On science, social issues and liberal bias.
October 31, 2014 3:02 AM   Subscribe

 
I find ideas from evolutionary psychology interesting, and I don't agree with people who dismiss it out of hand. But it's rarely scientific because it's rarely (if ever) falsifiable, and using rejection of it as an example of "left wing science denial" is just silly. The WaPo writer seems to have been at least conscious enough of that to fill the article up with disclaimers: "Rather, it is a provocative, narrow look at the question", "So is this proof positive that academic sociologists are science deniers? Not at all", "But there's also a notable limitation to the study" etc.

Also, this correction from the NY Times piece is pretty special:
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: February 10, 2011

Because of an editing error, the Findings column on Tuesday, about political bias among social scientists, omitted the last four words of a sentence that countered the notion that female scientists face discrimination and various forms of unconscious bias. The sentence should have read: But that assumption has been repeatedly contradicted, most recently in a study published Monday in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by two Cornell psychologists, Stephen J. Ceci and Wendy M. Williams.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 3:37 AM on October 31, 2014 [36 favorites]


Yes. I would be really interested in an explanation as to how hypotheses in evolutionary psychology are tested.
posted by Quilford at 3:43 AM on October 31, 2014 [4 favorites]


This is rather nonsensical.

They asked a bunch of (social) scientists, who happen to work in a particular field that is generally based on a theory A (nurture drives culture) about whether the exact competitor theory Not-A is very plausible. If they thought Not-A was very plausible they probably wouldn't be working in theory A to start with!

They also fail to mention that there is widespread scepticism of this Not-A theory, ie that genetics drives culture / or evolutionary sociology.

Its not like they are asking them general questions about scientific theories - they are asking how open are you to the total opposite theory against which your entire career is based on. ie about theories that they probably were open to in the past but have investigated and found lacking.
posted by mary8nne at 3:46 AM on October 31, 2014 [24 favorites]


Of course things have a liberal bias. Change is literally inevitable! Have conservatives ever been right about anything, historically?
posted by ShutterBun at 3:53 AM on October 31, 2014


Reality, liberal bias, you know the rest. This is just another attempt to equate distortion with balance.
posted by Drexen at 3:54 AM on October 31, 2014 [3 favorites]


So they want some sort of affirmative action for conservative research?
posted by srboisvert at 4:09 AM on October 31, 2014 [5 favorites]


Note that the 2010 review of sexism in hiring and promotion in academia is also out of date. Several studies, including this 2012 one also in PNAS on hiring have shown hiring bias among researchers (Here's the scientific American overview of the paper).
posted by honest knave at 4:10 AM on October 31, 2014 [4 favorites]


Yes. I would be really interested in an explanation as to how hypotheses in evolutionary psychology are tested.

How are evolutionary psychology hypotheses tested?
posted by huguini at 4:16 AM on October 31, 2014 [6 favorites]


From the New Yorker article:
"When I asked Paul Bloom, a psychologist at Yale who edits the journal where Haidt’s paper will appear, what he thought of the research, he pointed out what he believed to be a major inconsistency in the field’s responses. “There’s often a lot of irony in this area,” he said. “The same people who are exquisitely sensitive to discrimination in other areas are often violently antagonistic when it comes to political ideology, bringing up clichéd arguments that they wouldn’t accept in other domains: ‘They aren’t smart enough.’ ‘They don’t want to be in the field.’ ”"

Is it not the utilitarian point of affirmative action (aside from its social justice aspects) that having diverse viewpoints is a good thing? Why is this true when it involves women and minorities and not when it involves conservatism vs. liberalism? I would say that conservatives vs. liberals when compared as groups hold much more diversity of viewpoints than say, comparing liberal women vs. liberal men. If "diversity of viewpoints" is a good thing, then this is a problem.

They asked a bunch of (social) scientists, who happen to work in a particular field that is generally based on a theory A (nurture drives culture) about whether the exact competitor theory Not-A is very plausible. If they thought Not-A was very plausible they probably wouldn't be working in theory A to start with!

A competing explanation would be that, if the field is too homogeneous, that in their training and conferences and publication records up to that point, they have only been exposed to the viewpoint that theory A is acceptable, and that theory Not-A is for kooks and weirdos, regardless of what evidence may exist for either theory A or Not-A. The whole point of having diversity of opinions is so that science doesn't become an echo chamber.
posted by permiechickie at 4:54 AM on October 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


How are evolutionary psychology hypotheses tested?

Nice, thanks. After reading I feel doubtful that the questions put to the scientists in the WaPo article could be soundly proven or disproven by evolutionary psychology.
posted by Quilford at 5:01 AM on October 31, 2014


Science exists to narrow the field - by proving things. A diverse pool of viewpoints is vital to that cause, as long as those viewpoints are essentially untested.

A diverse pool of tested-and-false viewpoints is not just counterproductive, it's actually against the entire notion of science in the first place.

In other words, you wouldn't expect physicists to ensure that they included a large number of people who don't believe in the Big Bang, would you? Or the atomic theory?
posted by jefflowrey at 5:05 AM on October 31, 2014 [9 favorites]


Also, seriously. "Liberal bias" is a conservative codeword for "we know we can't make our actual arguments stand up in the face of facts, so we're trying to change the argument".
posted by jefflowrey at 5:06 AM on October 31, 2014 [27 favorites]


I should rephrase "out of date" to "no longer a full summary of the latest in this conversation."
posted by honest knave at 5:09 AM on October 31, 2014


A competing explanation would be that, if the field is too homogeneous, that in their training and conferences and publication records up to that point, they have only been exposed to the viewpoint that theory A is acceptable, and that theory Not-A is for kooks and weirdos, regardless of what evidence may exist for either theory A or Not-A.

Except that the fact that they hold the same opinion isn't evidence that they field is too homogeneous unless you can also offer evidence that there's good support for Not-A. There's plenty of theories that actually are only for kooks, and scientists rejecting them doesn't prove that the scientists are too closed minded.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:11 AM on October 31, 2014 [9 favorites]


Have conservatives ever been right about anything, historically?

I'd say that those Russians opposing the Bolsheviks were right in the long run.
posted by claudius at 5:13 AM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


In what sense, specifically, is rejection of evo psych explanation conservative?

If you press Haidt on that question, he's really got very little to say. It doesn't fit our general understanding of conservatives (i.e. Republicans), it doesn't fit into his account of the conservative moral mind (hierarchical, purity-bound, and committed to in-groups) so what's conservative about it? How would including conservatives help us get more evo psych credulousness into the field?

If anything, evo psych is popular with libertarians and the partisan rationalists/New Atheists, and that's a movement fairly well-represented in the academy. But those folks still vote Democrat, if they vote at all.

TLDR: Much of this argument is deeply confused by equivocations about the relevant terms and tendencies.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:15 AM on October 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


I was struck by this quote from Jonathan Haidt at the very end of the Washington Post article:
When the facts conflict with...sacred values, almost everyone finds a way to stick with their values and reject the evidence. On the left, including the academic left, the most sacred issues involve race and gender. So that's where you find the most direct and I'd say flagrant denial of evidence.
Does this get to heart of "liberal" disquiet with evo-psych explanations of culture? What is Haidt referring to here? Is it something like Rhesus monkey toy preference study or is he taking about The Bell Curve? What's the "evidence" about race and genetics implied here, but not stated outright? This kind of hand-wavy rhetoric is why a lot of left/liberal academics fear evo-psych as a moral and ethical black box. What's inside, exactly? Haidt's refusal to be upfront in this quote, I think, exemplifies the suspicion of many that conservative/libertarian evo-psych types are engaging either in a form of rhetorical dog-whistling or, more seriously, are actively seeking to resuscitate certain late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century viewpoints (eugenics; scientific racism) that are simply out of bounds in respectable circles (and rightly so).

The other problem with evo-psych attempts to explain culture is that they might simply not be very convincing. Brian Boyd's On the Origin of Stories seeks to pioneer an evo-psych school of literary criticism—to offer evolutionary explanations for the ways characters behave in novels and writers structure their narratives. It has 349 citations on Google Scholar since 2008, which would certainly seem to offer evidence that Boyd's model is being taken up with some gusto. (Such a high volume of citation is extremely rare for a literary criticism monograph.) And to be fair to Boyd, he is attracting PhD students interested in examining literature and film in evolutionary terms. But looking through the citations themselves, I can find very little evidence that the ideas are percolating through into English departments. The book is being cited prominently by other practitioners in the narrow field of evo-crit (and to some extent by scholars working in other disciplines), but hardly at all in what I would regard as mainstream academic discourse in English studies. Why is that? Is it because the book is too threatening, too radical? Not quite respectable, despite its Harvard University Press imprimatur? I'm not sure about that. As someone who practices criticism myself (to an extent), I'd be hard-pressed to find ways of applying Boyd's ideas to what I do. I don't really want to, for instance, explain characters' sexual preferences in starkly evolutionary terms, because that simply reduces them to the level of the universal, and therefore trite. Boyd's analysis of, for instance, Mansfield Park essentially boils down to the explanation, "Oh! They all want to breed! Of course! And some characters would make better parents than others. That's why the novel's narrative logic selects one love interest and rejects others!" But where's the real explanatory power in that? Despite its digs at other forms of academic discourse, evo-crit is (to my mind) just another formalism, and an extraordinarily blunt and unsubtle formalistic instrument at that. It's just ... dead on the page. And that's not even getting into the issue of whether the scientific citations that supposedly underlie and buttress the work are themselves valid or unproblematic, or have survived their transportation across into another discipline intact and undistorted.
posted by Sonny Jim at 5:16 AM on October 31, 2014 [27 favorites]


Clearly, what we need is an evo-psych explanation for the broad and persistent rejection of evo-psych explanations. That will close the circle.
posted by kewb at 5:20 AM on October 31, 2014 [10 favorites]


Yes, those pesky facts, and the lack of any proof for evopysch bullshit is so liberal.

Jesus, these guys are grasping at fucking straws. How one self selects for political feelings is probably the smallest indicator of said political feelings.

Not only are evopysch idiots bad at science; they are bad at maths, too. Statistics, bitch. Learn it.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:27 AM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


Have conservatives ever been right about anything, historically?
Cheney was right that deposing Saddam Hussein would lead to a quagmire. However, he seems to have forgotten that between Gulf War I and Gulf War II.

Scalia was right that the reasoning leading to the Supreme Court deciding that DOMA was unconstitutional could be used equally well to decide that bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. However, he was saying that in an attempt to say that it was a mistake for the Supreme Court to decide that DOMA was unconstitutional.

That's... all I got.
posted by Flunkie at 5:50 AM on October 31, 2014


Have conservatives ever been right about anything, historically?
Burke: right about the French Revolution?
posted by Sonny Jim at 6:01 AM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'd say that those Russians opposing the Bolsheviks were right in the long run.
posted by claudius at 8:13 AM on October 31 [+] [!]


god save our little father!

