

IQ Dilemma: Inconvenient Correlations, Uncomfortable Data

I was having a discussion with another blogger, Staffan in his blog Staffan’s Personality Blog. His blog was recommended to me by a human biodiversity (HBD) proponent, I believe it was JayMan in a comment in HBD Chick’s blog. I commented on several of Staffan’s posts, but the longest discussion was in his post about studies on intelligence, religion and ideology.

I pointed out the numerous studies that show a correlation between liberalism and above average IQ. Staffan is unconvinced. He doesn’t like Kanazawa and so thinks criticisms of one researcher disproves all other research by other researchers, a line of reason that I don’t follow. He seems to refuse to take the other researchers seriously, even though the criticisms toward Kanazawa don’t apply toward them or their  research. It comes down to Staffan believing all psychological research is biased toward liberalism and so can be dismissed nearly out of hand.

I’ve criticized this criticism before. The conservative bias about the existence of a liberal bias seems to fall apart under scrutiny, especially the claim about psychology. But maybe I’m missing something.

There are two sets of data that are obvious and yet don’t quite connect for people like Staffan.

Most psychologists are liberal. Most scientists, most academics, most well educated people in general identify as liberals, express liberal views and support liberal policies; in particular social liberalism that most closely correlates to the liberal-minded traits such as openness. However, it doesn’t occur to Staffan to wonder why psychology attracts liberals in the first place or even why higher education in general might not just attract but encourage a liberal mindset.

Liberals, along with having above average IQs, unsurprisingly tend to be above average in education and wealth. To remove the liberal part from the equation, most people who are above average in education and wealth unsurprisingly tend to have above average IQs.

This could be explained simply from a perspective of poverty.

Poor people tend to be socially conservative and so easily swayed by the rhetoric of conservative politics in the US, and because of this not as many poor people self-identify as liberal even among the subset of the poor that tends to vote for Democrats (yes, around a third of Democrats self-identify as conservative and, surprising to some, only around a third self-identify as liberal). Poverty and poverty-related factors have been proven to inhibit cognitive development which is shown in IQ tests, and lower IQ leads to lower rates of higher education. Wealth and wealth-related factors have been proven to increase cognitive development which is shown in IQ tests, and higher IQ leads to higher rates of higher education.

All of this is well known. It’s proven in numerous studies and sets of data, both correlationally and causally.

It would be strange if the average liberal who is wealthier and more well-educated (than both the average American and the average conservative) turned out to not also have an above average IQ. That would be one of the strangest discoveries in all of social science research. What would make liberals somehow different from every other comparable group? Considering so much research shows a correlation between liberalism and higher IQs that fits the expected pattern, it would require massive alternative data and careful analysis to explain this bizarre phenomenon, if it were to exist. No such data or analysis is offered by Staffan.

Conservatives love to point out that poor blacks have lower IQs. Yet they suddenly become righteous when it is pointed out that poor conservatives also tend to have lower IQs. Conservative political correctness police are no better than their liberal counterparts. To get at the real point, poverty sucks which is something liberals have been saying for generations. But it isn’t to argue that liberals have any reason to be proud simply for being among a privileged demographic that has experienced less poverty.

The other factor that correlates to lower IQ is authoritarianism. As much research has shown, conservatives and right-wingers in the US show higher rates of authoritarianism whereas liberals and leftists in the US show lower rates of authoritarianism (and I suppose the same would be found in other liberal democracies). Once again, going by the known data, it would be logical to conclude that American conservatives with a higher average rate of authoritarianism than American liberals would have a lower average IQ than American liberals. In different societies, different correlations would be found. For example, communists in authoritarian communist countries unsurprisingly show higher rates of authoritarianism; and if it were studied, these authoritarian communists would probably have lower IQs. It would be surprising to find some other result.

As poverty sucks, so does authoritarianism. Like a good liberal, I’d love to end both of these plagues upon humanity.

Staffan’s response, once again, is that psychologists are biased liberals and so all the massive amounts of research on authoritarianism can be dismissed as biased. This verges on denialism, but Staffan doesn’t quite go down that road. He does seem to hold some basic respect for science. The problem he faces is that he can’t square all of the data with his preferred assumptions and conclusions. In our discussion, he has yet to comment on the studies I presented to him that weren’t referred to in his post. The debate can’t go on until he does.

This kind of debate can and does just go around in circles.

