Sunday, November 30, 2008

St. Andrew's Day

As most Scots will be aware, today (30th) is St. Andrew's Day. Saint Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland and St. Andrew's Day is Scotland's official national day, although Burns' Night is more widely and lavishly celebrated. It is a "bank holiday" in Scotland. So I have just hoisted the Saltire of St. Andrew on the flagpole at the front of my house. I encourage others with Scottish loyalties to do likewise. I am also hoping that I will be having something Scottish for dinner tonight. I seem to be out of haggis but I do have some Forfar Bridies in my freezer -- to be had with tatties, of course.

Below is one of the great Scottish patriotic songs. Play the music, read the words and sing along:


1). Hark when the night is falling,
Hear! hear the pipes are calling,
Loudly and proudly calling,
Down thro' the glen.
There where the hills are sleeping,
Now feel the blood a-leaping,
High as the spirits of the old Highland men.

Chorus: Towering in gallant fame,
Scotland my mountain hame,
High may your proud standards gloriously wave,
Land of my high endeavour,
Land of the shining river,
Land of my heart for ever,
Scotland the brave.

2). High in the misty Highlands
Out by the purple islands,
Brave are the hearts that beat
Beneath Scottish skies.
Wild are the winds to meet you,
Staunch are the friends that greet you,
Kind as the love that shines from fair maidens' eyes.


3). Far off in sunlit places
Sad are the Scottish faces,
Yearning to feel the kiss
Of sweet Scottish rain.
Where the tropics are beaming
Love sets the heart a-dreaming,
Longing and dreaming for the hameland again.


4). Hot as a burning ember, (This verse is not always sung)
Flaming in bleak December
Burning within the hearts
Of clansmen afar!
Calling to home and fire,
Calling the sweet desire,
Shining a light that beckons from every star!


Thursday, November 27, 2008

More on the emotional difference between Leftists and Rightists

What Thanksgiving has in common with Eton College!

A few days ago, I put up a post which characterized Leftism as the politics of rage. But all I said about conservatives was that they are cautious. But caution is not really an emotion. It is a disposition and some emotions have to go with that but I think I should say a little more about what those emotions are.

What I did mention is that conservatives are always shown in research as being happier than Leftists and that leads into what I think is important. Because conservatives are NOT full of rage, they feel free to enjoy whatever is around them. And one of the great satisfactions in human life is fellowship: Feeling part of a group of people whom you like or respect. So instead of screaming "racism" at every sign of group loyalty, conservatives can simply enjoy their group loyalties. They are untroubled patriots, for instance.

So American conservatives can feel warm inside to be Americans and they can greatly value the fellowship they find in their church. And where conservatives diverge most strongly from Leftists is that they can also feel a sense of fellowship and belonging with their ancestors and forebears. We often see this very strongly expressed among American conservatives when they talk about the "Founders" of the nation and the wisdom the founders bequeathed in the Constitution etc. And such thoughts are of course often to the fore on Thanksgiving day.

And another common expression of solidarity with the past is of course the great respect that conservatives pay to those who have died in war in the service of their nation. In my country, Australia, that day of remembrance (which we call Anzac day) is our only really solemn national occasion. Leftists have tried to laugh at it from time to time but it goes from strength to strength, with young people as well as old participating in the services of remembrance.

And there is no doubt that the army is always one of the most solidly conservative bodies of people that exists in any community. And the degree of fellowship in the army must be very close to maximal. If you pass a member of your old army unit in the street, you always stop to say a few words at least. There is a lasting bond between men who have fought together that outsiders can only dimly understand. My time in the Australian army was most undistinguished (though very fondly remembered) but I was an army psychologist so perhaps I have a little more awareness of what the army is about than most. I am certainly pleased to say that I have worn my country's uniform.

All these sorts of fellowship that conservatives feel are generally felt pretty strongly. There is often a swelling of pride and gratitude associated with such feelings. And the poor sad old Leftist is basically left out of all that. Their hate and rage bars them from feeling some of the most basic human emotions.