I don't know. Conservatives are constantly denigrating higher learning. There's a lot of scorn for a young conservative who wants to become a professor. And then, when you have a conservative professor you constantly hear these conservative voices talking about how they've starting "acting liberal." So, it's not surprising that conservative academics are under represented.

But where are the conservative voices talking about the problem with conservative culture?
posted by ennui.bz at 6:03 AM on October 31, 2014 [3 favorites]


Have conservatives ever been right about anything, historically?
Burke: right about the French Revolution?
posted by Sonny Jim at 9:01 AM on October 31 [+] [!]

Le roi est mort, vive le roi!
posted by ennui.bz at 6:05 AM on October 31, 2014 [3 favorites]


I don't understand how science can be "liberal" or "conservative." Science is science, right? People seem to be biased (consciously or not) against scientific inquiry that opens doors to uncomfortable spaces, is ripe for popular misrepresentation, or that leads to conclusions they feel are morally or ethically wrong, but that doesn't seem to be exclusive to any particular ideology, which, I think, is what the article is getting at.

In these cases, the angst seems to be over how the science/data will be employed, rightly or wrongly, in some prescriptive way they feel is negative for society in general.

Or am I totally misreading this?
posted by echocollate at 6:07 AM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


Have conservatives ever been right about anything, historically?

There was that whole renaming French fries, Freedom fries, because they weren't really French and France didn't want to go to war in Iraq and besides, they started it by renaming the quarterpounder. Other than that, conservative have a big goose-egg for the last twenty years or so.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:09 AM on October 31, 2014


I'd say that those Russians opposing the Bolsheviks were right in the long run

Hell yeah, bring back the tsar!
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 6:09 AM on October 31, 2014 [5 favorites]


Social psychology, Haidt went on, had an obvious problem: a lack of political diversity that was every bit as dangerous as a lack of, say, racial or religious or gender diversity.

And he thinks those categories are obviously commensurable with political attitudes? And be also wants readers to think that he's a scientist of some kind?

Evo psych is bullshit not because it's untestable but because it's full of useless ideas that never create actual knowledge. You can't learn anything new from the approach because the answer is always "it is that way because of nature," which is the "because I said so!" of explanatory reasoning.
posted by clockzero at 6:13 AM on October 31, 2014 [3 favorites]


Have conservatives ever been right about anything, historically?

They have frequently been correct that allowing incremental change (eg increased freedoms for African Americans) leads inexorably towards sweeping social change with unpredictable outcomes. Whether that's a problem or not would depend on your perspective, of course.

Evolutionary explanations are always compelling to read, I think because they don't just have a narrative but are a narrative. They are stories, in the best possible sense of that phrase, but at the same time sometimes that's all they are -- good stories about something that is clearly more complex, and somehow always leading towards "the way things are" rather than containing any sense of possibility of other options.

I do find the increased calls for openness to conservatives in academia in recent years interesting, in part because the people making those calls aren't at all calling for increased ideological diversity in other settings, such as the officer corps of the US military. As a general thing I do think that increased diversity of all types is a good thing, but this reads as very simplistic to me, without any clear model of where the actual ideological filtering (or discrimination) is happening. I've been a part of and an observer to many academic job searches and I've never seen anyone asking about political ideology, even in the coded ways that are used to find information about legally forbidden topics like children or sexuality. If there is a barrier, it is elsewhere in the process (as is true for women and minorities -- the biggest barriers are before and after the actual job search).

When it comes to some of the more controversial statements about the evolutionary basis of various human behaviors that were used (for instance, the assertion that "The widely observed tendency for men to try and control women's bodies as property...has a significant evolutionary biological component"), the research doesn't really take a strong stand on whether they're actually true

That would seem to be appropriate, given that these are highly contested theories, not statements of accepted fact.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:15 AM on October 31, 2014 [4 favorites]


Actually, it's really about ethics in social sciences!
posted by happyroach at 6:26 AM on October 31, 2014 [27 favorites]


Except that the fact that they hold the same opinion isn't evidence that they field is too homogeneous ....

... and could just stop there, because as we all ought to know pretty well by now, having the same opinion in no way implies agreement about theory. E.g., Darwin and Lysenko both believed in evolution. One had an approach that was capable of adapting to new data -- the other didn't.
posted by lodurr at 6:37 AM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'd say that those Russians opposing the Bolsheviks were right in the long run

Hell yeah, bring back the tsar!


I thought he meant Mensheviks.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 6:38 AM on October 31, 2014


Just 36.4 percent considered it plausible that men "have a greater tendency towards promiscuity than women due to an evolved reproductive strategy.”

They then cite the traditional study (from 1993) that says to support this, which involved going around and asking American college students various questions related to how much time they're spending looking for long term vs. short term mates, how long they'd like to know someone before sleeping with them, etc., etc.

A quick scan of the paper (and if someone knows the literature better than I do, please do tell me if I'm wrong) doesn't really address the fact that they're basing their conclusions about human behavior writ large on a bunch of WEIRDs: subjects that are/are from countries that are Western, educated, industrialized, rich, developed. They throw in some cross-country data about marriage age (men tend to marry younger women), but that's about all I saw. The conclusion is based on the idea that the entire history of the human race and behaviors that shaped us can be extrapolated from, in this case, about 150 people who were undergraduates at the University of Michigan in the mid-90s.

And for some reason, then, sociologists are being "anti-science" when they are skeptical of these results.

(And a side note: Haidt- who has written extensively about the problem of basing ethics research on WEIRDs- should have a problem with this, but he doesn't seem to, or at least its not mentioned in any articles.)
posted by damayanti at 7:14 AM on October 31, 2014 [12 favorites]


Evo psych is one of those things where there's no sane reason to disbelieve the underlying concept - of course many aspects of human psychology must have evolved - but much of actual evo psych theory is garbage.

Either way, most social scientists are wise to know that they probably wouldn't be qualified themselves to write authoritatively on evolutionary biology. If only more evo psych theorists felt the same way!

I'm currently reading Steven Pinker's The Better Angels Of Our Nature, and while it's a good book in many respects, the just-so stories make me cringe.

...

Have conservatives ever been right about anything, historically?

All trolling aside, as you've written this question, it is trivially easy to show that the answer to this question is "yes, of course". The only way to get a "no" would be to keep redefining "conservatives" and "right" until we can't get a "yes" anymore.

For example, if I were to bring up Eisenhower building the interstate highway system, would you say that Eisenhower was not conservative enough, or that he could have built the interstate highway system in a better way, or that Eisenhower's building of the interstate highway system isn't contentious enough of an issue to really count, even though contentiousness wasn't in your question? What about the Clarence Thomas dissent in Kelo v. New London and the subsequent outrage in conservative/libertarian circles? When G. K. Chesterton opposed eugenics in Eugenics and Other Evils, he opposed many contemporary liberals and leftists - is there a post hoc reason why that shouldn't really count?
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:15 AM on October 31, 2014 [8 favorites]


I saw this article yesterday, about how gross photos can determine your political leanings about 98% of the time, related to germs and fear. For Halloween regardless.
posted by Brian B. at 7:19 AM on October 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


Evo psych is one of those things where there's no sane reason to disbelieve the underlying concept - of course many aspects of human psychology must have evolved - but much of actual evo psych theory is garbage.

Here, here. Especially since so many of the results just so happen to conveniently align with current stereotypes and cultural attitudes about how men and women are and should act.
posted by damayanti at 7:20 AM on October 31, 2014 [8 favorites]


This is Jonathan Haidt's hobbyhorse, to be the Third Way of the academic/egghead set.

By all means, let's point out to "liberals" and free thinkers in general that they have blind spots, since blind spots and biases are part of the human condition. After all, they're far more likely to take it to heart than rightists (and by saying "rightist" I am not necessarily including conservative thinkers, since most of them are small L liberals, anyway).

What Haidt fails to grasp, and what his critics have yet to successfully articulate, is the way in which this particular iteration of "both sides do it" is wrong. Here's my attempt: The fundamental asymmetry that refutes his framing is that, while nominal lefties do indeed exhibit biases, their ideology is not based on them, and therefore does not primarily aim to stoke their biases as a means to a political end. In contrast, right-wing biases are baked into the cake, so to speak, of their ideology: the need to identify differences, to procure and maintain status, and the cultivation of resentments is intrinsic to the rightist ideology, and rigidity of thought is seen as stance of moral and intellectual purity. Indeed, one could say that rightism is a celebration of bias.

Outside of, perphaps, certain doctrinaire Marxist circles--which are no less marginal in our socio-political discourse than, say, the followers of Aleister Crowley--the degree of willful bias exhibited by rightists, and its proud presentation as an exemplar of virtue, has no parallel on the left.
posted by mondo dentro at 7:43 AM on October 31, 2014 [19 favorites]


damayanti, do 37 different cultures work for you?

Sex Differences In Human Mate Preferences
posted by huguini at 7:54 AM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


anotherpanacea : In what sense, specifically, is rejection of evo psych explanation conservative?

Unless I'm misreading, it's saying the rejection is liberal. That's an incomplete statement, but the knee-jerk liberal rejection of it is basically ideological repulsion at imagined conservative uses for it. Note: I'm emphatically not saying all rejection is knee-jerk, or all liberals have a knee-jerk reaction. I'm talking about a specific variety of rejection not based on science. (I made a similar point here.)

Some liberals seem to feel that any talk of evolutionary psychology is the new phrenology, pseudo-science used to justify racism and/or sexism. This view can competences basically any discussion of deterministic factors; see the Jared Diamond FPP. His inspiration for the book was to present a non-racist explanation for the different trajectories of different peoples, and he is still regularly accused of racist apologia. That thread also had a lot of comments saying that Diamond is still trying to justify or legitimize imperialism, though his work is meant, and succeeds, at undercutting any "white man's burden" excuses.

It's absolutely true that some racists will use EP in their fevered blog rants, but that really shouldn't factor into the discussion of it's merits. But it does; it's hard to see it not snidely dismissed, including here on MetaFilter.

sticherbest was making a different, and in some ways a contrary point, but as he put it, there is no sane reason to disbelieve the underlying concept, even if the specific musing of a popularizer is unimpressive. However, I see attacks on the concept, for even thinking about it,
posted by spaltavian at 7:57 AM on October 31, 2014 [3 favorites]


Conservatives were right about the evils and eventual defeat of Communism. They were right that inner city crime and decay of the 1970s and 1980s would be solved by discouraging misbehavior and encouraging private sector investment. (And, yes, the argument that Roe v. Wade did it is simply a rather a brutal examplar of "discouraging misbehavior.")

Evo-psych is mostly unserious, insofar as few if any of its assertions are proved or even provable by means of the science that evolutionary biologists use to examine the development of cognition and cognitively-mediated social behavior.

