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Republican conservatism (rewritten)

March 30th, 2012

In the light of comments, mostly at Crooked Timber, I’ve rewritten this completely, trying to be as clear as possible about how I read Mooney and what I think myself.

Chris Mooney has a great talent for knowing just when to push the envelope. Back in 2005, when CT held a book event on The Republican War on Science, the idea that Republicans as a group were hostile to science and scientists was somewhere between controversial and unthinkable, as far as mainstream Sensible opinion was concerned. Now, it’s a truth universally recognised – even the professional Repub defense team doesn’t deny it, preferring the (demonstrably false) line that Dems are just as bad.

Now, with The Republican Brain Chris pushes the argument a step further with the question: why are Republicans  the way they are, and what, if anything, can be done about if? 

Before we start, I’ll observe that the set of “conservative Republicans” has changed over time, as have the specific set of policies associated with these terms and the general temperament that goes with this. On the first point, we’ve seen the disappearance of Eisenhower Republicans, the Southern realignment and the rise of the religious right, all of which have increased the concentration of dogmatic authoritarians in the Repub party. On the second, the emergence of environmentalism as a major political line of division is probably the most important development. The fact that Republicans/conservative are increasingly anti-science reflects both of these trends.

It’s also important to observe that Republican/conservative alignment can’t be explained simply in terms of class, geography and education though all these factors play a role. With a few exceptions (notably including blacks and scientists) a substantial portion of nearly every demographic group votes Republican and self-describes as conservative. So, explanations solely based on (for example) class interests, can’t explain voting behavior without a lot of (self?)deception, and that raises the question of why some people are more easily deceived.

Some people may regard themselves as Republican/conservative simply because they have adopted, without thinking too much about it, the political positions that are regarded as normal by their family, social circle and so on. Lots of people simply aren’t interested enough in either politics or science to devote a lot of thought to these issues. Typically, such people will hold a range of views that aren’t particularly consistent either internally or with any standard ideological line.

An obvious inference is that, if people could be given better information they would change their views. But, as Mooney shows, and has become steadily more evident thanks to the Internet, better educated and informed Republicans are more likely to hold crazy views consistently and less likely to change them in response to new information.

That leads to Mooney’s primary conclusion, that Republicans/conservatives don’t simply have different beliefs from liberals/Democrats (or, for that matter, leftists), or even different values. They have (bear in mind that this a statement about population averages) different psychological characteristics, summarised as high authoritarianism and low openness to ideas different from their own.

I find this pretty convincing. It seems to me that there is an authoritarian type of personality which, in the specific circumstances of the US right now, and for non-poor whites, produces a predisposition to Republican voting and “conservative” political attitudes. In particular this type of personality is (more) strongly associated with confirmation bias. That is, not only do they ignore evidence contrary to their initial position, they tend to reinforce their commitment as a result. The creation of an alternate universe in which this bias can be repeatedly amplified (Fox News, rightwing think tanks and so on) both reinforces this kind of thinking and encourages self-selection.

I don’t think there is the symmetry here that some of the commenters are suggesting. Looking at the standard examples of nuclear power and GM foods, it seems to me that, on the whole people on the left have been more open to evidence than in the corresponding cases on the right. In the case of nuclear power, it seemed for a while (say, from the mid-90s until a few years ago) as if the safety problems might be soluble at a reasonable cost in which case an expansion of nuclear power would be preferable to more coal-fired power stations. While the evidence pointed that way, opposition to nuclear power was muted. As it turned out, the problems couldn’t be solved, at least not at a reasonable cost, and Fukushima was the last straw.

In the case of GM foods, the evidence has mostly supported the position that the use of GM technology per se doesn’t create significant health risks, and AFAICT that has been fairly widely accepted on the left (Greenpeace is a notable exception, but I don’t think their position is representative of the left as a whole). That doesn’t rule out opposition to GM on ethical or aesthetic grounds, or opposition to the whole structure of the food industry – the whole point is that you can have preferences and beliefs without assuming that the facts will always be those most convenient to you.

