Friday, January 6, 2017

Your Ideological Opponents are Idiots, says SCIENCE!

Now we get to a finding that sounds more tendentious than it is; smarter people are more liberal. The statement will make conservatives see red, not just because it seems to impugn their intelligence but because they can legitimately complain that many social scientists (who are overwhelmingly liberal or leftist) use their research to take cheap shots at the right, studying conservatism as if it were a mental defect.

This is from “The Better Angels of Our Nature” by Steven Pinker. He clarifies in the next paragraph that he means *classical* liberalism, which is more like libertarianism than American-style liberalism. (Modern American “liberalism” is often quite illiberal.) I thought this passage was funny because I probably see a nasty article on my Facebook feed once a week or so claiming that “conservatives” (or perhaps some other group singled out for opprobrium) are less intelligent, or more impulsive, or (insert major character flaw here). We proved it! Using SCIENCE! There may be a nugget of truth or some real but small correlation underlying these stories. But I think it shows really bad faith to frame your political/cultural opponents as some sort of pathology that can be uncovered with a brain scan or treated with vitamins or something.

Seriously, stop doing this, people. If you are imputing wicked motives or mental disorders to everyone you disagree with, you probably aren’t thinking very clearly. The person across from you is probably making a fair point, perhaps imperfectly, perhaps inarticulately. But somewhere underlying everything there is a point, and you would profit from understanding it. 

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