But, as well, sociologists and cultural anthropologists are in the main pretty unserious in the way that they blend their theories of human behavior and their political ideology. Is there one tenured US social scientist who argues that race does not exit, or gender is inessential, who follows that through by opposing affirmative action or Title IX on their campus? (I support affirmative action and Title IX, in large part because I believe race and gender both exist and are essential in their impacts upon social behavior.)
posted by MattD at 8:08 AM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


Evo psych is bullshit not because it's untestable but because it's full of useless ideas that never create actual knowledge. You can't learn anything new from the approach because the answer is always "it is that way because of nature," which is the "because I said so!" of explanatory reasoning.

You never read an evo-psych paper, did you?
If you care to, I recommend this one: Evolutionary Psychology - Controversies, Questions, Prospects, and Limitations
posted by huguini at 8:17 AM on October 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


Hell yeah, bring back the tsar!

Too late.
posted by General Tonic at 8:17 AM on October 31, 2014 [3 favorites]


I thought he meant Mensheviks.

Conservatives?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:18 AM on October 31, 2014


And the thing I find most funny (and sad) is that most criticisms here could also be applied to papers who don't follow an evolutionary approach and argue for the full nurture perspective. But since they're aligned with our world view, we don't look at them with the same critical eye.
Oh, wait. That's what the OP is about...
posted by huguini at 8:20 AM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


clockzero: ecause it's full of useless ideas that never create actual knowledge. You can't learn anything new from the approach because the answer is always "it is that way because of nature," which is the "because I said so!" of explanatory reasoning.

That's breathtakingly silly. The approach in all science is "it's that way because of nature". The idea is to understand those mechanisms, see what they do and when, and eventually, try to make them predictable.

I await your denunciation of physics on the basis that you can't learn anything new from the approach because the answer is always "particles".
posted by spaltavian at 8:26 AM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


Bouncing off of mondo dentro's comment...

For sake of argument, let's set aside the idea of who is more, less, or equally biased. What would we say are left/liberal/progressive/etc. biases, and how would we say that they show themselves?

For example, and bearing in mind that these are both extreme oversimplifications...

Contemporary social progressivism in the US often centers around a specific version of the idea that society has been flawed for a very long time, but people have made it better over time, and people can continue to make it better. Inequality exists because society generates inequality, but we can create a more equal society. People are *phobic and *ist because society teaches them to be *phobic and *ist, but if people put their minds to it, they could create a society without *phobia and *ism. There is no end to progress. Nothing is ever just "enough".

If this is somebody's framework, then what will they be likely to assume? What will they be resistant to?

Contrast with the typically socially conservative idea that "our" society makes people better. "Our" society is a great achievement, to be treasured and protected. It protects us from foolishness and barbarity. Without it, we would be lost. However, forces from without and within would try to take this all away from us. They are barbarians at the gate, who either want to take us over, or who will not fulfill their end of our society's bargain; they are selfish leeches, gaming the system; they are out-of-touch fools in ivory towers, who have more ideas than sense. Inequality exists because no good form of equality is possible. People are *phobic and *ist because they are safeguarding society from breakdown.

If this is somebody's framework, then what will they be likely to assume? What will they be resistant to?

...

I am not defending evo psych theories when I say that the "simplified socially progressive" framework is indeed inherently resistant to what most evo psych would suggest. If it really were true that a significant portion of gender inequality really was due to explicably inflexible reasons, then that does pose a conundrum for somebody who generally believes that people can always make society more equal. It is not the contradiction of social progressivism, or anything so apocalyptic like that, but it does present a complication.

Put another way, and intended purely for sake of argument and as a rhetorical question: if some of the more retrograde evo psych theories really were proven true, then wouldn't we have to adapt our pursuit of social and economic justice?

(As for social conservatism, it seems clear to everyone why evo psych would appeal to followers of that framework, so I don't see a need to delve into that. And others have done a much better job than I ever could to summarize "the conservative war on science".)
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:31 AM on October 31, 2014 [8 favorites]


inner city crime and decay of the 1970s and 1980s would be solved by discouraging misbehavior

or stop poisoning everyone with lead.
posted by dglynn at 8:47 AM on October 31, 2014 [21 favorites]


If this is somebody's framework, then what will they be likely to assume? What will they be resistant to?

Both of those ways of seeing things are true to various degrees and in various parts, though, aren't they? It's a mixed bag. Society's our best friend and our worst enemy at the same time. The frameworks aren't necessarily inconsistent, but neither of them is complete without being fully integrated into the other.

If it really were true that a significant portion of gender inequality really was due to explicably inflexible reasons,

I think the reactions are less about evo-psych telling us the reasons are inflexible as it is that the reasons aren't personal. If tendencies that lead to emergent sexist/racist/*ist attitudes and behaviors when combined with the right social structures are not matters of personal responsibility but of innate biological tendency (notice I don't say inevitability because to my knowledge no one is arguing evolved biological tendencies are immutable or inevitable, just that they represent an impersonal source for some of these kinds of problems), our sense of personal identity starts to feel threatened and we overreact. That's not to defend evo-psych from criticisms about its tendency to propose common sense just-so stories without sufficient critical rigor.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:29 AM on October 31, 2014


Conservatives were right about the evils and eventual defeat of Communism
but dead wrong about what I consider the obvious fact that Communism was, essentially, the distortion and perversion of Socialism for the benefits of a few vicious leaders that, at any other time, would be obviously identified as Fascists. (I'm looking at you, Stalin, Mao and the Royal Dynasty of North Korea's Kim Jongs).

inner city crime and decay of the 1970s and 1980s would be solved by discouraging misbehavior
Actually, we now see that the strongest effects have come from encouraging misbehavior on the part of the police.

If you're looking for Conservative Academics, they have all self-selected into the field of Economics, Aka The Dismal Science. Aka the Astrology of the Social Sciences. Where they can be as wrong as they want to be and still get fully supported by the tiny-but-extremely-rich factions that benefit from their wrongness. Reality has a Liberal Bias, but Money Trumps All (not talking about you, Donald).
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:34 AM on October 31, 2014 [4 favorites]


As C. Wright Mills observed, neither feckless liberalism nor cranky conservatism can adequately deal with the human social condition; only Marxism can do this. Why has Marxist sociology failed? It is because it did not see itself in historical context, as part of the prophetic demand for justice stretching back to Moses. Now sociology is at the mercy of evolutionist quackery.
posted by No Robots at 9:50 AM on October 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


damayanti, do 37 different cultures work for you?

Sex Differences In Human Mate Preferences


I went back and double-checked, and I think this was actually cited in the other article.

But the 37 countries still include more industrialized countries (Africa is represented by Nigeria, South Africa, and Zambia; Asia by China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Japan and Taiwan; South America by Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela), and the authors admit "In general, rural, less-educated and lower levels of SES are underrepresented" (but, to be fair, are more diverse than other studies), and that in some cases, they used samples of convenience (i.e., university students) (but, again to be fair, in some cases, wider, more representative samples were collected).

From the conclusion: "These samples are biased toward urbanized, cash-economy cultures. Less urbanized, non-cash cultures obviously must be studied to circumvent this bias". They also note that their results show support for the evo psych hypothesis, but fully admit that other, structural and social causes might be at work.

So, the WEIRD issue is still there- less so, but definitely still present.
posted by damayanti at 9:50 AM on October 31, 2014


I do find the increased calls for openness to conservatives in academia in recent years interesting, in part because the people making those calls aren't at all calling for increased ideological diversity in other settings, such as the officer corps of the US military.

I find it interesting that academicians themselves are not calling for this particular brand of diversity to enter academia. "What? Donald Kagan's retiring? Quick, put out a call for another conservative classicist!" You just don't hear that kind of talk.

I would imagine there are more conservatives who would theoretically be interested in an academic career than there are non-conservatives who are really interested in a career in the military. (See this, however, for more.)

Reality has a Liberal Bias

Not sure I agree because I am not sure I know what that is supposed to mean.

Hell yeah, bring back the tsar!

Too late.

The hell you say
.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:00 AM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


"But where are the conservative voices talking about the problem with conservative culture?"

Zing!
posted by klangklangston at 10:06 AM on October 31, 2014


Put another way, and intended purely for sake of argument and as a rhetorical question: if some of the more retrograde evo psych theories really were proven true, then wouldn't we have to adapt our pursuit of social and economic justice?

That presumes that successful social justice strategies were predicated on the idea of making people better. But success has generally come from fighting for specific rights, not consciousness raising. Legislative achievements, at least in the American context, have done more to fight discrimination and poverty, as opposed to progressive goals of fighting racism and inequality.

Hard-nosed, political fights to achieve specific policy objectives don't rely on changing what's in our hearts. (Thought that sometimes happens after, when it's normalized.) EP won't really impact the pursuit of justice, just the academic and intra-progressive theorizing.
posted by spaltavian at 10:10 AM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


AKA The Dismal Science.

This phrase has incredibly racist roots. Thomas Carlyle called Economics the Dismal Science because Economists thought that we shouldn't reintroduce slavery to the West Indies. Economists thought that black folks were enriched by getting the freedom to choose their employment, and Victorian society thought this was terrible.

These studies are incredibly important. And the fact that most folks want proof that "liberals do it too" are exactly wrong headed. The fact that I buy into feminism and gay rights and evolution and science is not because it's right or that my brain is better than conservatives. It's luck. It's blind luck that I was born in a blue bubble in a red state to a family with characteristics that trend towards liberal thinking. There is very little free will involved in my beliefs. The existence of facts has very little to do with what I believe. It's my exposure to these facts at the right time in the right environment.

And here's the thing, I am probably wrong about things. I don't know what. If I did, I could change my mind. But the leftists of the day used to believe in racial inferiority. Eugenics. My grandmother supported abortion for the main reason most early supporters did, that the poor should not reproduce. It certainly wasn't conservatives who supported the prohibition of alcohol. One day society is going to find out that some of our deeply held beliefs are wrong. And we're going to attack the study and disbelieve it until the day that we die. And luckily our children can out vote us.
posted by politikitty at 10:14 AM on October 31, 2014 [8 favorites]


Why is this true when it involves women and minorities and not when it involves conservatism vs. liberalism?

Because of the fundamental differences in ideology. Broadly speaking, the liberal view--the one that aligns with how science actually works--is to ask questions and then test to see what the answer is. The conservative approach--which is the opposite of how science actually works--is to decide what the answer is and find evidence to support it.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:14 AM on October 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


The conservative approach--which is the opposite of how science actually works--is to decide what the answer is and find evidence to support it.

I worked for 4 years as a research assistant in a psychology lab and I can guarantee you that "liberal" hypothesis are tested in the exact same way.
If you think "liberal" researchers don't do that, you're quite off the research panorama.
See: Questionable Research Practices Surprisingly Common
posted by huguini at 10:30 AM on October 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


The conservative approach--which is the opposite of how science actually works--is to decide what the answer is and find evidence to support it.

