Thursday, April 26, 2012

Mooney the spinner 

Chris Mooney is a journalist who has popularized some hoary old  Leftist theories about the psychology of politics.  I was researching and writing about those theories when they were still "hot" so I know a bit about them.  My most relevant academic journal articles on the subject are listed here.  Needless to say, I found that the theories concerned did not stand up under  rigorous testing.

Mooney's recent article "Liberals and conservatives don't just vote differently. They think differently" has attracted some attention so, although I have had a few laughs at  Mooney's work before (See here and here), I thought I might add just a few more comments.

For a start, Mooney's work is actually more balanced than what Leftist psychologists themselves have usually said.  Mooney can see that a trait ascribed to conservatives can be both a good and a bad thing,  which many Leftist psychologists routinely ignored.   So what Mooney does is to take a finding which could be read either way and "spin" it so that it makes Leftists look better than conservatives.   So one of the things I do is to "unspin" such judgments.

But first a few excerpts from Mooney:
There's now a large body of evidence showing that those who opt for the political left and those who opt for the political right tend to process information in divergent ways and to differ on any number of psychological traits.

Perhaps most important, liberals consistently score higher on a personality measure called "openness to experience," one of the "Big Five" personality traits, which are easily assessed through standard questionnaires. That means liberals tend to be the kind of people who want to try new things, including new music, books, restaurants and vacation spots - and new ideas.

Conservatives, in contrast, tend to be less open - less exploratory, less in need of change - and more "conscientious," a trait that indicates they appreciate order and structure in their lives. This gels nicely with the standard definition of conservatism as resistance to change - in the famous words of William F. Buckley Jr., a desire to stand "athwart history, yelling `Stop!'?"

Now consider another related trait implicated in our divide over reality: the "need for cognitive closure." This describes discomfort with uncertainty and a desire to resolve it into a firm belief. Someone with a high need for closure tends to seize on a piece of information that dispels doubt or ambiguity, and then freeze, refusing to consider new information. Those who have this trait can also be expected to spend less time processing information than those who are driven by different motivations, such as achieving accuracy.

A number of studies show that conservatives tend to have a greater need for closure than do liberals, which is precisely what you would expect in light of the strong relationship between liberalism and openness. "The finding is very robust," explained Arie Kruglanski, a University of Maryland psychologist who has pioneered research in this area and worked to develop a scale for measuring the need for closure.

More here

I can't help laughing at Mooney's acceptance of the absurd Kruglanski work.  You can read my close look at it here.  I think I show pretty clearly that the Kruglanski questionnaire measures infantilism rather than need for closure,  with Leftists being the infantile ones.  And in the same paper I refer to the work of Van Hiel,  one of the believers  in "Openness".  Van Hiel  actually put some hard work into testing the theory that Leftists are more open.  Rather embarrassingly,  his findings were mostly the opposite of what his theory said.  So the claim that Leftists are more "open" rests on sand.

And yet there may be something in it.  I did some reseach using proper random sampling (a rarity among psychologists) that found Leftists to be "sensation seekers".  That's not too different a concept from "openness" but just spins the opposite way.  It makes Leftists look shallow  rather than conservatives. 

So the Mooney writings should not disturb conservatives in any way.  The underlying facts are no discredit to conservatives at all.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

  More media deception

I note that Norway killer Breivik's clenched-fist Communist salute is universally being described in the media as "Right wing".  Right wing Communism?  It has been the Communist salute for around a century and Leftist journalists would be well aware of that.  They have probably even seen examples of it at Leftist rallies in the USA in recent times.  But for the media white can be black if it can be used to attack conservatives

There is NO Right-wing salute.  Both the  Communist and the Fascist salutes are Leftist.  The man who invented the Fasicist salute  -- Mussolini -- was a prominent Marxist theoretician.  And if Hitler's socialist worker's party (NSDAP) was Right wing, it sure was a strange socialist worker's party.  More on that here

Breivik flashed the same salute on day 2 of his trial as well.  An interesting excerpt from today's testimony:
Breivik has disclosed how much he admires al-Qaeda. He described them as the "most successful revolutionary force in the world" and praised their "cult of martyrdom". He also said that he expected his rampage last July to be ended by a bullet from the security forces. "22 July was a so-called suicide attack. I didn't expect to survive that day," he said.

