Tuesday, March 2, 2010

You know what they say about "assume".

I've got my reddit main page set up with both r/politics and r/Republican on my front page, because I like to give my opponents a chance to convince me. And so when I saw a blog post on the "psychology of liberalism", I bit -  maybe I'll learn something, I thought.

Well, the most coherent points I could find in it were that liberals deny reality, refuse to blame anyone for anything, are pacifists to the point of stupidity, and use these attitudes to justify "progress" and "open-mindedness" which leads to all sorts of crazy things like "libertarianism, atheism, weird sex" and "postmodernism".


The problem is that he's got exactly zero data to actually support any of these claims. He's got Pew survey results that indicate the "Millennial" generation is more open to change, and says that this doesn't tell us anything about their intelligence (as if anyone were claiming that it did) and another study on liberalism, atheism, and IQ... and somehow this is supposed to prove that liberals are all thinking backwards.
It takes a long time for the nerdy self-conscious low-self-esteem dropouts of the world to unite and overthrow their betters, but they've had many centuries to do so, and they finally started to really pick up steam around 1945 or so. Ever since then, being strong and doing what's right has had that nasty sting of "well, you could be the new Hitlerstalin" to it, and so smart people have backed off from changing anything beyond their own matching paint tones at home.
Hmmm... waitaminute, who's been making comparisons to Hitler and Stalin lately? Liberals? 

Which brings me to another psychological trait that's actually got some research to back it up its existence - right-wing authoritarianism or RWA. The concept of an "authoritarian" personality was originally proposed and observed in research situations after World War II, and was further refined into the concept of RWA in the 1980s by Dr. Robert Altmeyer. The construct obviously can only tell us about group tendencies, and not about individuals - but the tendencies that come along with RWA have been fairly consistent wherever it's found, and they are fairly disturbing. You'll also notice that Altmeyer was unable to find a liberal/left-wing equivalent of RWA, although he looked for one.

This guy's analysis of liberal "psychology", on the other hand, is nothing more than a list of his own assumptions about what liberals must be like, which tells me that he can't have talked to very many liberals.


  1. It says "right-wing" is defined as those who submit to authority, not with a political party like you seem to be implying. It also said there were Democrats that scored as RWA, so what do you mean by "liberal"?

  2. @Anonymous For the purposes of this post I'm using "liberal" to mean people whose attitudes are primarily the opposite of those listed on the RWA "tables". In general, I use "liberal" in that sense - and now that you've brought this up it seems that both I and the conservative blog posts I read use the word "liberal" to mean progressive, which is a more accurate word for the attitude that's opposite of RWA. In the future I'll use "progressive", to avoid ambiguity.

    Obviously it's possible to be right-wing in the sense of "submitting to authority/tradition" while being what most modern North Americans would call "politically progressive"... but (among North Americans at least), it's extremely uncommon, and this had held true in the studies that have been done on this outside the US as well. The reverse is also true; not all conservative are also "high RWA". It's a general correlation, which means there will be some individual exceptions - but it's pretty good predictor of the traits that will be found within a group.