Similar points may be made about “alternative” medicine, particularly opposition to vaccination. It’s primarily, though not exclusively (consider Michelle Bachmann), associated with liberals and leftists in the same way as creationism is primarily, though not exclusively, associated with evangelical conservatives. But, faced with scientific criticism, there hasn’t been anything like the political pushback and doubling down we’ve seen with creationism. The Huffington Post, which was a big outlet for anti-vaxers has started publishing one of their most vigorous critics, Seth Mnookin.

This brings us finally to the question that set off all the fireworks in the original post. To what extent are authoritarian personalities the product of environment, genes or some combination of the two. Again, it’s worth pointing out that, even if there is a genetic role in personality, there’s no such thing as a genetic predisposition to be a conservative/Republican. The content of these terms isn’t fixed, and the implications are very different depending on social circumstances. To take the most obvious case from comments: Republican policies and rhetoric appeal strongly to (US) white tribal/ethnic loyalty. So, US whites who respond well to in-group appeals are likely to vote Republican and call themselves conservatives. US blacks with similar predispositions obviously won’t vote Republican and are unlikely to call themselves conservatives.

To take another example from Mooney’s book, authoritarian attitudes in the US are typically associated with support for free-market/pro-business economic policies and virulent hostility to “socialism”. By contrast, in the former Soviet Bloc, the same attitudes are associated with support for the old order and positive feelings about “socialism” (I’m using the scare quotes to indicate that, in both cases, the term is something of a blank canvas, onto which all sorts of things can be projected). And indeed, in this context, the term “conservative” is commonly applied to hardline members of the surviving Communist parties.

Following up on a comment, this way of looking at things has a lot of similarities with Corey Robin, and The Reactionary Mind. The difference between Robin’s choice of Mind and Mooney’s choice of Brain is significant. As I argued when I looked at his book, I think Robin doesn’t take enough account of personality/temperament. While most soi-disant “conservatives” are authoritarian reactionaries, there is a genuinely conservative temperament which will tend to align with political conservatism in periods when the general tendency of politics is towards the left.

So, does the genetic part of the story matter. As (I think) Andrew Gelman has observed, in this context and many others, it’s just code for things we can’t change. As long as authoritarian personalities are stable over the adult lifetime of those concerned, it doesn’t matter much whether they are determined by genes, by toilet training (as in the caricature version of Freudian psychology I learned in my youth) or by some much more complex process. That said, I think the evidence that heredity (and therefore genes) plays at least some role in the determination of personality is pretty convincing.

The political implication, which has drawn some flak in the comments, but which I think is correct is that there is no point in political engagement with authoritarian conservatives. In a political environment where they are concentrated in one party,politics is going to be a matter the only strategy open to liberals is to outnumber and outvote them by peeling off as many peripheral groups (for example, those who deviate from the approved cultural identity in some way) as possible. Obviously, that’s an unpalatable conclusion in all sorts of ways, but I think it’s a valid one.

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  1. Ikonoclast
    March 30th, 2012 at 23:31 | #1

    What disturbs me is that we see various kinds of extreme conservativism, fundamentalism and authoritarianism holding sway around much of the world. Let’s look at some key nations.

    USA: Quasi-Authoritarian (Patriot Acts etc.), Pseudo-democratic, Imperial, Militaristic, Fundamentalist.

    China: Authoritarian, Exopansionary, Imperial (see Tibet)

    Russia: Authoritarian, Corrupt, Crony capitalist

    West Europe: Beset by economic fundamentalism and zombie economics

    Middle East: Fundamentalist, Militarised

    Need I go on? The real dilemma is how anti-science, anti-democractic and anti-social force rules much of the world. Where is the scientific humanist revolution? It has failed to darker forces I think. I see no hope now.

  2. March 31st, 2012 at 00:40 | #2

    Whenever I hear or read “…all boats rise…” my BS-Ometer goes crazy.

    It’s one of those lies of metaphors.

    What about boats with really heavy anchors? What of those tied to low rungs on a ladder at the end of a pier?

    Sorry to be philosophical, but those boats sink on a rising tide. And anyway, a rowboat is still a rowboat when it’s tied to the back of a 100 foot yacht, whether the tide is rising or falling.