And I now want to give a vivid example of that: Something that Leftists will hate viscerally but which most conservatives should understand and enjoy. I reproduce below the Eton Boat Song. Eton is of course Britain's most elite school and British private schools are famous for fostering a sense of fellowship among their pupils. And you will see that vividly below. Listen to the music as you read the words and I will add a few comments afterwards. The song refers of course to competitive rowing regattas:

Jolly boating weather,
And a hay harvest breeze,
Blade on the feather,
Shade off the trees;
Swing, swing together,
With your bodies between your knees.

Rugby may be more clever,
Harrow may make more row:
But we'll row forever,
Steady from stroke to bow,
And nothing in life shall sever
The chain that is round us now.

Others will fill our places,
Dressed in the old light blue;
We'll recollect our races,
We'll to the flag be true;
And youth will be still in our faces
When we cheer for an Eton crew.

Twenty years hence this weather
May tempt us from office stools:
We may be slow on the feather,
And seem to the boys old fools:
But we'll still swing together,
And swear by the best of schools.

I went to a totally undistinguished school in a small Australian country town but that song does tend to bring a tear to my eyes. It is a powerful expression of being part of something bigger and better, and something that transcends time. I hope some of my readers get that powerful feeling too.

And note that is also a humble song. It talks of pride in a great identity but without any thought of dominating others -- which is the Leftist preoccupation. It talks of the singers as being "old fools" sitting on "office stools". There is no Fascist aggression there at all.

Yet it is a song that expressed a powerful feeling. British officers in World War I were known to go "over the top" in the dreadful charges of that war singing the Eton Boat song. That to me is a sort of nobility which I know that no Leftist egotist will ever understand.

Leftists do of course still have the normal human need for fellowship so when they do at last find an outlet for it that passes muster with them we get the completely over the top hysteria of Fascism, Nazism or Obama-worship. (Anybody who has been conned into believing that the National Socialist Hitler and the Marxist Mussolini were Rightists should read here and here)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Wow! A piece of psychological research that favours Christians!

In the report below, it was found that Calvinist Christians were more perceptive. But I doubt the speculative explanation of that given below. So let me meander towards what I think is a more likely explanation. I had a Calvinist upbringing myself, though not a strict one.

I suspect that the real explanation has something to do with the type of people who are capable of being Calvinists. There are a lot of restrictions inculcated (on gambling, alcohol etc.) in that and in other strict Protestant religions. But I took to it like a duck to water. I became a VERY strict Protestant in my teens. I suspect that I am a born Calvinist, even though I am an atheist these days. I still occasionally pop in to a service at my old church -- which was originally "Wee Free", a very strict sect (No dancing, no "graven images" etc.).

So I am inclined to think that you are to a considerable extent BORN a Calvinist (or some similar strict Protestant religion). Calvinists and other strict Protestants are perfectly at home with Matthew 7:14. Note that the word there is "strait", not "straight". Maybe I am still a dour old Calvinist at heart, though I do have rather a weakness for Mr. John Walker of Scotland these days. But I still don't gamble! Bottom line so far: It is a lot more demanding to be any sort of strict Protestant than to be an atheist and perhaps that shows up in a general mental superiority among strict Protestants. Heh!

In case my reasoning above seems obscure, let me offer an Irish contribution to the discussion: In Ireland they always ask (if they don't know you) whether you are a Protestant or a Catholic. And if you say that you are an atheist, they ask you: "But are you a Protestant atheist or a Catholic atheist?" Which is a PERFECTLY reasonable enquiry. It is an enquiry about one's origins and background. I am a Protestant atheist, and delighted to be one.