I worked for 4 years as a research assistant in a psychology lab and I can guarantee you that "liberal" hypothesis are tested in the exact same way.
If you think "liberal" researchers don't do that, you're quite off the research panorama.


I'm sorry you worked in a shitty lab, I guess. I have been in academic biology for 13 years and I have never encountered scientists doing what you are claiming.
posted by hydropsyche at 10:34 AM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


"But where are the conservative voices talking about the problem with conservative culture?"

There's a huge range of opinion on the right if you care to look for it. Neo-cons are despised by Paleo-cons who are derided by Libertarians.

They don't all look alike.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:36 AM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry you worked in a shitty lab, I guess.

Yeah, you're right. Real scientists never do that. That's why there's no peer review anymore in biology. Everyone's so cool and honest that you decided it was a waste of time.
If you look at Retraction Watch, there's no biology papers there.
And, let's not forget, your field is a lot less ingrained with ideological a priories. That also might make a difference.
posted by huguini at 10:42 AM on October 31, 2014


Unless I'm misreading, it's saying the rejection is liberal. That's an incomplete statement, but the knee-jerk liberal rejection of it is basically ideological repulsion at imagined conservative uses for it.

Yeah, sorry. That was a typo: the question should have been:

"In what sense, specifically, is acceptance of evo psych explanation conservative?"

I think the rest of the comment stands, though. Most of the blindspots that liberal researchers have aren't corrected by conservative academics; they're called out by mostly liberal and libertarian academics in different fields.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:08 AM on October 31, 2014


They were right that inner city crime and decay of the 1970s and 1980s would be solved by discouraging misbehavior and encouraging private sector investment.

Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

(And, yes, the argument that Roe v. Wade did it is simply a rather a brutal examplar of "discouraging misbehavior.")

hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh....???

Not that I'm validating the question. These ideologies aren't theories, they're ways of understanding society. As mentioned before, conservatives are always right that allowing incremental social change leads to sweeping social change. They just think that's bad. I mean that up there ^^ is completely wrong of course but in general the fundamental questions of "Who should get what and why?" isn't something you can unambiguously prove right or wrong.
posted by deathmaven at 11:15 AM on October 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


I worked for 4 years as a research assistant in a psychology lab and I can guarantee you that "liberal" hypothesis are tested in the exact same way.
If you think "liberal" researchers don't do that, you're quite off the research panorama.


I think you don't really know what was going on in your lab. Researchers look for support for their ideas (which can be chosen however the hell they want - random Markov generators for all I care - which is the big problem I have Haidt. He himself doesn't do the research he is calling for despite his supposed conversion from liberal ideologue to enlightened impartial (but strangely consistently conservative) objective observer. In fact he doesn't even do the research on what he talks about - others do.) by testing them against competing explanations. You won't get published if your research doesn't allow for alternative explanations.

It doesn't matter what biases you bring to determining what question to ask. The bias that matters is whether you give alternative answers a fair chance against what you believe is true.

There is no assumption in science that scientists are Vulcans.

(Of course there also are incompetents and bad actors - data miners, p hackers and frauds. If that was your lab then you should report it because that shit is being surfaced by statistical analysis and if you are party to it, it won't just be your research supervisor who is in the shit. It sticks to everyone in the lab).
posted by srboisvert at 11:17 AM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


Have conservatives ever been right about anything, historically?

What do we mean by "right," particularly in some of the cases that have been mentioned (The Bolshevik and French Revolutions, for example)? Does it have to do with factual correctness, ideology, reasoning? If I get the right answer for the wrong reasons, am I still right? If I say, "The French Revolution will end in chaos, because the lower classes are animals that need the strong hand of the nobility to rule them!" and, lo and behold, we get the Reign of Terror, was I right in my assessment of the lower classes? Was I right about the nobility? When does the statute of limitations on my judgement expire? At the Reign of Terror? What about 200 years later, when France has a functioning democracy -- am I wrong now about the need for the nobility?

Humans have a very weird way of looking at history. I think that we often tend to assume that because history has happened in a particular way, then that means that it had to have happened in that particular way. Stalinism? Proves that Marx was wrong from the very get go and the Bolsheviks were evil! ISIS or the oppression of women and homosexuals in some Islamic-ruled countries? Proves that Islam has always been an evil, primitive religion and a threat to modernity! This is a very simplistic notion of causality; it doesn't take into account that every moment of history is enormously complex, and every event is a result of an incalculable number of contingencies. It essentializes abstract concepts and assumes they are concrete, fixed forces ("Islam" "Communism" "[fill-in-the-blank]") with definite rules that operate on human beings rather than ideological constructs that are enacted by human beings. It starts from the present and works backwards, attempting to fit everything into a fixed narrative that leads to the present -- which is really fairly silly, because why assume that now we have any more control or freedom than anyone in the past did? Aren't we just pawns subject to the same operations? This is what has always struck me as really problematic about evolutionary psychology: it starts from an assumption about the way things are now ("men like to sleep around! women want stability!") and then constructs a narrative that necessarily makes that so -- which seems to me to be in direct contradiction with everything that is now theorized about how evolution operates: that it is a messy, contingent, fragmentary, ever-changing process, not a fixed plan that lays out a direct path from point A to point B.

(I had something like this written out yesterday for the FPP a few links down about Bill Maher and UC Berkeley, but my browser crashed before I could post it.)
posted by Saxon Kane at 11:55 AM on October 31, 2014 [8 favorites]


This is what has always struck me as really problematic about evolutionary psychology: it starts from an assumption about the way things are now ("men like to sleep around! women want stability!") and then constructs a narrative that necessarily makes that so -- which seems to me to be in direct contradiction with everything that is now theorized about how evolution operates: that it is a messy, contingent, fragmentary, ever-changing process, not a fixed plan that lays out a direct path from point A to point B.

I don't see any contradiction. Genetic mutation is arbitrary, but it's results aren't: the creature reproduces at a different rate or doesn't. And the if it does change, then the changes- over a long a enough period of time - aren't arbitrary either: the lasting changes tend to be the ones that sync up with factors in the creature's environment.

Evolution is messy, but if we were an omniscient observer, we could construct narratives about what happened from the facts. If we couldn't, then evolution wouldn't be able to create complex structures without a "plan".

Evolutionary psychology's problem is that we are far from an omniscient observer; the affects of genetics on behavior don't get fossilized and we do not have accurate models of the mind and genetics. But that mean it should stop trying to figure out why what's happening now came to be. Science always starts from an assumption of where we are know and tries to figure how the world got there. It was using classical mechanics that we discovered relativity. Trying to prove your assumptions is how you learn how accurate our assumptions are; otherwise we should still be trying to collect all data in the universe and refuse to draw any conclusions until then.

Your problem with EP seems to actually be the assumptions about the way things are now rather than the thing itself. Fortunately, there is a lot of behavioral data out there, so faulty assumptions can be challenged.
posted by spaltavian at 12:14 PM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]




"Is there one tenured US social scientist who argues that race does not exit, or gender is inessential, who follows that through by opposing affirmative action or Title IX on their campus? (I support affirmative action and Title IX, in large part because I believe race and gender both exist and are essential in their impacts upon social behavior.)"

You're misinterpreting the claim: When they say that race doesn't exist or that gender is inessential, they are commenting on the underlying biological science. For example, one good way to think about the problem of saying that race exists in a biological sense is the paradox of the heap — we can find people that exemplify our phenotypical stereotype of black or Asian or white or whatever, but then there are two problems: The first is that many of those people actually have mixed genetic backgrounds, the second is that for people of mixed backgrounds, there's no clear delineation.

And none of that contradicts the idea that social categories of race and gender exist, just that they're constructed socially, not inherent to the biology.

I do think that "conservatives" is a poor way to phrase a lot of these discussions — "conservatives" have been right about a lot of things. But nobody is really talking about the National Parks system or the interstates, and most people nominally labeled conservatives these days are right-wing revanchists who want to dismantle the social safety net and undo the progress that minorities and women have made. They're reacting against progress and seeking to return to a mythical past, not to preserve the progress already made against hasty experimentation. In fact, I'd argue that most "true conservatives" are middle-of-the-road Democrats.

There have been many failed progressive and liberal projects that conservatives have opposed. But attempting to graft an evolutionary explanation for current political coalition affinities is a dubious proposition at best, and often suffers most clearly from a lack of knowledge about social (or political) science.

(All that and good Christ, the research being done on epigenetics really does undercut a huge amount of the ideas behind genetic determinism — it should be uncontroversial that while there are many genetic propensities that have evolved, e.g. language acquisition, the forms that those take are tremendously shaped by the environment even to the point where genetic expression changes in relation to that environment.)
posted by klangklangston at 1:09 PM on October 31, 2014 [3 favorites]


most people nominally labeled conservatives these days are right-wing revanchists who want to dismantle the social safety net and undo the progress that minorities and women have made

This is almost certainly wrong. Most arguments in Congress are tied to changes in spending and taxation that amount to a few points of GDP either way. Most radical conservatives (and liberals!) actually hold a group of varied and contradictory beliefs, very few of which would fit into this frame.

The whole point is that terms like Republican and Democrat and conservative and liberal are free-floating signifiers that don't really track particular policy preferences or ideologies over time. That's the biggest flaw with Haidt's work.
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:17 PM on October 31, 2014


"The whole point is that terms like Republican and Democrat and conservative and liberal are free-floating signifiers that don't really track particular policy preferences or ideologies over time. That's the biggest flaw with Haidt's work."

I agree with this point.

"This is almost certainly wrong. Most arguments in Congress are tied to changes in spending and taxation that amount to a few points of GDP either way. Most radical conservatives (and liberals!) actually hold a group of varied and contradictory beliefs, very few of which would fit into this frame."

Sorry, this is a farcical understatement when compared to actual "conservative" rhetoric, especially with the rise of the Tea Party. Attacks on everything from voting rights to reproductive freedom to EBT show a consistent desire to remove the "socialism" that the right wing believes pervades the government. And if it's not revanchist to hold 54 votes to repeal the ACA, I don't know what you would characterize as reactionary or revanchist.
posted by klangklangston at 1:27 PM on October 31, 2014 [6 favorites]


The whole point is that terms like Republican and Democrat and conservative and liberal are free-floating signifiers that don't really track particular policy preferences or ideologies over time. That's the biggest flaw with Haidt's work.

Even thought this might sound like it directly contradicts my earlier, ideologically focused comment, I heartily agree with anotherpanacea on this. It can be true at the same time, depending on the lens through which we are viewing the scene. For me, anotherpanacea's take on it strongly resonates because it succinctly highlights the character of our media environment, in which terms like "liberal", "conservative", "far left", "fundamentalist" etc. function to define in-groups and out-groups, to deliver viewers and voters to advertisers and politicians. They're used as clichés, as stereotypes that are short on meaning, and long on limbic impact. In this sense, the "free floating" nature of the signifiers isn't a bug, it's a feature.