  3. paul walter
    March 31st, 2012 at 07:18 | #3

    Well, I’ve thought a portion of them are mental cases. Ten years I’ve been trying to get sense out of some them on the internet, it’s like battering your head up against a brick wall.

  4. Fran Barlow
    March 31st, 2012 at 10:27 | #4

    Of course, all this assumes that the people we identify as the public face of the Republican Party actually believe the things coming out of their mouths.

    Perhaps someone can show me that they do, but my first hypothesis would be that they are saying what they think they need to say to defend the stakeholder interests they imagine are needed if they are to acquire the privileges they seek.

    It could be that some (many?) of these folk have been uttering unadulterated cant for so long that their cant is reflexive, and they really can’t discern observable reality — that all they can do is utter variations on a simple misanthropic script and so that in this cognitively dissonant sense they do believe their drivel. Years ago they began distinguishing themselve from the “reality-based community” after all.

    In the case of such folk, one could say tvhat their departure from observable reality and reasoned inference is environmental, in the way that a person who physically self-harms might well be considered a casualty of the human-social interface. We do know also of people who get involved in substance abuse whose damage, though in a proximate sense, is self-inflicted, who can be said to have been victims of their wider context.

    Unequal societies are inevitably, in my view, pernicious, and the more unequal they are the more harm ceteris paribus, that is done. Those who come to believe that it is their task to warrant the pernicious (rather than explain it as a consequence of human underdevelopment that rational people strive to overcome) cannot but invite the baleful consequences into their own headspace. Many of them, plainly, are capable of compartmentalising, and so limiting the cognitive damage by simply becoming reckless misanthropes and ethical bankrupts. The more weak-minded of course lose themselves entirely into madness in a confirmation of the old saying that those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first drive mad.*

    * of unclear origin — one of those things that probably occurred conceptually to many and appears attributed in many forms — in Sophocles’ Atigone most prominently.

  5. Ikonoclast
    March 31st, 2012 at 11:46 | #5

    @paul walter

    Pretty much right Fran. Inequality immiserates the lower classes and brutalises and de-humanises the ruling class. The ruling class have to lie to themselves and everyone else to protect and justify their position. Hence their divorce from empirical reality of which science and (good) philosophy and ethics are the touchstone.

    We really need to democratically mandate an allowable wealth spectrum in which annual income and net worth of all individuals is kept in a band demarcated by one power of ten. That is, the richest can be no more than 10 times more wealthy than the poorest. First, this must be achieved at a national level. Only discrete democratic polities could achieve this at least in the foreseeable future.

    Strong government control and ownership of national infractructure, natural monopolies and banks * must be combined with workers cooperatives competing in a regulated (but free within bounds) market.

    * The right to create currency both by fiat and by debt creation must be the sole preserve of the state and the Reserve Bank. Worker cooperative banks and friendly societies could operate in this regime but would make loans solely out of deposits whilst borrowing their reserves as debt money from the state. (Or something like that, it would take some fleshing out.) But the clear principle would be the right to create currency both by fiat and by debt creation be the sole preserve of the Democratic Commonwealth.

  6. Ikonoclast
    March 31st, 2012 at 11:47 | #6

    Sorry folks meant to reply to Fran in link.

  7. rog
    March 31st, 2012 at 14:03 | #7

    Within my circle of acquaintences I have been accused of being inconsistent and disloyal for dumping the Libs and the feeling is pretty strong. My argument is that if you can’t change your mind then what’s the point of having recurring elections?

    There has been some heated exchanges and much of it illogical which makes me think that fear is behind a lot of the beliefs.

  8. Mel
    March 31st, 2012 at 15:39 | #8

    Interesting paper that divides whites into thirds by income and looks at the historical change in voting in presidential elections. The poorer third of whites prefer the Democrats but only by a fairly small margin. http://www.princeton.edu/~bartels/kansas.pdf

  9. Donald Oats
    March 31st, 2012 at 20:05 | #9

    Liberals (in Australia) seem to gravitate to the belief that AGW is bunkum, whereas from what I see in the ALP, the Left hold opinions which are much more wide ranging than the Right. The right also gravitate towards Creationism and/or Intelligent Design. And there is a strong rejectionism of child vaccination, yet a broad willingness to accept “Complementary Medicine” as a valuable adjunct to normal medicine. Free, unfettered, markets: that’s another shibboleth for the minions.