The interesting part to me isn’t whether the correlation exists. It is becoming increasingly convincing that we are beyond that point. We have good evidence that it exists. What interests me is why and how it exists. What might be the causation behind the correlation? Or is their any direct causal link at all? Can it be explained away by confounding factors and circumstantial conditions? Maybe it is just an artifact of the data, but considering the data is large and growing: How did such an artifact arise so consistently and pervasively in this data from our society, consistent and pervasive across decades of data sets collected by numerous researchers and other data gatherers, some of whom gathered data without expectation of later researchers finding this particular correlation?

The point being that we won’t find anything of worth if we stop at mere dismissal of the correlation. If one wishes to disprove that correlation, then more power to them. But no one yet has disproven it, much less fully explained it. There are hypotheses that have been presented to explain the correlation and these hypotheses are falsifiable. Go forth and falsify them, if you can.

This is where my frustration stops me short for I don’t know how to continue this kind of discussion. It doesn’t seem to go anywhere and frustration begins to bring out the worst in me, and I already feel like I’m being mean to Staffan who is a perfectly nice guy as far as I can tell. I don’t want to judge Staffan or people like him. I want to explore ideas and data with intellectual curiosity and hopefully intellectual humility.

Maybe I’m wrong about significant parts of my analysis. That wouldn’t surprise me. But the debate-ending response I receive just doesn’t satisfy me. Claims of liberal bias are unfair and ultimately unhelpful; I would go so far as to call them unfounded to any great extent. Each study must be taken on its own terms and not waved away with one’s hand. Is that asking too much?

I could go in more depth with my analysis, but I’ve already explained my view in Staffan’s blog. Instead of restating everything I wrote in the comments section of Staffan’s post, I’ll just offer the comments themselves below (which do repeat some of what I wrote above).

What point I’m trying to make?

I was just trying to describe the confusion of ideologies in the US. I was also trying to show how labels are in some ways arbitrary. It isn’t the label that defines the person but the person who defines the label. Liberal and conservative meant something quite different when my grandparents first was eligible to vote which isn’t that long ago in the big picture.

Liberalism used to be a very large and inclusive category. Old school Republicans like Eisenhower and Nixon would speak positively of liberalism. These days it has become a very narrow term. I don’t know if it has narrowed in definition, but it has narrowed in demographics.

Liberal as a label isn’t comparable to conservative as a label. Conservatism has become an amorphous category. If given a forced choice, most Americans will identify as conservative. But if asked about particular issues, most Americans will more often state support for liberal issues. This is what is called symbolic conservatism. So, conservatism includes both those that support the most radical of right-wing politics and those who support standard liberal politics.

As for those who identify as liberals, they are more comparable to the demographics of libertarians. Both groups are a smaller portion of the population. Both tend to be above average in wealth and education. It would be surprising, going by these demographic facts, if they weren’t above average in iQ. Wealthier, well-educated people in general tend to have higher IQ for a host of reasons as I’ve pointed out, many of which are environmental. Also, wealthier, well-educated people have more opportunities such as legacies that allow them to go to the best ivory League schools. Furthermore, both liberals and libertarians tend to be socially liberal and measure high on liberal-minded traits such as openness to experience.

So, maybe it isn’t that liberals and libertarians are inherently smarter in that these labels don’t magically confer intelligence. It’s just that because of present societal conditions the wealthier, well-educated demographic tends to identify as either liberal or libertarian. I guess you could call this an artefact, but I doubt it is because of wishful thinking.

Is there a reason you’d think people who are above average in wealth and education wouldn’t also be above average in IQ?

The tricky part, as always, is determining the reasons for the correlation and whether there is a causal link between the factors or to some other factor.

“I do actually believe people with higher education and income have higher intelligence. I just haven’t seen credible statistics that says liberals are smarter.”

The data I’ve seen shows that liberals tend to be more well educated and wealthier than the average American. College professors, college students and the college educated are disproportionately liberal. It is also known that higher education correlates to higher IQ. So, it would be bizarre if most average liberals (or libertarian) got their above average education without being above average in IQ. That would be counterintuitive and contrary to the pattern fitting other well educated groups.

There are many lower class conservatives, but because of the rhetoric since the Reagan era the lower classes have mostly stopped identifying as liberals at all. They might call themselves independents, moderates or progressives, just usually not liberal because that label has become stigmatized in the mind of the average American. As such, there would appear to be a lot less distance between the average liberal and the liberal elite than there is between the average conservative and the conservative elite.