It is becoming increasingly clear that he sees himself as a revolutionary or a martyr  rather than as being subservient to any ideology.  How else to explain that he hates Muslims but admires Al-Qaeda?

 At the risk of being seen as knowing what I am talking about, perhaps I should mention that on July 25, 2011 I described Breivik's actions as "pure Al Qaida"

Friday, April 13, 2012

Are conservatives lazy thinkers?

An article by Eidelman et al. claims that they are and it has predictably got a fair bit of attention from Left-leaning journalists.

I noted the article at the beginning of this month and dismissed it out of hand on the grounds that its taxonomy was wrong:  Eidelman had no idea of what conservatives actually think.

 Leftist  psychologists generally seem to consider it beneath them to talk to such despised people as conservatives so form their impression of conservatism from some simplistic stereotype that has built up among them over the years, a stereotype which is almost wholly wrong.  So when they think they are studying conservatism they are not.

I subsequently had a short correspondence with Eidelman but he simply stuck to his definition.  I pointed him to  my huge historical survey of what conservatism is but he offered no evidence for his view. Evidence is optional  among Leftists.

And the more closely I look at his paper the more evident it becomes that my initial critique was correct.  He relies, for instance, on the Kerlinger questionnaire about ideology.  But what Kerlinger found was that Leftism and Rightism, far from being opposed, are actually unrelated to one-another.  In other words, half of all conservatives are Leftists  -- which makes no sense at all.  Kerlinger had no idea of what conservatism is either. 

To put my critique into psychometric terms the measures of conservatism used by Eidelman are simply not valid:  They do not measure what they purport to measure. 

I could  go on with yet more swingeing criticisms (e.g. lack of  sampling) but what's the point?  Eidelman's work is clearly useless for proving anything.

The genetics of politics

After my broad-ranging comments on the psychology of politics yesterday,  I thought I might focus in a little more on  the major factor behind one's political stance:  genetics.  I saw the ground-breaking 1986 article by Martin & Jardine on the heritability of politics as soon as it came out (I had a chapter in the same book) so ever since then I have been pointing out  how strong is the genetic influence on  political stance.  What is not yet clear is WHICH genes are involved and exactly what is inherited. 

One fairly straightforward study from a couple of years ago is worth a mention.  It ties in nicely with something I found in 1984  -- that Leftists tend to be sensation seekers.  They are restless  people in search of anything new and different.  This can of course lead directly to a desire for change  -- which is of course a central feature of Leftist thinking.  They are always wanting to change something.
People with left wing views may have their political opinions controlled by a "liberal gene", according to scientists.

The research suggests that some people have an inherent bias against conservative thinking, that is independent of their education or upbringing.

The effect is caused by a neurotransmitter in the brain called DRD4 which could be stimulated by the novelty value of left of centre opinions, say US researchers.

In people who are naturally outgoing, the feature encourages them to seek out companions with unconventional views as they grow up.

This in turn means they tend to form less conventional political viewpoints as adults, according to the study by the University of California and Harvard.

The research, based on 2,000 Americans, is published in the Journal of Politics.  It found those with a strain of the DRD4 gene seek out "novelty" - such as people and lifestyles which are different to the ones they are used to.  This leads them to have more liberal political opinions, it found.

The person's age, ethnicity, gender or culture appeared to make no difference - it was the gene which counts.

DRD4 is controlled by dopamine which affects the way the brain deals with emotions, pleasure and pain and can therefore influence personality traits.

UC Professor James Fowler said: "It is the crucial interaction of two factors - the genetic predisposition and the environmental condition of having many friends in adolescence - that is associated with being more liberal.  "These findings suggest that political affiliation is not based solely on the kind of social environment people experience."


That study is of course far from the end of the story.  There are indications of other genes being involved as well.  But it clearly has some  explanatory power.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

  The Psychology of Politics

Psychologists have been trying to explain why people have the political opinions they do since the 1930s at least, and that  industry is still going strong.