    As a voter, I find it immensely frustrating that almost half of our political members are locked in a vulcan death grip by the denialist memes. And where this fundamental distrust of scientists comes from, I despair. Scientists just do their jobs, like other people do theirs. Arguments about how scientists “are just in it for the grant money,” or “scientists scrounge taxpayers’ money,” are quite surprising to hear from the mouths of (presumably taxpayer-funded) conservative Liberal Party members—the irony should be self-evident.

    Perhaps authoritarian types fall in with the right more so than the left. Perhaps they’re just the most public, most noticable, of the right. However, I suspect it is more to do with cementing one’s place as one of the team, than it is to do with genetics or the like. Genetics might give a subtle push in that direction, but history doesn’t really support that opinion, as far as I can see. Hardline politicians with strong reality-denying tendencies seem to pop up with depressing regularity; whether they are from the Left, the Right, or Fundamentalist, once they gain momentum, the rules by which one demonstrates allegiance to the tribe become ever more elaborate and reality-defying.

    Hitler, Mao, Krushyev, Pinochet, Lenin, Stalin, Gaddafi, Thatcher, Hussein, etc. They cover the broad spectrum of politics, and likewise with religion. The stronger they became, the more expensive the failure to identify as one of the team, no matter how silly and unreal the rituals of identification became. Parrotting the party line is ubiquitous once the party becomes extreme, precisely because the cost of not parrotting the line is so high. I think Fran Barlow’s comments are pretty much on the money.

    In democracies, we’ve generally been lucky enough to kill off parties at the polls before they’ve reached the extremes. What has happened with conservative/neo-conservative politics is they’ve been billeted by a larger party, in effect cloistering them from the ill effects that their views should have had. Having a major national newspaper as a cheerleader for that cloistered minority has certainly helped things along. In the US, Fox News has played the same cheerleading role. Furthermore, all modern democracries are embedded in free market capitalism. We don’t have any cases of democracies which favor the left wing over the right as a natural state of being; therefore, we have little opportunity for investigating how a cloistered extreme left, in a broader left-leaning democracy, goes about denying reality as the price of entry (into the party in-crowd).

    While Chris Mooney’s ideas are absorbing, my brain tells me to resist this level of simplification—for now. More corroborative evidence, and more (failed) attempts to refute the thesis, might sway me sufficiently, but somehow I doubt it. Certainly there seems to be a distinct asymmetry between the propensity of the unreality to be on the conservative right, as for it to occur on the left; however, such asymmetry mgiht be little more than an historical flip of a coin, perhaps a bubble which will ultimately burst. I think the jury is still out on this one…but I did enjoy his previous book, The Republican War on Science.

  10. Freelander
    March 31st, 2012 at 20:11 | #10

    Scientists with good quant skills would work instead for a hedge fund if they wanted to be in it for the money. Obviously they’re in it for the glamour.

  11. March 31st, 2012 at 22:04 | #11

    Here’s an interesting article: http://motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2012/03/chart-day-conservatives-dont-trust-science — just going on this chart the conservative distrust of science is recent (late 80s), and moderates trust it just as little (and have trusted it much less than conservatives from the mid 70s until very recently.)

  12. April 1st, 2012 at 01:41 | #12

    My sense of it is that wedge politics is psychologically informed and successful in shearing the socially conservative ALP from the “liberal” voters. Perhaps the attack on climate science and global warming is an ideal issue. Many of the talking points have been designed with the psychographics in mind.

    In itself, it appears to have been an extraordinarily successful and well resourced political campaign that has gone beyond elections. Perhaps, this is one factor among others, for ALP’s confusion and disconnection. The politics of accommodation appear to be failing spectacularly if the polls are a guide.

    Reflecting my own bias, I am prepared to accept robust political debate, but am troubled by the creating of enemies and what that might imply.