This can be seen in the parties. Back during the Reagan administration, many moderates, independents, liberals and union members voted for Reagan and identified as Republican. It was a really broad party back then, as it had been in the decades before that as well. Surprise, surprise, the Republicans at that time had a higher average IQ than did the Democrats. Today, however, Democrats have a higher average IQ. Also, today, the Republican Party is no longer a big tent party that is inclusive of anyone other than conservatives. Why did the Republican’s average IQ go down as their rates of conservatism went up?

There is something interesting about Democrats these days. The Democratic Party is now broader than the Republican Party, even as those who identify as liberal have narrowed. Only about a third of Democrats identify as liberal, another third as moderate and the rest conservative. Minorities have lower average IQs and are more socially conservative than most Americans and at the same time they tend to vote Democrat. This mean that the non-conservative non-minority Democrats must have very high average IQs to make up the difference and still maintain the higher average IQ than Republicans.

I don’t know entirely what that might mean. I’m not a Democrat and don’t feel any need to defend them. But the data seems to confirm that something of relevance is going on.

“But those knowledge quizzes Pew do are always won by people who vote Republican. Not to say that’s the final word but there is reason to be suspicious because their is a media bias.”

There are several distinctions to be made.

Democrats aren’t the same as liberals since there are nearly as many self-identified conservatives in the Democratic Party as there are self-identified liberals. Democrats include the most well educated and the least well educated, but the least well educated Democrats are also the ones least likely to identify as liberal and more likely to identify as conservative.

If you look at those political knowledge quizzes, you’ll see that groups that are known to be extremely liberal do very well on them. For example, the audiences of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are always at the top of the most informed about politics.

If you look at other data, you’ll find that Republicans and the audiences of conservative shows often show high rates of being informed. The interesting part, though, is that they also show high rates of being misinformed. This is called the smart idiot effect. They tend to watch tons of political shows and they know a lot of information, but they unfortunately aren’t good at discerning between what is true and what is false. So, it isn’t just that there are both Republicans who are very well informed and others who are very misinformed. Rather, Republicans are more misinformed precisely to the degree they are informed. That is mind-blowing!

You don’t find this same high rate of smart idiot effect among liberal groups. this might relate as well that the most liberal demographic (i.e., the youngest demographic) get more of their info from alternative media than any other demographic. Part of this difference is because conservatives are a relatively older demographic who rely more on the established mainstream media. The younger generation is way more socially and fiscally liberal on most issues, way more critical of capitalism and way more supportive of socialism. Furthermore, the younger generation along with higher rates of alternative media consumption have higher rates of college education.

I’m not arguing low IQ liberals don’t exist. Besides, if it becomes a label that more people identify with beyond those who are above average in education and wealth, then the average IQ of liberals would probably decrease some or quite a bit (while the rate of the smart idiot effect might increase). Broaden the demographics behind a label and the IQ range will likewise broaden, specifically in this case among the less well educated lower classes and minorities.

Related to party politics, consider geographic regions and areas. Conservatives are disproportionately found in the South and liberals disproportionately in the North. It was through the Southern Strategy that the Republican Party took over the South. The average IQ in the North is higher than the average IQ in the South. Or look at this in terms of rural and urban. The rural areas tend to be more conservative and have lower average iQ and the opposite for urban areas.

If you’re interested to know why and on what basis I make the above analysis, here are a variety of things that inform my views:

“Data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) support Kanazawa’s hypothesis. Young adults who subjectively identify themselves as “very liberal” have an average IQ of 106 during adolescence while those who identify themselves as “very conservative” have an average IQ of 95 during adolescence.”
“Most (62%) identify themselves as liberal… most highly educated group (49% have a college degree or more)… Liberals are second only to Enterprisers in following news about government and public affairs most of the time (60%). Liberals’ use of the internet to get news is the highest among all groups (37%).”–and-reality

I wanted to clarify one thing. I don’t think we are fundamentally disagreeing. Like you, I have great interest in personality, moreso than politics. I’m not an ideologue, but I do see politics similar to culture as a useful lense to explore psychology.

I don’t care about liberalism in and of itself. And the so-called liberal elite often irritate me. I agree that the average liberal, the average conservative, and other relatively more privileged people have no reason for being proud of achieving more than those with fewer opportunities, resources and advantages that come from upper class social capital.