However, that doesn't mean that such terms can't be used analytically and critically, as well. So, it's interesting to ponder just how deep Haidt's failure goes: he doesn't understand the underlying ideological frameworks in which his analysis is taking place, and he assumes his labels map onto actual socio-political behaviors in a way that is highly disputable.
posted by mondo dentro at 1:50 PM on October 31, 2014


Yeah, the argument that "race" or "gender" or "sexuality" or whatever other identity category is socially constructed does not mean "they don't exist," or anything of the sort. It argues that these are not a priori, objective qualities that define human nature. Instead, it holds that they are contingent, culturally defined categories built through the arbitrary* grouping together of a whole host of observed and imagined traits (some of which are biological, which is not the same as essential or determining), and that these definitions express, reinforce, and reproduce cultural ideological biases. The reason why social constructionists can support affirmative action without contradiction is that affirmative action and other similar programs are intended to counter the discriminatory effects of these identity categories and create something like a "level-playing field."

Now, one can argue, as someone like Slavoj Zizek does (and with whom I basically agree), that the problem with such programs -- and beyond that with liberal/leftist identity politics in general -- is that they do not really serve to deconstruct those social constructions, but only respond to them according to their own logic. That is, they attempt to ameliorate the negative effects of the social construction of identity, rather than reframe identity itself in such a way so that the categories of race, gender, whatever, no longer have meaning. I've mentioned it elsewhere on the blue -- Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time has some interesting attempts to try to think through something like this. I don't remember the exact details, and I don't have a copy of the book handy, but the future utopia that Piercy imagines has somehow managed to separate culture from race, so that, for example, there are "Native American" villages with people of all skin colors, but based in large part on values and practices associated with/descended from Native American culture. Similarly, there's mention of a "Harlem-culture" village (or something of the like) that we would probably describe as "African-American" in its culture (the food they cook, the way they speak, their music, etc.) but has both "black" and "white" people in it. Iain M. Banks' Culture novels also spring to mind, with their advanced technology that allows the free transformation across sexes, thus making the difference between "man" and "woman" (not to mention "gay" and "straight") largely irrelevant in terms of its cultural significance.

This isn't to say that one must abandon the goals motivating certain programs based in liberal identity politics. We must come to terms with and respond to the unequal treatment of people who are placed into (and come to identify with) these socially constructed categories. But I think that we have come to a dialectical limit in which we can see that simply extending the rights (or attempting to extend the rights) of the dominant group to the marginalized runs up against the inherent limits of remaining within the vocabulary of identity. Interestingly enough, the logic of neoliberal consumer capitalism has exposed this limit in many ways: one's race, sexuality, gender is now largely a vector for marketing, a way to maximize profit by pitching products to individuals based on what boxes they tick. (I'm reminded here of a scene from an episode of Community when the bigoted industrialist Pierce Hawthorne--played by Chevy Chase--discovers that gay men are big fans of his family company's moist towlettes: "Hawthorne Pride Wipes: They cost a bit more, but they're gayer!") What's needed, imho, is a further dialectical scission in which the categories of identity themselves are interrogated and deconstructed.

*which is not the same thing as "random" or "without reason." There are certainly "logics" behind the definitions of race, gender, etc., but as with any logic, the truth-value of the definitions depends on the premises with which you start. If you start from the idea that "skin color expresses an innate characteristic of an individual" then, yeah, racism makes a lot of sense.
posted by Saxon Kane at 1:52 PM on October 31, 2014 [3 favorites]


Most arguments in Congress are tied to changes in spending and taxation that amount to a few points of GDP either way.

I'm not exactly sure what you mean by "a few point of GDP either way" -- are you saying that these debates are about programs with substantial costs or programs with insubstantial costs? It sounds to me like the former, but please clarify if I'm mistaken.

Either way, although it is just one data point, I just received an email from the office of Sen. John McCain ("The McCain Update") which includes what they call "the top ten most absurd projects highlighted in this year’s Wastebook"

1. $19M to put federal government employees on paid “administrative leave” for disciplinary reasons – many for months or years at a time.
2. $387K in National Institutes of Health funding to give Swedish massages to rabbits.
3. $414K for the U.S. Army to build a first-person shooter video game that the Intelligence Community fears could be used to train terrorists.
4. $856K for the National Science Foundation to teach three captive mountain lions how to use a treadmill.
5. $200K anti-terror grant to Ithaca, NY – named America’s “most secure” small town – to buy state-of-the-art SWAT equipment.
6. $124.3M to contractor USIS that submitted 665,000 fake security background checks and gave Edward Snowden the all-clear.
7. $331K to study how often spouses stab voodoo dolls when they are “hangry.” [sic]
8. $171K to study what monkeys playing video games and gambling reveals about free will.
9. $146M in tax-free subsidies – which would otherwise fund public infrastructure projects – to build lavish sports stadiums.
10. $10K National Endowment for the Arts grant to produce “Zombie in Love,” a musical about a teenage zombie “dying to find true love."

Unless I did my math wrong, that's less that $300 million dollars ($291,669,000 to be exact). Seven of the top 10 "most absurd wastes of taxpayer dollars" McCain identifies are less than $1million each -- and total less than $2.5 million ($2,369,000). Now while I agree that some of these are ridiculous expenses (#s 3, 5, 6, and 9), this ain't anywhere near "a few points ... either way" of the U.S.' s 16.8 TRILLION dollar GDP. I'm sure there are other significant costs that get debated in Congress, but this list reads largely as traditional right-wing attacks on the humanities and the (non-economically productive) sciences (#s 2, 4, 7, 8, 10).
posted by Saxon Kane at 2:08 PM on October 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


spaltavian >

That's breathtakingly silly. The approach in all science is "it's that way because of nature". The idea is to understand those mechanisms, see what they do and when, and eventually, try to make them predictable.

I understand what you're saying, but I think you're mistaken: in social science, we generally reject explanations like that precisely because we aren't merely studying the mechanisms of the natural world, but rather are studying the structuration of the social world, and although policy-makers and other powerful interests want accurate predictions about what people will do, that's not even what most social scientists aspire to figure out. All the existing evidence suggests that the social world is not reducible to the characteristics of natural forces, but the strongest non-evo-psych proponents of that view in social science are the materialists, specifically Marxists. I don't think the hardcore Marxist deterministic explanations of observed social reality are very helpful, and I don't think EP's explanations are either.

I await your denunciation of physics on the basis that you can't learn anything new from the approach because the answer is always "particles".

Mere tautology is not explanation, though. Physicists don't say "gravity exists because that's just how the universe is," they investigate gravitation and then quantify and characterize effects, being guided by empirically-tested theory. Evolutionary psychology (or at least, all of it that I've seen) stops at the point of saying "these phenomena might be explicable in terms of evolution" and then never tests that possibility directly.

huguini >

You never read an evo-psych paper, did you?
If you care to, I recommend this one: Evolutionary Psychology - Controversies, Questions, Prospects, and Limitation


No, I have, and I just read what you posted there. I just don't see evo psych's claims as especially compelling. Here's an example from that article:

A recent example comes from a research program on “adaptive memory.” Nairne and his colleagues hypothesized that evolved memory systems should be at least somewhat domain specific, sensitive to certain kinds of content or information...They hypothesized that human memory should be especially sensitive to content relevant to evolutionary fitness, such as survival (e.g., food, predators, and shelter) and reproduction (e.g., mating).

Nothing in there is really objectionable, as hypothesis. So how do they test it?

Using a standard memory paradigm involving a scenario priming task and a surprise recall task, they found that words previously rated for survival relevance in scenarios were subsequently remembered at significantly higher rates than words rated for relevance in a variety of control scenario conditions.

It's not at all clear to me that this experiment has any real validity. The researchers asked people to remember 30 unrelated words and then tested their recall in relation to imaginary tasks and roles that they instructed the participants to assume. They found that people correctly recalled words more quickly in "hunting" and "gathering" roles than when they were asked to play a scavenger hunt. This is rather weak support for the claim that memory is domain-specific, and even weaker support for the idea that memory is "especially sensitive to content relevant to evolutionary fitness." It's just utterly unconvincing. The actual differences in recall times and accuracy are not very large and the experiment design itself is not exactly bulletproof.

It is worthwhile to explore differences in memory capacity and ability, and it's not unreasonable to hypothesize that memory is encoded differently under different circumstances. It's not obvious to me that memory is sufficiently well understood to begin speculating about causes for disparities that haven't even been well-described and repeatedly empirically verified yet.
posted by clockzero at 2:11 PM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


But I think that we have come to a dialectical limit in which we can see that simply extending the rights (or attempting to extend the rights) of the dominant group to the marginalized runs up against the inherent limits of remaining within the vocabulary of identity.

This sentence blew my mind with its pithiness. It's almost mathematical in the way so much theoretical heft is carried by so few symbols. Consider it stolen!

And thanks for the book suggestion. That sounds like a really interesting take on utopian society.
posted by mondo dentro at 2:11 PM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


Sorry, this is a farcical understatement when compared to actual "conservative" rhetoric, especially with the rise of the Tea Party.

So, I'm worried about this claim: it's specifically the part I want to disagree with. Part of the issue is that the Tea Party and the Republican Party and the groups that identify themselves as conservative are a bunch of different people. I think there's an actual problem identifying how those groups think and what those groups want, because those groups are made of individuals who vary pretty inconsistently in how they think and what they want.

Just one example: there's a whole host of people who think that government should not offer certain sorts of assistance that they call "welfare." But what they mean by "welfare" varies a lot, includes and excludes a lot of different services and cash transfers and tax treatments. Worse still, many people who oppose "welfare" think that the same program is justified or unjustified based on who will get it, and don't think that their brother-in-law's disability check is welfare while a stranger's disability check is.

The same thing goes for the Affordable Care Act: many of the Republicans who oppose it (and have voted to repeal repeatedly) want to abolish something they call "ObamaCare" and replace it with an almost exactly identical program (i.e. RomneyCare). So at least for the vast plurality of Republicans elected to federal office, it's clear that what's at stake is not a real difference in thinking or policy preference, but rather a partisan fight over votes which everyone is pretending is actually a deep ideological difference.

This is why I worry about equivocation: we argue about signifiers, not signifieds.
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:11 PM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


I've often disagreed with many of Jonathan Haight's conclusions, but I still kinda like him because he is engaging and forward thinking. Part of his problem is that he tends to be too idealistic, hoping to work through stalemates in divided America's political quagmire that many of us who are more cynical would just write-off completely. Haight's projects may not be perfect, and sure, there's lots that I could criticize, but he does offer alternative modes of looking at old problems, with some hope for the future, and I think that's worth something.
posted by ovvl at 2:51 PM on October 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


I just finished re-reading Freud's original evo-psych explanation for the development of a repression barrier in the animal nervous system so I'm getting a big kick out of this.
posted by meehawl at 3:09 PM on October 31, 2014


It's not at all clear to me that this experiment has any real validity. The researchers asked people to remember 30 unrelated words and then tested their recall in relation to imaginary tasks and roles that they instructed the participants to assume. They found that people correctly recalled words more quickly in "hunting" and "gathering" roles than when they were asked to play a scavenger hunt. This is rather weak support for the claim that memory is domain-specific, and even weaker support for the idea that memory is "especially sensitive to content relevant to evolutionary fitness." It's just utterly unconvincing. The actual differences in recall times and accuracy are not very large and the experiment design itself is not exactly bulletproof.