  13. April 1st, 2012 at 01:45 | #13

    The talking points link should work if I sort out the syntax error.

  14. El Poppin
    April 1st, 2012 at 06:34 | #14

    After living in Chile, Japan and Australia my observation is that there is a significant group of people that prefer the predictability of authoritarianism. Nuances are summarily dismissed and facing facts completely disorientates them. For these group of people a strict set of rules which are meticulously observed and those who transgress them need to be quickly punished.

    Currently the authoritarian streak manifests itself in the USA as being Republican/Christian fundamentalists types but I am certain that in other societies the authoritarian belief can manifest itself in other groups. BTW the monotheistic religions are readily susceptible to the authoritarian streak because of the Ten Commandments – strict simple rules, readily understood by anyone.

  15. Charles
    April 1st, 2012 at 08:53 | #15

    “So, I’m expecting plenty of fireworks. But Mooney has argued his case carefully, and relied on scientific evidence rather than speculation. ”

    Like those that have rejected science are going to care if he relied on “scientific evidence” rather than speculation.

    The rejection of science is why I get so upset with those in the science community who abuse their position , things like creating linear models of complex systems based on dodgy assumptions and presenting it as science.

    Fortunately for the global warming debate, the scientists involved have something more, like an explanation as to how it is happening that pasts muster, and small issues like Greenland melting.

    Unfortunately there is now a lot of rubbish published in science journals, and those who want to reject all science actually have a pretty good foundation to from which to fight.

    Science is now a pretty big haystack and you have to sort hard to find the gems.

    Is economics a science or the use of mathematics to hide assumptions , discuss.

  16. Charles
    April 1st, 2012 at 09:38 | #16

    The paper is here:

    http://www.asanet.org/images/journals/docs/pdf/asr/Apr12ASRFeature.pdf

    If you step back form the cultural wars, it is actually quote interesting.

    From page 177

    Differences between liberals and conservatives, and liberals and moderates, are statistically significant at p < .001, but the difference between conservatives and moderates is not significant. Consistent with the unadjusted means reported in Figure 1, moderates are not equidistant between liberals and conservatives but actually have the lowest predicted trust in science across the three idological groups for the entire period. Effects for political party are less straightforward. The effect for Republican is positive but not statistically significant, and the effect for independent is negative and significant. This suggests that Democrats and Republicans do not differ in their trust in science. Results for political party remain regardless of whether ideology is included in the model (models without ideology not shown here).

  17. Ken Fabian
    April 1st, 2012 at 17:48 | #17

    I think Australians draw the lines between conservative and moderate and between moderate and liberal in different places than Americans. I find the terminology of political debate in the US has echoes of Orwellian doublespeak although I think Australians share the American trust in simple illusions about how the world works.

    Fran @4 – I like your comment. One of the illusions that seem to be cultivated by (especially) US Conservatives is that anyone can become one of the haves. The cultivated corollary is that supporting liberals and moderates lessens those opportunities.

  18. Dan
    April 1st, 2012 at 18:11 | #18

    Ken Fabian :
    [...]One of the illusions that seem to be cultivated by (especially) US Conservatives is that anyone can become one of the haves. The cultivated corollary is that supporting liberals and moderates lessens those opportunities.

    Quite so, a rather terrifying instance of false consciousness. Used to be that there was probably just enough opportunity in the, er, land of opportunity to at least understand the prevalence of the myth; now amongst the grinding unemployment, poverty and debt I can’t see how anyone would. Yet many people still think that government is the problem!

  19. Donald Oats
    April 1st, 2012 at 23:53 | #19

    USA and European Intellectuals have come in for a bashing over the past 40 years; however, what is taken for an intellectual is usually in the arts or humanities, sociology, philosophy, English literature, etc. In the USA, such intellectuals have been quite successfully painted as being “too liberal,” often code for leftwing, as far as I understand it.

    Over time, Republican forces have found it both convenient and effective to widen the net, insofar as who is considered an intellectual, and thereby too liberal. Climate scientists appeared on the political radar in the 80′s, following on the heels of environmental scientists in the 70′s. I guess it seemed a sensible political strategy to poison the intellectual well, making both the humanities and science too toxic for naturally conservative people to risk listening to—at least not openly.