The idea that there could be a genetic difference underlying religious differences will of course seem preposterous to many but, as revelations about genetic influence pile up in both the medical genetics and behaviour genetics literature, the more one tends to throw up one's hands and exclaim: "EVERYTHING is genetic"!. Read here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here just for starters. And note that among the research revelations is a strong genetic influence on political orientation. And there is in fact specific confirmation of a genetic influence on religion.

And if one looks at the distribution of religions in Europe, the Catholic/Protestant divide is still very largely a North/South one -- with the native populations of the most Northerly (Scandinavian) countries being something like 98% Protestant (though mainly nominally so these days). And there are also clear North/South racial differences. Inhabitants of Naples and inhabitants of Oslo tend to look and behave very differently. Clearly, genetics is not the whole of it but I am still inclined to the generalization that Protestantism is a form of Christianity that the Northern Europeans evolved to suit their own natural inclinations. Luther survived where Savonarola did not because Luther's surrounding population were immediately sympathetic to his views -- and that included his King (Frederick the wise of Saxony) -- who zealously protected Luther from all those who wished him ill. And in another largely Saxon country (England) the Lollards long preceded Henry VIII.

I write at great length about apparent Teutonic (Northern) psychological differences here
It might be cliched to say that religious people see the world differently, but new research finds that Dutch Calvinists notice embedded visual patterns quicker than their atheist compatriots.

Culture has long been known to distort visual perception, says Bernhard Hommel, a psychologist at Leiden University in the Netherlands who led the new study. For example, one previous experiment found that Asians tend to dart their eyes around a photograph, while North Americans fix on specific people. To see if religious differences might skew perception, Hommel's team tested 40 Dutch atheist and Calvinist university students, who, religion aside, had similar cultural backgrounds.

On a computer screen, Hommel's team showed participants a large triangle or square made of either smaller triangles or squares. The volunteers had to focus on either the big object or its component shapes, and indicate whether they were square or triangular. Both groups recognised the large shapes more quickly than small, embedded ones, but the Calvinists picked out the smaller shapes 30 milliseconds faster than atheists, on average - a small, but significant, difference.

This could reflect a greater focus on self than external distractions for Calvinists, says Hommel. He suggests it may even be a cognitive consequence of their religion and speculates that Calvinists might be more inward looking than atheists because they have lived their whole lives with an emphasis on minding their own business.

In the future, Hommel plans to give the same test to Catholics, as well as Muslims and Jews, but he must first figure out how to eliminate other cultural differences that could mask any insights. "It doesn't make any sense to compare Iranian Muslims with Dutch atheists," he says.

"This is a thought-provoking study," says Ara Norenzayan, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia. "Their finding is consistent with the literature on cross-cultural cognition - that cultural traditions involving independent view of the self, such as Calvinism, encourage a more feature-based processing style."


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Are conservatives less creative than liberals?

The article below, which asserts that conservatives are less creative than liberals, is just the usual Leftist bigotry, based on a very poor knowledge of the research literature. Creativity does not generalize much, meaning there is no such thing as an overall trait of creativity. If there were an overall trait of creativity, lots of great painters would also be great composers but there are in fact no examples of that. You can be creative in one field and not in another. Take my own case: I am extremely good at writing iconoclastic academic journal articles but could not write a novel for nuts. So we find there that even creativity via the written word does not generalize from one sort of writing to another. So all that is shown below is that Leftists judge one-another as more creative and are more likely to take an interest in self-indulgent activities.

Cognitive complexity /Openness to experience/ rigidity are other old interrelated Leftist shibboleths which we see mentioned below. Again they generalize poorly, amusingly badly, in fact. The two halves of the widely-used Budner scale of "rigidity" do not correlate at all in fact! Again there is no such thing as an overall trait of cognitive complexity (except as an aspect of IQ). Conservatives are more complex on some things and Leftists on other things. Conservatives, for instance, tend to have carefully differentiated and complex views on moral questions whereas Leftists just say: "There is no such thing as right and wrong". Can you get more simplistic than the Leftist position there? See here and here for relevant research background. Amusing that the guy below confirms the common finding that conservatives are happier, though.