It's interesting to see a dubious priming study coming up here because sociologists like those a lot too!

Anyway I think one would be silly to dismiss the bits of evopsych pertaining directly to sexual selection but the farther you get from there, away from the basic ideas from evolutionary biology, and into "yes this simple biological thing totally explains this really complex cultural thing" the less it's worth.
posted by atoxyl at 3:57 PM on October 31, 2014


Why just male promiscuity?

Hasn't DNA testing shown pretty conclusively that females in many, many species like to get around, too?
posted by clawsoon at 4:17 PM on October 31, 2014


Hasn't DNA testing shown pretty conclusively that females in many, many species like to get around, too?

There are people pursuing evolutionary interpretations of female promiscuity. Red pill cult sort of people just don't like to talk about it, or you know, about science as a pluralistic endeavor at all.
posted by atoxyl at 4:39 PM on October 31, 2014


It's interesting to see a dubious priming study coming up here because sociologists like those a lot too!

Not any of the sociologists I know. Or have read. With the possible exception of social psychologists, who the rest of us are frankly kind of embarrassed about.
posted by clockzero at 5:04 PM on October 31, 2014


"The same thing goes for the Affordable Care Act: many of the Republicans who oppose it (and have voted to repeal repeatedly) want to abolish something they call "ObamaCare" and replace it with an almost exactly identical program (i.e. RomneyCare). "

That's nonsense. You know how I know? Because they say so. The Republican alternative is not Romneycare — Obamacare is Romneycare, by and large. But because Obama pushed it, their proposal eliminates many of the things that made Romneycare functional, including the individual mandate and guaranteed ability to get an affordable plan that covers most medical costs.

"So at least for the vast plurality of Republicans elected to federal office, it's clear that what's at stake is not a real difference in thinking or policy preference, but rather a partisan fight over votes which everyone is pretending is actually a deep ideological difference. "

This is not true either historically or philosophically, and is one of those glib disinterested comments that either relies on over-broad definition of "real differences" (it is true that voters aren't deciding between Hitler and Ghandi) or a distance from the effects of those differences.

Again, what would be revanchist or reactionary politics to you? For me, shutting down the federal government is a real difference in my life and the lives of many people I know, and that was over the ACA. Was that not real? Did we dream it? Are laws like Texas's restriction on abortions not having a real impact or indicative of a real political difference? For the people whose unemployment benefits were cut, that didn't stem from a "real" difference, but only partisan posturing?

You're right that neither political party nor general ideology is entirely consistent or coherent, but that doesn't mean that these are middling differences dressed up in kayfabe. This isn't just signifiers — these are real differences.
posted by klangklangston at 5:18 PM on October 31, 2014 [4 favorites]


Not any of the sociologists I know. Or have read. With the possible exception of social psychologists, who the rest of us are frankly kind of embarrassed about.

I'm not really taking a shot at soc. Actually my only personal acquaintance in the field is a very rigorous statistician type. I suppose the oh-so- versatile priming task - which I'm not dismissing completely, but I suspect you know what I'm getting at - really originates with psychology. I'm totally thinking of social psychology - wasn't Dietrich Stapel a priming guy? - and I may have kind of an outdated concept of the mainstream of sociology that I thought that was still part of it.

Heh, now I know why everybody wants to be a "cognitive scientist" these days.
posted by atoxyl at 5:46 PM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


it's clear that what's at stake is not a real difference in thinking or policy preference, but rather a partisan fight over votes which everyone is pretending is actually a deep ideological difference.

Maybe, if you're a straight white male. The women and people of color I know find it to be a rather different situation, not to mention the GLBT community.
posted by happyroach at 6:45 PM on October 31, 2014 [3 favorites]


happyroach, neither straight white male experience are all alike, neither women, people of color or people from the GLBT community experiences are all alike.
posted by huguini at 9:12 AM on November 1, 2014


I don't think you understood at all what happyroach was referring to.

anotherpanacea is arguing that the differences between Republican and Democrat amount to not much more than different packaging on the same product; not ideology, just trying to get votes with slightly different words.

happyroach is pointing out (and I agree) that is only true if you are straight, white, and male. If you aren't one or more of those things, there are severe ideological differences between D and R, namely the policies espoused by the Republicans that are inimical to those who are queer, of colour, and/or women.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:18 AM on November 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


Am I correct in interpreting what you're saying as "because Republicans promote policies against women, people of color or people from the GLBT community no one is these groups thinks the differences between democrats and republicans are fluff"? Only a straight white male can think that.
Is this it?
posted by huguini at 9:27 AM on November 1, 2014


It is something that queer/PoC/female people are much, much less likely to think, yes.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:29 AM on November 1, 2014


That's nonsense. You know how I know? Because they say so. The Republican alternative is not Romneycare — Obamacare is Romneycare, by and large. But because Obama pushed it, their proposal eliminates many of the things that made Romneycare functional, including the individual mandate and guaranteed ability to get an affordable plan that covers most medical costs.

So I argued that there are no consistent Republican policy positions (because free-floating signifier) and their rhetoric is designed to make very small differences look large, and your response is that what I said is nonsense because the Republicans have completely changed their position on a major piece of policy and we know that because of their rhetoric?

The Republicans are probably gonna control Congress in January. And they're still not going to overturn the Affordable Care Act. They won't even get a bill to the President for him to veto, unless it's a small package of minor reforms. Which is good!

Of course there are real differences between the parties. But they're not nearly as big as the parties and their adherents like to pretend, even as the parties have grown a lot more polarized (which is to say, the differences used to be even smaller!) One of these parties is not communist, and the other party is not libertarian. At most, Democrats want to raise federal spending by a few points of GDP. At most, Republicans want to cut federal spending by a few points of GDP.

African-Americans are still killed and incarcerated in large numbers by cops in Democratic cities. Women are still raped and abused in Democratic strongholds. The things that matter most to these groups are very rarely even on the ballot or in front of the relevant politician: the one exception is abortion, and in the states where it's on the ballot, women (50% of whom think abortion is morally wrong) are voting against it too.

So I'm going to stick with my "nonsense": almost all of the things we think about politics, especially about the other party, just aren't true.

Here's what's true, to the best of my knowledge:

Most of what drives political radicalism among our representatives are the way that we have sorted ourselves into partisan enclaves, the way the primary system has changed, and the strong restrictions on "pork" which used to grease the skids of bipartisanship. (Campaign Finance issues, too.)

There are many questions about whether the electorate has changed as well, but the best evidence suggests that we're just as mixed up ideologically as we always were: as an empirical matter, ordinary Americans do not use these abstract terms in the same way partisan intellectuals do. Self-classified liberals tend to have liberal views on specific policy issues, but self-classified conservatives are much more heterogeneous; many, even majorities, express liberal views on specific issues, such as abortion rights, gun control and drug law reform.

That is, the supposed moderation of the electorate is a myth. It's probably more sensible to say that we're all over the place, radically liberal and conservative and sometimes moderate too: citizens often support policies on both sides of the ideological spectrum, but these policies are often not moderate.

What's more, President Obama has largely left Bush-era foreign policy in place.

The one place where the parties' policies and practices really diverge is gay rights. And that's only recently: remember that it was Clinton who signed the Defense of Marriage Act. And the divergence is not going to last for long.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:33 AM on November 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


For those of us who aren't straight white males with money, those differences are actually enormous. You can say otherwise as much as you like, but it won't make it so.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:38 AM on November 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


anotherpanacea: At most, Democrats want to raise federal spending by a few points of GDP. At most, Republicans want to cut federal spending by a few points of GDP.

The United States GDP is around 4 times the size of the federal budget, meaning that "a few points of GDP" is four times that number as a percentage of the federal budget. Now "a few" gives you wiggle room here, but I assume it doesn't mean "1% of GDP" or 4% of the federal budget, but rather something closer to, say, 3% of GDP, or 12% of the federal budget.

With those stipulations, I think your dismissive characterization of "a few points of GDP" is drawn into sharp relief. I happen to think that's not a bad educated guess as to what's at stake, but we're not talking about nickels and dimes here. A 12% cut to the federal budget, especially at this time with an economy that's slowly trying to recover, would be devastating.

And let's remember that the rhetoric they're running on suggests they want to cut even deeper than that. 12% is about the size of all of the non-healthcare non-Social Security safety net programs combined, which most Republicans aren't shy about wanting to gut. But why would they stop there? They're quite happy naming entire cabinet-level agencies they'd get rid of, and even if you think that's just rhetoric, the voters are going to hold them to their promises.

So yeah, I think you're being really cavalier about this, and couching it in misleading terms like "a few points of GDP" leaves me feeling like you haven't really thought this through.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:29 AM on November 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


For those of us who aren't straight white males with money, those differences are actually enormous.

Glad you can speak for the majority of the population. I'll get back to you any time I need to poll the world about something.
posted by huguini at 11:08 AM on November 1, 2014


You're not understanding at all, are you?

Republican policies favour straight (by being anti-queer), white, men (by generally being anti-woman; anti-abortion laws are just the most prominent thing really), with money (duhhh).

Is this unclear, somehow?

anotherpanacea is claiming that the differences between Republicans and Democrats are more or less just cosmetic. That is not the case if you are a woman (Democrats are generally pro choice), of colour (Democrats tend to fight against racist policy), queer (Democrats are not, now, enacting anti-gay legislation; the opposite actually), or poor (Democrats aren't trying to dismantle social programs).
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:17 AM on November 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


If someone says 'women and LGTBQ PEOPLE and PoC feel x', it's fair to criticize them for arrogance.

If someone makes an argument that x is materially (e.g., politically, economically, legally) true for women and LGTBQ PEOPLE and PoC, then it's not fair to dismiss them without making a counter-argument.

feckless fecal fear mongering is making an argument about what the material truth is. If one doesn't believe it, one can certainly make an argument to that effect. But it's not fair to say they're arguing about feelings when they're arguing about material facts.
posted by lodurr at 1:31 PM on November 1, 2014


So yeah, I think you're being really cavalier about this, and couching it in misleading terms like "a few points of GDP" leaves me feeling like you haven't really thought this through.

I think you're missing my point. Please remember that we're in a thread about the supposed fundamental psychological and deep-rooted ideological differences between liberals and conservatives. This is about whether there's something it's like to have a "Republican brain," and whether social science done by "Democrat brains" is impoverished.