    A separate strand is that represented by fundamentalism: the more fundamentalist the religion, the more objectionable the whole of the biological sciences. That whole debate super-novaed in the 80′s; perhaps the Republicans saw that as a further opportunity to marginalise science they didn’t like. Certainly, the hatred towards evolution has existed for an awful long time—as long as the theory of evolution…

    The 21st Century has ushered in a remarkable level of anti-scientific sentiment among educated classes. Presumably, the fields which haven’t been marred by the anti-scientific campaigns of the conservatives, are the ones in which conservatives are quite willing to study. Things like accounting, law, politics, business and management studies, pertroleum engineering, mining engineering, other engineering (perhaps), etc. The no-go zones are biology, humanities in general, environmental sciences (unless for the purposes of exploitation of resources), climate sciences, and more recently physics (because of its loose connection with climate science), etc. The upshot is that science, once well considered as a search for truth, has been very tarnished by the almost relentless campaigns against impertinent scientific evidence.

    It isn’t that Republicans are unscientific per se; rather, they are biased against specific scientific endeavours, such as the one which reveal evidence contrary to Republican idealogical shibboleths. Where there is no such conflict, I suspect the average Republican’s views towards science are closer to neutral. I guess the amazing thing is just how far the situation has evolved.

    The irony of this is the fact that post-modernism, something Republicans have railed against (eg the concept of moral relativism) as part of the broader culture wars, is a particularly apt framing of the modern Republican view of reality. Republicans now see reality has something entirely subjective, in that they’re free to pick and choose what they want to believe reality is, and they simply don’t accept that opposing scientific evidence has more truth value than their rather arbitrary choices, choices made so as to preserve their most precious ideological tenet.

    The birth of the “Post-Realist Republicans” as a viable Republican force has prospects of being a notable point of political history.

  20. Freelander
    April 2nd, 2012 at 03:24 | #20

    The problem that the people who happen to be republicans and conservatives and who reject science when it clashes with their fundamental beliefs is really about their inability to handle uncertainty.

    Some individuals have such an aversion to uncertainty that rather than believe that everything that purports to be knowledge is tentative and to some degree uncertain they retreat to the certainty of some steadfastly held revelation that provides them a guide to everything that is true. Revelation is often in the form of a book, religion, prophet or prophets. When ‘facts’ or ‘evidence’ conflicts with the revelatory truth they are summarily rejected. If the possessor of the revelatory truth is ‘clever’ then all the resources of their cleverness are directed toward destroying the facts or evidences validity.

    The left has had plenty of believers in revelatory truth. Fortunately they are not evident in great numbers nowadays. Sadly the right is suffering mightily from an infestation at the moment.

  21. Ken Fabian
    April 2nd, 2012 at 09:32 | #21

    @Donald Oats
    I still think that, for climate change particularly, the Republicans (like Liberals here) see themselves as the political voice of Commerce and Industry. Commerce and Industry chooses it’s stance on this issue by considering factors like near term costs and impacts to competitiveness and profitability. Whilst the costs of climate change are easy to frame as far off and beyond direct control the costs of mitigation of climate change are near term and within their ability to influence, through gaming the political system through the established toolkit they’ve developed for that purpose – Lobbying, tankthink, PR, advertising and the manipulation of economic fears.

    The position commerce and industry has settled on ought not be a great surprise, but the willingness of politicians to pass over their responsibility to their wider constituencies and longer term is a profound betrayal of trust IMO. I think fear for the disruptions to an always shaky economic status quo becomes a powerful motivation to turn to their own simplistic illusions about how the world works.

  22. Tom
    April 2nd, 2012 at 19:41 | #22

    In my opinion, although I know very limited psychology, I believe Carl Jung’s collective unconscious theory can explains some of the things. The point in the theory that people whom grown up in a certain environment will hold certain agreement unconsciously even thou they might not actually know much about it. For example, the current young generation, even if they have not real knowledge in how social democratic society works, they might have the unconscious thought that e.g. “free education, extensive welfare, job security are impossible” because of the general media and the people whom they befriend or in close ties with holds the same view. Similar to groupthink but it’s done unconsciously, in such cases when people are suddenly faced with facts that are opposed to their view points, they might chose to deny it because it is out of “common sense” (even if the so called common sense might be wrong). At that point it really depends on the degree of which an individual’s ability to accept facts or actually evaluate the facts fairly.