Besides, I’m more interested in general liberal-mindedness, upon which all social democracy is dependent upon. Even the average modern conservative is more liberal-minded than the average conservative of past centuries. Liberal-mindedness does correlate to liberalism but not perfectly or absolutely.

My father is a conservative, especially fiscally conservative, with libertarian tendencies. He worked in the business world where he had a successful career, but ended up being a professor. Two things stand out about him, as relevant to this discussion. I’m sure his IQ is well above average. And he has great capacity for liberal-mindedness, most certainly above the national average.

I must give credit to my father for my own liberal-mindedness. My parents were going through a liberal phase of their life when they raised me, although they have never identified as liberal. Even more significant, they raised me in one of the most liberal Christian churches in the US, Unity Church which is New Thought. My father says my mother even was pro-choice when she was younger, but se denies it now. I have to at the same time also give my parets credit for my conservative streak.

People are complex, way more complex than political ideologies and religious theologies. Still, within that complexity, patterns can be detected.

“Those studies and articles don’t say much.”

They say no more nor less than any other scientific data. Dismissing them out of hand isn’t helpful. Kanazawa’s study is just one among many. I even purposely quoted that article about his study because it pointed out that his data was confirmed by other data.

“Would a psychologist (95 percent of which identify as liberals) pick up on that and make a study on it?”

Yes, most academics, scientists and other well educated people identify as liberal. And yet you oddly find it surprising that well educated people have above average IQs. Ask yourself why, in the first place, conservatives are on average less well educated, specifically in the context of higher education having an extremely strong correlation to higher IQ.

I have nothing against Gary Lewis’ study. However, as far as I can tell, it only dealt with certain factors of religion and not conservative vs liberal.

Many religious people are liberal, especially greater social liberalism among the religious who are middle class and upper class. Also, even though in the US there are a lot of poor religious people, those who attend church most often and are most involved in religious activities the most tend to be those who are wealthier and hence who are more well educated. So, there is a very mixed demographics in religion that isn’t found within, for example, contemporary American liberalism.

Gary Lewis’ study doesn’t speak to this greater complexity of the relationships between religion, ideological labels, socio-economic status, and cognitive development. I would also add the issue of psychological traits. The real issue I’m trying to disentangle here has to do with this larger context of factors.

In the US, liberals unlike conservatives are disproportionately found among the middle to upper classes which correlates to above average education and IQ. If you just look at middle to upper conservatives, you would expect to also find above average education and IQ. Ditto for any similar wealthier group. You’d have to explain why what applies to all other wealthier people doesn’t apply to contemporary American liberals who tend to be wealthier.

This ideological pattern of demographics in the US may not fit the pattern found in other countries. Maybe liberals elsewhere don’t tend to be above average wealth, education and IQ. That would then require an understanding of what liberalism is in different contexts and whether there is any general cross-national pattern at all to be found between ideologies and other factors.

I feel wary about generalizing too much. A lot of research I’m familiar with has come from studies done in the US, but American demographics and ideologies aren’t representative of the rest of the world. For example, research has shown that there is a greater correlation with authoritarianism among American conservatives. This isn’t to say that there is anything inherently authoritarian about conservatism in general, but that the issues movement conservatism has emphasized in America has drawn into the ranks those who rate higher on authoritarianism. Nonetheless, there are conservative traditions that are explicitly non-authoritarian.

As I’ve pointed out, I have a conservative streak. The type of conservatism that I’m fond of has more to do with agrarian traditionalism, specifically as described by Wendell Berry. The problem with American conservatism is that it doesn’t tend to be very traditional. A distinction is that mainstream American conservatives tend to be very supportive of capitalism even when it is destructive of traditional values such as a place-based sense of community and localized kinship social order.

I don’t know about liberalism, but I know there is a similar thing with data about left-wing politics. In the US, left-wingers tend to rate low on authoritarianism. But in communist countries, left-wingers have measured high on authoritarianism. And I’d be unsurprised if left-wingers in authoritarian communist countries had lower average IQs than left-wingers in non-authoritarian countries.

I think you are seeking to criticize from the wrong angle. Religiosity can’t be used as a proxy for conservatism nor liberalism a proxy for atheism. You need studies that specifically include all of these factors and seek to discern the causal links.

