Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Leftists are cold bastards 

The psychology of politics was my specialty during my research career and one of the most striking things I noted at that time was the way Leftist psychologists would spin ANYTHING they found in a way detrimental to conservatives.  So I occasionally showed how you could do some reverse spinning and pointed out ways in which the findings were detrimental to liberals.  The sort of data collected by political psychologists tend to be vague enough to make many interpretations equally feasible.  It probably needs to be like that.  Straightforward findings would likely be too uncomfortable to Leftists.

So the research reported below is rather fun.  The authors have definitely had a challenge in spinning the findings their way. From data with VERY contestable meaning they claim to have found that conservatives are "holistic" thinkers and liberals are "analytic" thinkers.  And they have to admit that both styles have their uses.

That amused me immediately.  Who are the great advocates of "holistic" thinking in the world today?  Alternative medicine freaks.  Not a notably conservative group.  So I think alternative interpretations of the findings are clearly called for.

I think a clue lies in the finding that liberals are extreme outliers in the human population.  Conservatives are more normal. Combine that with the finding that liberals are more socially isolated and I think you have a far-reaching conclusion:  liberals are emotionally cold.  Most of humanity values its relationships with others highly.  So do conservatives.  Liberals do not. Family is all in many human sub-groups but from Marx onwards Leftists have always despised the family.  And conservative Christians always stress the importance of family.

That liberals are emotionally cold can be summed up in a famous utterance by Stalin.  "One death is a tragedy.  A million deaths is a statistic."  That the great socialist murderers  -- Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, Kim Jong un -- were/are emotionally cold has great explanatory value.  How could they do what they did otherwise?

An abbreviated account of the study below plus the journal abstract

Political conservatives in the United States are somewhat like East Asians in the way they think, categorize and perceive. Liberals in the U.S. could be categorized as extreme Americans in thought, categorization and perception. That is the gist of a new University of Virginia cultural psychology study, published recently in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

"We found in our study that and conservatives think as if they were from completely different cultures - almost as different as East and West," said study leader Thomas Talhelm, a U.Va. doctoral candidate in cultural psychology. "Liberals and conservatives categorize and perceive things differently, just as East Asians and Westerners look differently at the world."

According to Talhelm, political conservatives in the United States, generally, and East Asians, particularly, are intuitive or "holistic" thinkers, while Westerners, generally, and American liberals, in particular, are more analytical thinkers.

The so-called "culture war," he said, is an accurate if dramatic way to state that there are clear cultural differences in the thought processes of liberals and conservatives.

"On psychological tests, Westerners tend to view scenes, explain behavior and categorize objects analytically," Talhelm said. "But the vast majority of people around the world - about 85 percent - more often think intuitively - what psychologists call holistic thought, and we found that's how conservative Americans tend to think."

Holistic thought more often uses intention and the perception of whole objects or situations, rather than breaking them down to their parts - such as having a general feeling about a situation involving intuition or tact.

There is value in both ways of thinking, Talhelm said. Intuitive thinking likely is the "default" style most people are born with, while analytical thinking generally must be learned, usually through training, such as in Western-style school systems.

Psychologists test thought styles by giving study participants a short battery of tests to determine if they are holistic or analytic thinkers.

One such test asks participants to choose two of three items to categorize together, such as a mitten, a scarf, and a hand. Analytic thinkers usually match the scarf and mitten because they belong to the same abstract category - items of winter clothing. Holistic thinkers usually match the mitten and hand because the hand wears a mitten.

He noted that liberals in the West tend to live in urban or suburban areas and often have fairly weak social and community ties, move more often and are less traditionally religious. They are more individualistic than conservatives and very unlike most people in Eastern cultures.

Conservatives, on the other hand, tend to be more connected to their communities and may live in the same areas throughout their lives, maintaining strong social and familial bonds and commitments, and are more traditionally religious. This puts them more in line with the holistic-thinking majority of the world.
Liberals Think More Analytically (More "WEIRD") Than Conservatives

Thomas Talhelm et al.


Henrich, Heine, and Norenzayan summarized cultural differences in psychology and argued that people from one particular culture are outliers: people from societies that are Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic (WEIRD). This study shows that liberals think WEIRDer than conservatives. In five studies with more than 5,000 participants, we found that liberals think more analytically (an element of WEIRD thought) than moderates and conservatives. Study 3 replicates this finding in the very different political culture of China, although it held only for people in more modernized urban centers. These results suggest that liberals and conservatives in the same country think as if they were from different cultures. Studies 4 to 5 show that briefly training people to think analytically causes them to form more liberal opinions, whereas training them to think holistically causes shifts to more conservative opinions.


A personal note: I think that some people drawn to Leftist causes are genuinely compassionate and caring people who are VERY emotional about suffering they see in the world. They let their feelings swamp their thought processes.  But they are too soft to get far in Leftist politics.  It is the machine men like Joseph Stalin who rise to the top.  And Stalin very smartly killed off all the old Bolsheviks, some of whom would seem to have genuinely cared about the welfare of the average worker.

So the Leftist population is probably bi-modal -- comprised of two distinct groups:  the useful fools and the hard men lusting for power.  But no psychological survey would ever show that.  The hard men know the camouflage they need to wear and will present themselves as caring every time.  In my surveys I routinely found Leftists emphatically disclaiming many of the motives -- such as authoritarianism -- that we know to be typical of the Left.  The hard men are skilful liars.

So there is a balance to be sought in emotionality.  If you are too emotional in your reactions you are likely to be used as a tool by the hard men. What is needed is moderate emotionality.  And that is what conservsatives seem to have.  They can get emotionally upset about things such as abortion (I do) but they don't allow feelings to ditch their rationality.

I see myself that way.  Abortion horrifies me and triumphs of life (e.g. when the life of a very ill baby is saved) bring tears of joy from me.  But many things that bother other people (e.g. household accidents) get no emotional reaction from me at all.  I just deal with them. I don't sweat the small stuff.  So I am alexithymic about minor things but also sentimental about other things  -- life particularly.  It is a balance that seems to have served me well in living a contented and trouble-free life -- JR

Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).

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