  23. Donald Oats
    April 3rd, 2012 at 01:04 | #23

    This reminds me of one rather interesting, if rare, phenomenon: the extreme flip-floppers, ie those people who for some period of life hold one extreme political position—eg leftwing—only to flip to the polar opposite position—eg rightwing—which they then hold for the rest of their life.

    What triggers such a dramatic switcheroo, from extreme leftwing to extreme rightwing, or vice versa?

  24. Zlati Petroff
    April 3rd, 2012 at 01:11 | #24

    On the chart in the first link (Chris Mooney’s website) we see that the increase in moderates’ trust in science rises as Conservatives’ trust declines.

    IMO this may signal a transformation, as moderate Republicans migrated out of the party and their self-identification as Conservatives and into the “independent” category, whereas the hardline Conservatives aligned more staunchly with the movement and with a GOP that sides more and more closely with hardline Conservatism.

    I am always wary of using terms like hardline, staunch, etc. but for the purposes of illustrating the hypothesis, that will do.

    In short, there has been an institutional and cultural transformation that has pushed certain people out of the movement and drawn others in.

  25. Freelander
    April 3rd, 2012 at 02:26 | #25

    @Donald Oats

    Interestingly, and libel law preclude the naming of names and listing of examples, the flip from right wing looney to left wing looney, or vice versa, seems to be precipitated by a personal falling out with their former ‘fellow-travellers’. I am sure you know a few Australian examples yourself. The mindset of both extremes seems remarkably similar, and the staunchness with which they hold whatever view they hold at any particular time totally impervious to rational argument or refuting evidence.

    Must be extremely comforting to be so absolutely certain of the correctness of one’s current beliefs especially on issues where mere mortals are never quite so sure.

  26. Freelander
    April 3rd, 2012 at 04:47 | #26

    Here is an interesting essay on the personality traits of a dogmatist:

    http://www.psych-it.com.au/Psychlopedia/article.asp?id=392

  27. Troy Prideaux
    April 3rd, 2012 at 09:25 | #27

    @Freelander
    Some people are unfortunately color blind; maybe some people’s contrast knob is stuck on full.

    You can’t reason someone out of an opinion they didn’t reason their way into.

  28. Freelander
    April 3rd, 2012 at 09:42 | #28

    But clever people frequently rationalise their petty prejudices as being the results of exemplary application of intellectual rigour. An amusing example is Ayn Rand’s finding of philosophical flaws in her protégé thinking once he revealed that he could no longer stomach sleeping with her.

  29. wilful
    April 3rd, 2012 at 11:04 | #29

    I agree with Gelman and differ with you Pr Quiggin.

    That said, I think the evidence that heredity (and therefore genes) plays at least some role in the determination of personality is pretty convincing.

    I haven’t personally (ooh, anecdote) seen much or anything in the way of heritable temperament, that can’t be explained by upbringing. Often enough, you will get very different personalities in a family. Using Myers-Briggs Jungian typology (no I’m not interested in a debate on MD), you find extroverts and introverts, etc all in one family.

  30. Jill Rush
    April 4th, 2012 at 16:45 | #30

    Genes do matter and also chromosomes. The authoritarian bent is not restricted to the male of the species but seems to be inhabited by those who love a patriarchy as it means that over half the population just does as it’s told -so much simpler that way. Part of that thinking is that people just obey even if a command is bad. It is about power not evidence or good sense. I agree that it is psychological. If a person can be convinced to believe a particular point of view against evidence there is tremendous power. The rabid right wing in the USA mirrors rabid Islam cults in many, many ways and yet despite the points of agreement casts Islam as an enemy. It is a tribalism which is better left on the footy field but which is about group identity with power. It is where the emotions have truly overcome the intellect.

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