I am reproducing the full article below so people can admire the propaganda effort. It sounds quite plausible and fair if you don't know the underlying facts
By Scott Barry Kaufman

Barack Obama is the new President-elect of the United States. The significance of this cannot possibly be overstated. While certainly this is a historic moment because it raises the bar of what African Americans can aspire to, and takes us one step closer to equality in American, I'd like to focus on a potentially overlooked outcome of this historical moment: America will become more creative.

This is because Obama represents many of the core liberal values that promote creativity and innovation. In fact, we may soon see something similar to what Psychologist and Politcal Scientist Jay Seitz observed during the 17th century rise of liberalism when he noted that the rise "fostered creative production by encouraging individual creative expression."

And this is something sorely needed in our country at the moment. Today, Proposition 8 was passed in California, banning gay marriage. This bill is a serious threat to individuality. Of course, change won't happen overnight. But with Obama, change is on its way. How can I be so optimistic that Obama, and the new liberalism he will bring to the White House will spur creativity and increase our appreciation for individuality in America? Surely this is my subjective spin. But is it? New research suggests that I may be right.

We already know from prior studies that conservatives prefer simple representational art over abstract art, traditional poetry over the avant-garde, and music that is simple, familiar, and 'safe'. But what about when it comes to engagement in creative behaviors and actual creative ability? Are conservatives less creative than liberals?

Psychologist Stephen J. Dollinger assessed the creative behaviors and products of 426 undergraduates. For behavior, he assessed engagement in various creative activities, spanning the domains of visual arts, literary arts, performance, and crafts. For creativity, he had participants complete an incomplete figure in any way they liked. The figures had already been started by an artist. Each drawing was then rated by three MFA graduate students on the quality of the details as well as the overall creative impression.

He also had participants take photos, and write essays on how each photo represented themselves. These photos were judged by psychologists for the degree of individuality inherent in the essays. Interestingly, prior research has shown these ratings predict performance on other creativity measures as much as seven years later! For both creativity tasks, the judges agreed highly with each other on the creativity of the products.

Dollinger also administered measures of vocabulary and openness to experience, since each of these have shown linkages to creativity in prior studies. A sample openness item is "likes to reflect, play with ideas." Finally, and most importantly, Dollinger also assessed whether the students favored, opposed, or held a neutral view on the following issues:

Death penalty, Multiculturalism, Stiffer jail terms, Voluntary euthanasia, Bible truth, Gay rights, Pre-marital virginity, Immigration of foreigners, Church authority, Legalized abortion, Condom vending machines, Legalized prostitution

He found that compared to liberals, those endorsing more conservative positions had fewer creative accomplishments, and produced photo essays and drawings that were judged as less creative (although statistically significant, note that the effect sizes weren't huge). Even taking into account the vocabulary and openness to experience of each participant, the results for drawing products and creative behaviors still held up. Interestingly, he also found that those who were more conservative did worse on the vocabulary test and were less open to experience.

What can explain these findings? This study suggests that conservatives are indeed less creative than liberals. Why could this be? Dollinger proposes various potential explanations. First, conservatives may have found the ambiguity of the creativity tasks threatening, and the anxiety associated with this sense of threat may have hindered the expression of creativity. Prior research has indeed shown that those that are more conservative have lower cognitive-complexity and therefore may dislike amniguity more than those who are less conservative.

As Dollinger suggests, it would be interesting to evaluate the immediate affective responses of high and low conservative students as they encounter tasks that are explicitly described as "creativity tests". Someone should do that study.

Another explanation is that conservatives are more inclined to follow convention in general. And of course, convention sounds the death knell for creativity. A related possibility is that the authoritarian and anti-hedonistic aspects of conservatism may cause imagination to be devalued amongst conservatives. It is interesting to note that in support of this hypothesis, Dollinger did find that conservatives in the study scored lower on openness to experience.