Because psychologists are mainly Left-leaning, however, most of the explanations have been ludicrous.  The psychologists concerned  mostly seem to have been  governed by a manic desire to prove that conservatives are deranged, and in their desperate attempts to prove that, they have thrown all plausibility and scientific caution to the winds.  See here for a short and rather hilarious history of the main effort in that direction.

There has recently emerged however one psychologist who really does seem to want to understand.  Proving conservatives mad is clearly not his dominating ambition.  He actually studies real conservative thought instead of constructing a straw-man caricature of it  -- which is what most psychologists do.   And his discoveries seem to have had some influence on him.  He even says that they have led him from being a liberal to being a centrist.

And you can see why when you look at his findings.  He finds that conservatives are the ones who make complex moral judgments while Leftists make very simple ones  -- which is the diametric opposite of what Leftists usually say about conservatives.

He is still learning, however, so has in my view missed a major point in his research.  Much of what he says is reasonable but he has one large blind spot.  His name is  Jonathan Haidt and I reproduce below a few excerpts from a large essay by him which has just gone online.  After the excerpts I will point out what I think he has failed to consider.  I have myself had over 200 articles on political psychology published in the academic journals so it is possible that I have come across some things that he has not.

In the last 10 years we psychologists have discovered a great deal about the origins of ideology and why ideology makes it so hard for people to understand, respect, and accept each other. This research partly confirms what Gilbert and Sullivan said in the light opera Iolanthe: “Nature always does contrive / That every boy and every gal / That’s born into the world alive / Is either a little Liberal / Or else a little Conservative!” But the story is more interesting than that.

Political theorists since Marx had long assumed that people chose ideologies to further their self-interest. The rich and powerful want to preserve and conserve; the peasants and workers want to change things (or at least they would if their consciousness could be raised and they could see their self-interest properly, said the Marxists). But while social class may once have been a good predictor of ideology, that link has been largely broken in modern times, when the rich go both ways (industrialists mostly right, tech billionaires mostly left), and so do the poor (rural poor mostly right, urban poor mostly left). And when political scientists looked into it, they found that self-interest does a remarkably poor job of predicting political attitudes.

So for most of the late 20th century, political scientists embraced blank-slate theories in which people soaked up the ideology of their parents or the TV programs they watched. Some political scientists even said that most people were so confused about political issues that they had no real ideology at all.

But then came the studies of twins. In the 1980s, when scientists began analyzing large databases that allowed them to compare identical twins (who share all of the same genes, plus, usually, their prenatal and childhood environments) to same-sex fraternal twins (who share half of their genes, plus their prenatal and childhood environments), they found that the identical twins were more similar on just about everything. What’s more, identical twins reared in separate households (because of adoption) usually turn out to be very similar, whereas unrelated children reared together (because of adoption) rarely turn out similar to each other, or to their adoptive parents; they tend to be more similar to their genetic parents. Genes contribute, somehow, to just about every aspect of our personalities.

We’re not just talking about IQ, mental illness, and basic personality traits such as shyness. We’re talking about the degree to which you like jazz, spicy foods, and abstract art; your likelihood of getting a divorce or dying in a car crash; your religiosity; and your political orientation as an adult. Whether you end up on the right or the left of the political spectrum turns out to be just as heritable as most other traits: Genetics explains between one-third and one-half of the variability among people in their political attitudes. Being raised in a liberal or conservative household accounts for much less.

How can that be? How can there be a genetic basis for attitudes about nuclear power, progressive taxation, and foreign aid when these issues emerged only in the last century or two? And how can there be a genetic basis for ideology when people sometimes change their political parties as adults?

After analyzing the DNA of 13,000 Australians, 15 researchers, led by Penn State political scientist Peter K. Hatemi, found several genes that differed between liberals and conservatives. Most of them related to the functioning of neurotransmitters, particularly glutamate and serotonin, both of which are involved in the brain’s response to threat and fear. This finding, published in The Journal of Politics last October, fits well with many studies showing that conservatives react more strongly than liberals to signs of danger, including the threat of germs and contamination, and even low-level threats such as sudden blasts of white noise. Other studies have focused on genes related to receptors for the neurotransmitter dopamine, which has long been tied to sensation seeking and openness to experience, among the best-established correlates of liberalism.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Was old Karl right?