I'm not saying that there are no viable policy differences which could make important differences for people's lives, I'm just saying that (A) the differences between viable policies don't actually reflect the true panoply of possible policies and (B) they don't extend from some fundamental difference in psychology or ideology. We're not choosing between socialism and objectivism: we're choosing between different varieties of neoliberalism.

Of course, some versions of proposed policies would capture much more of GDP: for instance, I favor a basic income guarantee that would likely involve roughly 10-15% of GDP, though I would argue that cash transfers have very low dead weight costs and that the redistributive elements would be stimulative. Paul Ryan's Medicare Plan would cut spending by something like 10 points of GDP, but only in 2080. But neither policy has a chance in hell of passing, nor are they the product of fundamental psychological modules.

That said, if someone does discover a "basic income" brain module, I hope it gets named after me: "anotherpanacea's region" has a nice ring to it.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:44 PM on November 1, 2014


(B) they don't extend from some fundamental difference in psychology or ideology.

Are you actually saying that there is no fundamental difference in ideology between "queer people are equal and deserve equal rights" and "queer people need to shut up and really their sex acts should be illegal, don't even think about adoption or marriage"?

That there is no fundamental difference in ideology between "a woman has the right to decide what she wants to do with her own body" and "women are baby factories, and birth control is bad"?

Seriously?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:15 PM on November 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


Also, a 'viable' policy is any policy that can be enacted. The Republicans haven't exactly been stinting on the ludicrous over the past few years, state or federal.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:21 PM on November 1, 2014


I think there definitely is something to be said for the argument that the Democrat and Republican parties, in certain very important areas -- like foreign policy or more generally the adoption of neoliberal capitalist values -- are defined more by their similarities than their differences. This is extremely important, because their differences on social issues (gay rights, women's rights, etc.) ultimately cannot be seen independently from their other ideological positions; furthermore, I would argue that truly dealing with the social inequities that concern most "liberals" cannot ever be accomplished without a fundamental change in economic and foreign policy that neither party is likely to adopt.

That said, the notion that the parties are defined by their differing attitudes towards government spending is pretty simplistic and wrongheaded, and it falls into the right-wing "Spend-o-crat" rhetoric. The Republican party doesn't really want to curb government spending or shrink government. OK, maybe some of the more extreme Tea Partiers do, but Paleocons and Neocons alike really only want to cut spending on social programs, welfare, funding for the arts and humanities, etc. They are more than happy to throw billions of dollars at military contractors and big corporations. Unfortunately, many Democrats don't have a problem with this either. Perhaps the right does imagine an eventual withering away of the government, in a sort of inverse Marxism where the State eventually gives way to direct corporate management of all aspects of life, but the rhetoric about "cutting spending" and "belt-tightening" is mostly a smokescreen.
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:49 AM on November 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


An opposition candidate from any state must act and sound like the other party in order to be elected, and when they caucus with others in their party, they invite negative comparisons of the entire party, without the state-by-state election system being considered for blame. I would argue that the easiest patch imaginable to the spoiler system should be attempted soon. Why spend billions for generations to fight the same battle each year, which might be resolved with a ballot reform? I propose we simply allow votes for a straight ticket party AND/OR a candidate in each field. No ballot changes necessary in many states. Here is a pitch to do the opposite, but for the same reasons, without considering the option of counting both (which serves as a tie-breaker too).
posted by Brian B. at 11:39 AM on November 2, 2014


the notion that the parties are defined by their differing attitudes towards government spending is pretty simplistic and wrongheaded

I've spent the entire thread saying that spending is not a way to distinguish the parties. The best evidence suggests that there is no essential difference; all the differences between the parties are the product of medium-term political and demographic considerations. After all, Lincoln was a Republican, and Strom Thurmound started his career as a Democrat, because the Southern Democrats were segregationists. You can find switches like this on most issues of current concern.

These things shift over time because there's no deep-rooted ideological essences that define the parties forever; they redefine themselves every election in a contest for votes. Bill Clinton ran on shrinking the social safety net, and his wife will run on expanding it. GWBush ran on smaller government and then massively expanding Medicare and the the national security state. Jeb Bush, if he runs, will almost certainly run to the left of GWB and even of Hillary Clinton on some major issues in finance and banking in an effort to appear moderate. Rand Paul, if he runs, will campaign to the left of Hillary Clinton on foreign affairs and national security.

As I mentioned, gay marriage is likely over as a national issue for the Republicans (they'll leave it up to States who will have to keep legalizing it.) We'll certainly still argue about antidiscrimination laws, though I don't see Democrats pushing as hard as they ought on these fronts. But big demographic shifts will change how the parties think about social issues.

Right now, the Democratic party has a vast majority in the African-American community: Republicans are worse almost everywhere for African-Americans, of course. But there are a lot of African-Americans who wish they had an alternative: just ask Angela Davis and Cornel West and Michelle Alexander and anyone else who works on prisons and mass incarceration and policing and poverty. When push comes to shove, you vote Democrat right now because the alternative is worse. But that's not at all an endorsement of the Democratic Party or something that should define a lifetime of allegiance and loyalty: it's *should* be just a strategic decision.

What we know is that human beings tend to seize on a few policy issues that matter to them, select a party on that basis, and then adopt a lot of the other policies of that party as equally important. This gets odd when the parties change policy positions (for electoral reasons) and partisans change their own views as if these things were demanded by rationality (often backdating their new policy beliefs as if they hadn't changed at all) rather than merely a response to politicians competing for votes.

And that's why, as I've said repeatedly, there's no *essential* (eternal, unchanging, or foundational) difference between the parties or the ideologies that animate them.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:17 AM on November 3, 2014


... *essential* (eternal, unchanging, or foundational) difference ....

... is rather a high bar.
posted by lodurr at 8:58 AM on November 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Not in a thread about Haidt it's not.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:03 AM on November 3, 2014


Hating women has been a Republican ideology for a long enough time that it could be considered essential. You're really, really not getting what we're saying. Maybe in some abstract philosophical sense there might be no real difference, but here in the real world where Republicans act, there are actual and real differences that matter.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:48 AM on November 3, 2014


I've spent the entire thread saying that spending is not a way to distinguish the parties.

I guess I must have misunderstood when you said that they differed on changes in spending and taxation that amount to a few points of GDP either way. It seems that you meant that a few points of GDP either way is insubstantial.
posted by Saxon Kane at 5:50 PM on November 3, 2014


I don't understand how science can be "liberal" or "conservative." Science is science, right?

In these cases, the angst seems to be over how the science/data will be employed, rightly or wrongly, in some prescriptive way they feel is negative for society in general.


What the New Yorker article about Haidt claims, and which I don't think anyone in the thread has really addressed yet, is that there is substantial research showing that peer reviewers are more likely to reject papers when the results contradict their existing beliefs.

I don't see that Haidt has made any attempt to document how significant the impact of that kind of bias is, but it's possible that it could be significant enough to distort the overall scientific consensus on research relating to controversial social topics.
posted by straight at 11:37 AM on November 4, 2014


Science is science, right?

Science is a complex, ever-changing set of operations and concepts created by and performed by human beings, with all their biases. Or, to quote the title of a book by Steven Shapin: Never Pure: Historical Studies of Science as if It Was Produced by People with Bodies, Situated in Time, Space, Culture, and Society, and Struggling for Credibility and Authority
posted by Saxon Kane at 6:35 AM on November 5, 2014


"So I argued that there are no consistent Republican policy positions (because free-floating signifier) and their rhetoric is designed to make very small differences look large, and your response is that what I said is nonsense because the Republicans have completely changed their position on a major piece of policy and we know that because of their rhetoric?"

No, what I'm arguing is that their actions are consistent with their rhetoric, and that their rhetoric is both a reasonable statement of intention and describes significant ideological differences. Also, they have not completely changed their position on a major piece of policy; despite your equivocation "Romneycare" and "Obamacare" have significant differences.

"The Republicans are probably gonna control Congress in January. And they're still not going to overturn the Affordable Care Act. They won't even get a bill to the President for him to veto, unless it's a small package of minor reforms. Which is good! "

The capacity to effect change does not inherently represent the limits of the desire to effect change.

"Of course there are real differences between the parties. But they're not nearly as big as the parties and their adherents like to pretend, even as the parties have grown a lot more polarized (which is to say, the differences used to be even smaller!) One of these parties is not communist, and the other party is not libertarian"

"Libertarian" isn't the opposite of "communist," and you're engaging in the "both sides do it" equivocation while ignoring the asymmetry of the shift in partisanship. And those "real differences" have real, significant impacts on the lives of citizens. Those differences matter, and minimizing them with "not as big" just makes you look lucky to be removed from the sharp edge of the wedge.

At most, Democrats want to raise federal spending by a few points of GDP. At most, Republicans want to cut federal spending by a few points of GDP.

Why, a million here, a million there, soon enough you're talking about real money!

"African-Americans are still killed and incarcerated in large numbers by cops in Democratic cities. Women are still raped and abused in Democratic strongholds. The things that matter most to these groups are very rarely even on the ballot or in front of the relevant politician: the one exception is abortion, and in the states where it's on the ballot, women (50% of whom think abortion is morally wrong) are voting against it too."

This is fatuous to the point of distraction — with these absolutes, yes, there will always be likely no difference in any policy. African-Americans are likely to be killed and incarcerated by cops in any city, and women are still raped and abused in every city. But that doesn't mean that there's no difference between Democrats and Republicans. For instance, women are paid less than men in Democratic states as well as Republican states, but the gap decreases in correlation with votes for Democrats. Making blanket assertions of absolutes doesn't support your argument (and neither does the vague notion that we could be voting on whether or not women get raped or abused). The vacuity of the statement becomes apparent when it's expanded: Women are disproportionately victims of violence in both Sudan and America. Under your formulation, that would mean that there are no real ideological differences in the treatment of women, which is absurd.

"So I'm going to stick with my "nonsense": almost all of the things we think about politics, especially about the other party, just aren't true."

You haven't actually supported it, and instead have put forth a vague muddle of practicality, absurdity and irrelevance.

"Most of what drives political radicalism among our representatives are the way that we have sorted ourselves into partisan enclaves, the way the primary system has changed, and the strong restrictions on "pork" which used to grease the skids of bipartisanship. (Campaign Finance issues, too.)"

The "way the primary system has changed" directly contradicts your contention; it says that increased use of open primary systems has led to more moderate and more representative elected officials. Aside from that, no one is arguing against those points.

"There are many questions about whether the electorate has changed as well, but the best evidence suggests that we're just as mixed up ideologically as we always were: as an empirical matter, ordinary Americans do not use these abstract terms in the same way partisan intellectuals do. Self-classified liberals tend to have liberal views on specific policy issues, but self-classified conservatives are much more heterogeneous; many, even majorities, express liberal views on specific issues, such as abortion rights, gun control and drug law reform."