Another intriguing possibility presented itself in this study. Dollinger checked out the actual photo essays that his participants produced and noticed that the conservative students' photo essays were generally "wholesome" and indicated a satisfaction with their lives, including their family lives (religiosity was also a common theme). In contrast, liberal students' photo essays were related to "boundary-crossing behaviors", creative energy, and the unconventional exercise of their civil liberties.

As I've argued in my recent article Confessions of a Late Bloomer (check out the latest issue of Psychology Today), trauma or family conflict in childhood can be a major driving force for creativity. So can discontent with the established order. This study suggests that this driving force may be missing in conservatives.

Of course, these findings may not generalize beyond American college students who were receiving extra credit to produce creative products. As Dollinger notes, many of the students in the sample weren't able to vote yet, and they may not yet have well-formulated political ideas. Also, as college students, they may not have fully had time to engage in creative pursuits. Interestingly, and in support of this idea, Dollinger found that that the relationship between conservatism and engagement in creative behaviors was much higher among participants in the 25-53 age range than participants in the 18-24 age range.

Also, it's unclear how much these findings generalize to all forms of creativity. Perhaps conservatives are better at other domains not sampled in Dollinger's study. That's an interesting question that should be studied.

"Change is gonna come" There are many reasons why change is gonna come with Obama as President of the United States. In addition to his intelligence and open mindedness, I add to the list his creativity and appreciation for human individuality. Being a liberal, many of his core values are the opposite of those that define a conservative outlook. I look forward to the creative times ahead.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008


The 11th of November in 1918 was when the First World War officially came to an end. And that day has been formally marked every year since in remembrance of those who died. When I was growing up it was known as Armistice Day in Australia and I still think of it as that. It is however now formally Remembrance Day. It is Veterans Day in the USA. It is perhaps a little more significant this year as the 90th anniversary of the event. Britain certainly seems to have been engaging in more than the usual amount of commemoration in the last few days.

It is indeed a fitting occasion to remember. All wars are bad but that one probably reached a highpoint in ghastliness. And the amount of the slaughter was phenomenal. Few British and Australians emerged from it without the loss of at least one family member. One of my uncles twice removed died in it.

The suffering endured by the troops at the front was so awful that the war became known as "the war to end all wars". No reasonable person wanted another war. Even Theodore Roosevelt lost his enthusiasm for war when one of his sons died in it. And no politician thereafter could come to power unless he was seen as anti-war. The history books have washed memory of it away but even Hitler came to power as an advocate of peace.

I am putting up below a picture of a Nazi propaganda poster of the 1930s that you won't believe unless you are aware of how readily all Leftists preach one thing and do another. It reads Mit Hitler gegen den Ruestungswahnsinn der Welt. And what does that mean? It means "With Hitler against the armaments madness of the world".

And how about the second poster below? It would be from the March 5, 1933 election when Hitler had become Chancellor but Marshall Hindenburg was still President. Translated, the poster reads: "The Marshall and the corporal fight alongside us for peace and equal rights" (Der Marschall und der Grefreite kaempfen mit uns fuer Frieden und Gleichberechtigung)

Convinced yet? If not, maybe the next one below will convince. It is a poster for one of Hitler's famous Nuremberg rallies. It reads: Reichsparteitag des Friedens, 1939. That translates as "National party rally for peace, 1939".

And the fourth poster reads: Mit Adolf Hitler "Ja" fuer Gleichberechtigung und Frieden -- which translates as "With Adolf Hitler "Yes" for equal rights and peace" -- the same old standby slogans that the Left trot out to this day, of course.

So if there is any lesson to be learnt from the ghastliness of the 20th century, it surely is that loud "antiwar" cries from the Left are fraudulent. Such cries are just bait for the gullible and a mask for their real love of destruction.

Sadly, there will never be an end to the desire of some people to prey on others so there will never be an end to war. And any pretence otherwise is at best ignorant.