“How much they say is a matter of quality and it’s clear that Kanazawa did several things that reduce quality – the age of the interviewees, the one-dimensional measure of religiousness, measuring intelligence with vocabulary.”

I offered this link which is of an article written by a conservative:

From that link, you will find the link to the study itself:

In the blog, the author explained about the quality of the study:

“Yes, they used different types of intelligence tests; verbal and spatial. Yes, they corrected for socioeconomic background. Their replication was in the UK and USA.”

Along with other caveats, he offers this important detail about the study:

“It is important to emphasize that the authors do not posit an independent direct causal connection between low I.Q. and more reactionary attitudes towards race and homosexuality. Rather, they start out with a model where low cognitive ability people are drawn (or remain in) to conservative orientation, and this is further correlated with these specific racial and sexual attitudes. Like almost all psychology you can’t get the causation airtight (if you are a hardcore Humean you could probably say this for everything), but the correlation is suggestive in light of political and psychological models.”

T’his is basically along the lines of what I’ve been saying. Correlation between higher IQ and liberalism (or just liberals in certain countries) is not the same thing as causation. But the correlation still remains and appears to have good studies backing it up.

I offered another blog about yet another study. Here are the links to both:

As the blogger notes:

“The paper describes a meta-analysis based on data from three studies that employed the same set of psychological measures. Twenty-two of these measures were selected, drawn from four domains: personality, social attitudes, values, and social norms. While the paper finds strong support for the hypothesis that low cognitive ability is associated with high conservatism it doesn’t make any statements about causality.”

Once again, causality is the tricky part. Nonetheless, it is irrelevant for the point I’ve tried to make in my comments. I honestly admit to not knowing for sure why this particular correlation continually is found in so many different studies. I think many people get upset because they read into this an argument for causation, but that doesn’t seem to be what most researchers are proposing at this point.

A third link I offered is of an article that appears to refer to the same study as referred to in the first link above:

From that article, a critic points out the correlational nature of such research:

“Hodson and Busseri’s explanation of their findings is reasonable, Nosek said, but it is correlational. That means the researchers didn’t conclusively prove that the low intelligence caused the later prejudice. To do that, you’d have to somehow randomly assign otherwise identical people to be smart or dumb, liberal or conservative. Those sorts of studies obviously aren’t possible.”

That could be seen as a criticism, but from my point of view the correlation alone is interesting. Notice that even a critic like this admits that the correlation was demonstrated by the study. His criticism is that there is a lot of complexity involved and also other similar correlations might be found with other extreme ideologies.

I was thinking of a way of getting at a place of agreement between us. In my previous comment, the last quote was of a critic. He made a good point about low IQs maybe being correlated to extreme ideologies in general, whether right-wing or left-wing. That seems a key point to my mind.

From what I can tell, both of us agree that there is a distinction between being conservative and being right-wing. In the US and similar countries, however, conservatism and right-wing ideologies have become conflated. But the same thing hasn’t happened as much in recent history with liberalism and left-wing ideologies because Cold War fear-mongering has caused liberals to disown and distance themselves from left-wingers, although this might be changing now with new criticisms against capitalism arising in the mainstream again.

Going by this, the reason lower IQ would be correlated to conservatism is because conservatism has become correlated to right-wing ideologies. So, it might actually be right-wing ideologies that is forming the correlative bridge between lower IQs and conservatism, and hence no direct or even indirect causal link may exist between them.

What extreme ideologies may signify is simply authoritarianism. In the US, conservatives on average measure higher on authoritarianism than liberals. This is yet another one of those correlations with no certain causal link. At the same time, liberals and left-wingers in the US measure low on authoritarianism, but the opposite is found in authoritarian left-wing countries. The key component seems to be when a particular ideological movement becomes conflated with authoritarianism and hence conflated with extremist ideologies.

We’d need to look at countries where right-wing ideologies and fiscal conservatism don’t dominate. In an authoritarian fiscally liberal left-wing country, I suspect that the minority of counter-cultural ‘conservatives’ would have above average IQs. Maybe it could be as simple as low IQ people in general just like to fit in with the dominant ideology of their society or are less likely to think outside of the dominant ideology of their society.

At present, the right-wing ‘conservative ideology of capitalism dominates nearly all of Western civilization and most of the rest of the world through globalization. So, one would expect to find the high IQ people disproportionately opposing or standing outside of this dominant ideology. It could be a mere historically contingent condition of the ideological spectrum.

Does that make sense?