Marx pointed out that communism could easily be presented as Christian and the mainstream churches are mostly Left-leaning.  Even Papal encyclicals make some concessions to socialist thinking.  See both "De rerum novarum" and "Centesimus annus".

In that context a recent report from Britain is not inherently surprising.  The Guardian summarizes:
People with faith are far more likely to take left-of-centre positions on a range of issues, including immigration and equality.  The research, revealed in a new report by the thinktank Demos, undermines the widely held view that members of religious groups are more likely to have conservative tendencies.

The Demos report suggests that the example of the outgoing archbishop of Canterbury, who combines deeply held progressive beliefs with his religious convictions, is not unusual.

"Rowan Williams may be far more representative of the religious community than many have suggested," said Jonathan Birdwell, the author of the report. "Progressives should sit up and take note. Their natural allies may look more like the archbishop of Canterbury than Richard Dawkins."

The report found that 55% of people with faith placed themselves on the left of politics, compared with 40% who placed themselves on the right. The report also suggests that people with faith are more likely to value equality over freedom than their non-religious counterparts. It discloses that 41% of people with religious views prioritise equality over freedom, compared with 36% of those without faith.

The report, based on an analysis of the European Values Study, also finds evidence that people who belong to a religious organisation are more likely to say they are very interested in politics, to have signed a petition and to have participated in a demonstration.

There are some large caveats to be attached to that report, however.  England is  generally an irreligious country and the survey was based on the 13% who report that they belong to a church.  It did not ask which church, how often the respondents went to church, or how strong are their religious beliefs. Usual Sunday Attendance at church in England  is less than one million out of a total population of about 55 million -- which is about 2%  (to be generous)  -- so we see some gap between the 13% and the 2%

And even that 2% is no indication of religiosity.  Attendance at the Church of England in particular is often motivated by broadly social reasons rather than by  any real religious convictions.  And any influence the C of E had would be of a Leftist character  -- as is shown by their totally unbiblical acceptance of homosexual and female clergy.

So what does the survey tell us about religion in Britain?  Very little, I am afraid. It's entirely possible, though not probable, that all the genuinely religious people in England are conservative.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Ve vill make you happy!  Whether you like it or not 

This new Green/Left proposal (below) seems faintly reasonable at first.  Is not happiness in some sense the bottom line for all of us?   The idea that the government can make us happy is the funny bit. All the government departments I know of are much better at provoking rage!

But, aside from that, an even bigger fly in the proto-Fascist ointment is that happiness is largely dispositional.  We are pretty much born with a pre-set level of happiness and departures from it are both rare and temporary. A common clinical observation is proof of that:  Even people who have suffered catastrophic injuries  -- such as paraplegics -- seem to bounce back to their original level of happiness after a couple of  years.  Some people (mainly conservatives) are born happy and positive and some others (Leftists) are born miseries and whiners.

And if you think I am just making propaganda in saying that, I'm not.  Surveys of various sorts always show that conservatives are happier.  Just one small example here, for instance.

And the whole concept of happiness is surprisingly suspect anyway.  German and English are closely related languages and yet German just has no word for happiness.  The nearest they can come is to say that they are "lucky" (gluecklich). 

That was borne home to me forcefully many years ago when I was talking to an old Jewish gent who had escaped Hitler and ended up in Australia.  He was glad to be alive but missed the vibrant cultural life he had known in prewar Germany.  We spoke in English but he  was aware that I knew some German so when I asked him a how he felt about his escape to Australia he replied:  "Gluecklich I am but happy I am not".

And I would be surprised if other languages did not have similar difficulties of translation.  I say more about the considerable body of happiness research here
Are you happy? Are Canadians happy, or at least happier than the Americans or the French or the Taiwanese? Would you like to be happier?

At the United Nations on Monday, they took a major step toward a global strategy to enhance your happiness status, and the happiness of everybody else in the world. It’s the new role for governments across the planet. If the UN has its way, the state’s major objective will be to boost your sense of well-being and improve how you feel about your life.

