A civil response to Satoshi Kanazawa’s liberal-conservative blog entry.
In your recent PT blog post, Why Liberals Are More Intelligent Than Conservatives, you explained why liberals tend to control institutions such as academia and the media:
“[Liberals] control the institutions because liberals are on average more intelligent than conservatives and thus they are more likely to attain the highest status in any area of (evolutionarily novel) modern life.”
You asserted that liberals have higher IQs, are more generous, and are essentially more evolved than conservatives. In response, I’d like to defend the unfortunate, knuckle-dragging schlubs by deconstructing your logic. Unlike most of your previous work (your book Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters is excellent and people should buy it), this piece is simply irrational.
I will also suggest an alternative explanation of liberal leadership in institutions like academia and the media. Admittedly, my explanation is less flattering than yours.
Let me begin with some definitions, as you did. You rightly pointed out that political ideologies are difficult to pin down. That’s especially true since few people fall neatly into liberal or conservative camps. There are many people like me, for example, who are fiscally conservative and socially libertarian. There is no place for us on the liberal-conservative spectrum.
So, for sake of simplicity, when I use the word “liberal,” I’ll be referring to the liberal elitists you have noticed occupying the higher ranks of certain institutions. I’m not speaking about the Democrat next door, with whom I can have a beer and a friendly discussion about policy, but the ideologically-driven hard left who you assert are more intelligent than the rest of us.
Onward… You started with this definition of liberalism: “the genuine concern for the welfare of genetically unrelated others and the willingness to contribute larger proportions of private resources for the welfare of such others.”
You suggested that liberal altruism translates into a willingness to pay for welfare programs, which conservatives oppose. Then, for some reason, you referred to – but failed to provide reference for – a study suggesting that conservatives have markedly lower IQs than liberals.
Your argument fell apart before you made it. Not to be too strident about the foundations upon which you built your piece, but wrong, wrong, and I’ll bet it’s wrong. Let’s take your assertions one-by-one.
Liberals are more generous than conservatives. Someone once quipped that a liberal is a person who will give you the shirt off someone else’s back. In your piece, you rightly report that conservatives give more of their personal resources to charity than do liberals, yet you credit liberals who support tax increases as being more generous.
Here’s a news-flash: those who call for new taxes usually don’t plan on being the target of those increases. Of course, there are exceptions, like the parent who votes in favor of a mill levy increase to support local schools, but more typically they are voting away someone else’s money. Often, they are voting that money right into their own pockets. You can bet that when Barack Obama promised tax increases only for those who earn more than $200,000, he was hoping to garner the votes of the vast majority of us who earn less, that we might benefit at their expense. That is precisely the opposite of altruism. It is greed, it works, and it is one of the emotional foundations of liberalism.
Evolutionary psychologist Denise Cummings offered this observation: “Envy is perhaps the most frequent and most destructive… emotional response to perceived losses or inequalities in status.”
Dr. Kanazawa, where is your sense parsimony? Why grasp for a convoluted explanation – that a large group of people simultaneously and without benefit of natural selection began to display “evolutionarily novel” behavior – when a simpler explanation involving a ubiquitous experience is more fitting. Envy, not altruism, is one of the emotions upon which liberal politicians build their platform.
Conservatives oppose tax increases. This is true, but only up to a point, and not for the reasons that you assert. I suspect that you run into very few conservatives in your circles, so let me explain it to you as they might. The world is full of trade-offs. Government programs are essential, but they come at a cost. Every dollar spent by the government must first be taken from a private citizen who rightly earned it and would have used it for something else. When the opportunity cost of government services exceeds their benefit to the taxpayers, then it is time to reduce tax rates, for everyone’s sake.
Moreover, the conservative might say, excessive entitlement programs breed dependence; they deplete the human spirit and treat recipients as inferior. That is a contemptuous, degrading thing to do to another human being.
Conservatives also put stock in the idea of fair play. They want everyone to have an equal chance at success, and by definition, conservatives hold no resentment toward those who succeed.
Whether or not you agree with them, give them some credit, and lay off the tacit name-calling (you not only implied that they are greedy and stupid, but racist as well). Mainstream conservatives are as kind-hearted as mainstream Democrats; their concern for others simply takes a different form.
Conservatives are less intelligent than liberals. Since you provided no reference for the study you cited, I’m at a disadvantage to debunk it, but it is certainly not the first psychology study to suggest that conservatives are mentally inferior to liberals. These studies are invariably produced by liberal elitists who work at liberal institutions. Studies that I have deconstructed in the past have been self-serving, shamelessly biased, and hopelessly irrational. See here and here, for example. I would bet my next paycheck that the study to which you referred is every bit as methodologically confuddled as the rest. I base that assertion on the simple principle that groups of people will always be more similar than different.
I’ve lifted the Conservatives-Is-Stoopid chart from your entry. IQ increases with the endorsement of hard left ideology? I smell a rat. Are you willing to provide a reference for this data?
An Alternative Explanation
If your premises are flawed, how does one account for the fact that liberals tend to reign in institutions like academia and the media? I believe it is because liberalism, by its very nature, is an authoritarian ideology. Those with a penchant for telling others how to live seek leadership posts in organizations that have the most direct impact on the way that others conduct themselves. Academia provides a mostly uncontested liberal view of the world and the way one should inhabit it; the media, until recently, provided a mostly uncontested liberal account of world events and how one should interpret them.
The desire to tell others how to live (or the lack of that desire) might also explain why conservatives tend to run equally complex organizations that simply provide a product or a service. The CEO of a tire company has no platform by which to tell others how to live.
And it most certainly explains why liberal elitists think they are smarter than everyone else (and are willing to cook the data to prove it). How else could they justify telling everyone else how to live?
Throughout my education, I was told that conservatives are conformity-seeking authoritarians. I believed it, for a while. But my experience outside academia has shown me something entirely different. It is liberal elitists who want to tell me where to live, what to drive, what I may smoke, which light bulb to use, how much I money I may make, how much I should weigh, which words I may use, what news I may watch, and how much salt to put on my food. They tell me that I am smart if I agree with them; I am dumb if I do not.
Conservatives get high-handed on occasion, too, and it is every bit as offensive. But elitist liberals are the Lucy Van Pelts of adult life: bossy, crabby, intolerant, and sanctimonious. Consider the behavior of Obama, Reid, and Pelosi in the face of overwhelming public disapproval of their healthcare reform plan: public sentiment be damned, we know what’s good for you and you shall do as we say.
It was Democrat Congressman John Dingell who recently said it best. While answering a question about the new healthcare legislation, he said “…it takes a long time to do the necessary administrative steps that have to be taken to put the legislation together to control the people” (emphasis mine).
As devoted as I am to evolutionary psychology, Dr. Kanazawa, it does not always offer the most direct explanation for behavior. And it is terribly distressing to see this fledgling branch of psychology used as a cheap bludgeon against ideological opponents.
Cummings, D. (2005). Dominance, status, and social hierarchies. In D.M. Buss (ed.) The Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology (676-697). New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.