It all began in 1972 in the landlocked Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan (pop. 700,000) when King Jigme Singye Wangchuck announced that his Buddhist country (GDP per capita US$5,500) would thereafter pursue economic progress guided not by the harsh and dehumanizing concept of Gross National Product, but by the warm and humanistic principles of Gross National Happiness.

Almost 40 years later in New York on Monday, under the auspices of the Kingdom of the United Nations, the high priests of economic interventionism and wealth redistribution moved one step closer to turning Gross National Happiness into a global paradigm.

They issued a report — the World Happiness Report. They staged a conference — Well-being and Happiness: Defining a New Economic Paradigm. And they fashioned a declaration — Realizing a World of Sustainable Well-being and Happiness.

The declaration is in turn intended to become part of “a long-term reference framework” for the coming Rio +20 Earth Summit, a grand replay in June this year of Maurice Strong’s 1992 Rio Earth Summit.

At Rio +20, the UN activists hope to change the direction of world economic policy-making. Production goals and measures based on dollars and yen are out. Happiness measures are in — even though the concepts, happiness and “subjective well-being,” remain vacuous bits of quasi-religious sophistry.

The opening paragraphs of Monday’s World Happiness Report — written by Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University’s Earth Institute — set out the transcendental mindset required to deal with the mind-blowing idea of Gross National Happiness or its equivalent.

One of the amazing characteristics of the happiness paradigm as described by Mr. Sachs and others is how remarkably similar its conclusions are to the old interventionism and redistribution policies of the traditional left.

It’s as if the high priests of Occupy the Planet and the Green Apocalypse — having run their old socialist and environmental engines into the ground — have stumbled across a new set of rationalizations and slogans.

To no surprise, with 65/309 as a mandate, the Monday meeting in New York produced a radical declaration calling for the overthrow of the “current economic paradigm” to take into account finite global resource limits and the emerging science of well-being and happiness.

What that means, aside from the same old nitty-gritty policies such as more government job creation, is nothing less than a “redesign of the world economy” and the overthrow of existing economic ideas to be replaced by the pursuit of happiness as defined by the United Nations, not by individuals.


Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Media distortion bears fruit as Harvard academic laps it up without checking

The following paragraph was written by Nancy Gertner, a retired US District Court judge, and a professor at Harvard Law School
"Nothing prevents the Sanford police from critically evaluating Zimmerman’s account, as police do in so many situations, and concluding that it was contradicted by the girlfriend’s account, by 911 tapes of other bystanders shortly before the killing, that it makes no sense for Martin to start a fight since Zimmerman obviously had a gun in a holster, was substantially larger than Martin, since the encounter took place close to where Martin was staying and he was moments away from safety."

She's accepted uncritically the relevance of all those pretty media pictures showing Martin when he was about 12 years old.  She really thinks that Zimmerman was the tall one  -- when in fact Martin was 6" taller than Zimmerman. 

What a clown she is! If that's what passes for proper judicial scrutiny at Harvard,  we are all in big trouble.  Anybody who appeared before when she was a judge and lost his case should take a screenshot of her original article above and use it to petition for a re-opening of his case. 

I've got a question for the learned lady.  What would she feel if she found the guy in the photo below looking down on her on a dark night?

Because that's a picture of the 17 year old 6'3" Trayvon Martin that Zimmerman encountered.  And don't forget that it is she, not I who said that height is important.

The first time I saw the media pictures of Martin and then read his age I smelt a rat.  Blind Freddy would know that a normal black male would be at or near full physical maturity at age 17 -- as  Martin indeed was -- so why were they showing pictures of what looked like a 12-year-old kid?  Easy answer:  The whole thing is a media beatup designed to sell newspapers. And people lacking in critical thinking ability  -- such as Harvard faculty -- fell for it hook line and sinker. 

And if you think it's not a beatup consider the two cases below for contrast: 

Shawn Tyson (above) was sentenced this week for murdering two white British tourists in Florida. No rallies against violence and no charges of racism. Tyson even referred to his victims as "crackers" so it was a clear hate crime.

Terry Moore, 32, was beaten this week by a mob of black males. Again, no rallies against racism; no public outpouring of support for the victim. Such black-on-White violence is the norm and only rarely makes it to anything but local headlines.