The only thing that article supports is drawing a distinction between elected Republicans and members of the public who identify as conservatives. Which I mentioned upthread, but that does not support your contention that "So at least for the vast plurality of Republicans elected to federal office, it's clear that what's at stake is not a real difference in thinking or policy preference, but rather a partisan fight over votes which everyone is pretending is actually a deep ideological difference."

From the article: "Thus, while the electorate at large has changed little during the course of the past generation, there is a closer connection between partisanship on the one hand and issues and ideology on the other, resulting in the kind of partisan warfare common today."

"That is, the supposed moderation of the electorate is a myth. It's probably more sensible to say that we're all over the place, radically liberal and conservative and sometimes moderate too: citizens often support policies on both sides of the ideological spectrum, but these policies are often not moderate.

That article, while interesting, also does not support your point. While the electorate is more a stew than a soup, that doesn't mean that the elected leaders don't have an ideology or aren't more extreme — by virtue of being elected by a public that has a mix of immoderate issue positions, elected leaders would be more likely to have multiple immoderate issue positions.


"I think you're missing my point. Please remember that we're in a thread about the supposed fundamental psychological and deep-rooted ideological differences between liberals and conservatives. This is about whether there's something it's like to have a "Republican brain," and whether social science done by "Democrat brains" is impoverished."

No, as this sub-conversation came out of you objecting to me describing self-identified "conservatives" as revanchists. You countered and said that there was little actual ideological difference between the two, and that rhetoric couldn't be taken as a legitimate signal of either ideology or programatic goals. You overstated your position.

I'm not saying that there are no viable policy differences which could make important differences for people's lives, I'm just saying that (A) the differences between viable policies don't actually reflect the true panoply of possible policies and (B) they don't extend from some fundamental difference in psychology or ideology. We're not choosing between socialism and objectivism: we're choosing between different varieties of neoliberalism.

The argument that policy differences don't extend from fundamental differences in ideology is the sticking point, and the part that you haven't supported. With regard to social issues especially, the ideological differences are apparent and significant, but those ideological differences are also reflected in budgetary discussions. By positioning Republicans and Democrats against Vermin Supreme, you're right that there's less difference than similarities — no serious politician is proposing enforced tooth-brushing. But you're making a mistake in stating that the differences aren't significant or don't come from different ideological underpinnings.

"And that's why, as I've said repeatedly, there's no *essential* (eternal, unchanging, or foundational) difference between the parties or the ideologies that animate them."

Which is sophistry if the labels change but the orientations and framings don't. And your reductive views of the campaigns for president, Clinton specifically, are cherry-picked to make them seem more contradictory than they are — Clinton didn't campaign on shrinking the social safety net; he did campaign on "welfare reform." And further, by that definition, there are no essential differences between words either, because they're not eternal, unchanging or foundational. In fact, I'm not sure you could come up with anything outside of hard science that would meet that criteria, which should be a mark against it being a cogent argument.

You're making me defend Haidt more than I want to, but understanding different ideologies in terms of what they value and prioritize does highlight salient and remarkably persistent differences. The way you're attempting to hand-wave that away quickly devolves into spurious contrasts, the equivalent of saying that having a beard and being clean shaven are pretty much the same thing because neither is a chitinous face mask.
posted by klangklangston at 2:36 PM on November 6, 2014 [4 favorites]


The capacity to effect change does not inherently represent the limits of the desire to effect change.

I think this really gets at what's wrong with the argument "it's only a couple of points of GDP, there's no real ideological difference".

I can imagine a Democrat in 1980 shrugging and voting for Reagan thinking the same thing. Elections can have apparently idiosyncratic stances, but governing has been a series of cumulative projects. Universal healthcare, which the ACA is the closest approximation Obama could get through, is the keystone in a liberal project going back to the New Deal. There is some truth to the malleability of the parties, as you can argue the project actually goes back to the Square Deal, but the internal GOP opposition to TR is telling.

If you only judged ideology by the bills passed, you would completely miss how reactionary Reagan was. Saying Clinton ran on cutting the safety net misses that he went Right after nearly tanking his presidency in a sincere but futile attempt to pass universal healthcare.

Eternal? No. But the Democratic Party has been ideologically coherent on economics for a century. The real ideological change was civil rights, though you can see antecedents with their relationship with immigrant communities in the North.
posted by spaltavian at 6:52 AM on November 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


Which is sophistry if the labels change but the orientations and framings don't.

Yes, I agree. But the orientations and framings do change. Conservatives birthed the Progressive movement, 18th century liberals were anti-monarchist but pro-markets. There's no essential there, there. That's the point I've been trying to make, and the point that Haidt has made his name defying (with cherry-picked evidence of his own). I think the best evidence is that orientations and framings do change, that politics has always created weird alliances of interests and factions that then get solidified into something we call ideological consistency, but that that ideological consistency has always been a sham, a way to justify arbitrary constellations of interests in a way that makes sense of the mess underneath.

According to Haidt, the problem is that liberals somehow just don't recognize several fundamental moral intutions: we don't think purity, loyalty, and appropriate authority matter. So he's been telling this "liberals have broken moral compasses" story for a while now, and it's dumb. The liberal response has largely been to say that Haidt's description is right (we don't care about purity, ingroup loyalty, or hierarchical moral intutions) but that this is really us being rational and overcoming bad impulses.

I think that story is bullshit, too: everyone on both sides of partisan debates finds ways to incorporate the full panoply of moral intuitions. We just do it differently, on different topics: liberals don't find homosexuality unpure and thus immoral, we find GMOs and pollution unpure and thus immoral. We don't respect priests, we respect scientists. Etc.

So if that's right, then there's nothing intrinsicially better about "including" conservative researchers. You won't be including lost moral intutions or perspectives.

The greater question is whether we need to include, not conservatives, but Republicans. That without their arbitrary ideological constellations, our research communities are prone to systematic errors and biases. So far, I haven't found the evidence here particularly persuasive, but in large part that's because the real biases are disciplinary and not partisan. When sociologists disagree on the role of evo psych, disciplinary distinctions seem to drive partisan affiliation, and not vice versa.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:58 AM on November 7, 2014


Yes, I agree. But the orientations and framings do change. Conservatives birthed the Progressive movement, 18th century liberals were anti-monarchist but pro-markets. There's no essential there, there.

You're playing with scale way too much there. The fact that 18th century liberals would be to the right of most Republicans on economics today tells us nothing about post-War ideological differences. Sure, if you want to expand the scale that much, you can make a lot Slate-pitch arguments like "FDR was an arch-conservative". But if you're going to look at multiple centuries, you have to look at equally long political trends, not cherry-pick policy arguments from 2014 and bounce them off the specific context of 1789. Like I said before, the positions are not eternal, but are stable for long multi-decade periods. When they change, they are usually evolutionary, not revolutionary.

The research on cognitive and emotional differences between liberals and conservatives suggests that there's more to ideology than just masked interests. Who knows, Petrarch may have had a "liberal brain" and could have been a liberal in 21st century, not just the 14th.
posted by spaltavian at 8:04 AM on November 7, 2014 [3 favorites]


The research on cognitive and emotional differences between liberals and conservatives suggests that there's more to ideology than just masked interests.

OK! Let's have this fight! There is a lot of this kind of research. But it has some issues: for one, it suffers from WEIRD effects, and the sample sizes are pretty small.

For another, we can only run the studies on today's conservatives. So when we see people trying to create multi-epoch generalizations about conservative and liberals brains, I worry that they're really going well beyond the available evidence, ignoring ceteris paribus problems, and generally engaged in the kind of essentialism that most of us would reject for race and gender, for good reason!

A lot of this research is designed to catch liberals out, trick us into making certain kinds of mistakes: "Tolerance requires tolerating homophobia!" kinds of mistakes. So it's good to be wary.

Lastly, while I agree it's crazy to call FDR a conservative, there's a meaningful sense in which it's conservative to want to preserve Social Security, Medicaid, and unions. Those things have the authority of tradition behind them! But somehow it's a Slate-pitch (i.e. stupid contrarianism) to suggest that Republicans are the radical neophiles in a lot of public policy areas. Many Republicans want to run massive free market experiments on the populace. I think they may well be the radicals here!
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:17 AM on November 7, 2014


I don't think it's useful to switch between different meanings of "conservative" and use that as an example of malleability of ideology. Trying to maintain the social safety net might be conservative in the sense of political process, but it's still liberal in an ideological sense. Right and left do evolve, but over decades and centuries, where as "change" vs "don't change" is a function of who is winning.

An anarcho-syndicalist commune voting down the "Private Property and Wage Slavery Proposal" isn't displaying conservative tendencies in a sense worth talking about.

Again, there's a scale problem. It's "conservative" to want to preserve Social Security on a 50 year scale, but it's very liberal on a 100 year scale, and lefty utopian foolishness on a 150 time frame. That's what klangklangston was saying about revanchism.

OK! Let's have this fight! There is a lot of this kind of research. But it has some issues: for one, it suffers from WEIRD effects, and the sample sizes are pretty small.

Sure, but it seems weird to be so confident that ideology is really just a mask for interests but be unwilling to countenance it could also reflect differences in thought patterns. I mean, otherwise, why would so many rural poor people support the GOP? Why is the upper-middle class a swing vote, rather than securely Republican? Sheer interest can't explain all voting behavior.
posted by spaltavian at 8:40 AM on November 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


I don't think it's useful to switch between different meanings of "conservative" and use that as an example of malleability of ideology.

But this is the problem with the research! It allows different policy positions to stand in for "conservative" and "liberal" over time, and thereby claims that the same mindset is present throughout, regardless of the label applied. It's messier to say: things are different and there aren't steady patterns over time. But the world is (or at least might be) that messy.

I mean, otherwise, why would so many rural poor people support the GOP?

So there are many hypotheses, here. But the idea that it's some matter of fundamental psychology seems as odd as the idea that it's just habit.

Another possibility is that we think through policies and choices in communities, and these communities have biases. This is sometimes called the cultural cognition approach. On that view, poor rural communities vote Republican not because of their material interests are supported by Republican ideology, but because Republican politicians are able to endorse the deep values associated with the symbols, habits, and practices that your community endorses.

So community A values guns, and associates guns with individual freedom. Community B could instead value bicycles and associate THOSE with individual freedom. In the Gun community, the politician who talks about individual freedom gets my vote. In the Bike community, the politician who talks about individual freedom gets my vote. But there's no intrinsic policy association between the two communities. Community C could value bicycles and associate them with communal responsibility and environmentalism, and so the politician who talks about the shared responsibility gets my vote! Meanwhile, Community D values guns and associates them with the civic virtue of taking responsibility for the mutual defense, and the politician who talks about shared responsibility gets my vote.

If the cultural cognition view is correct, it's not ideology or psychology that is driving my voting, it's identity protective cognition.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:25 AM on November 7, 2014


"Yes, I agree. But the orientations and framings do change. Conservatives birthed the Progressive movement, 18th century liberals were anti-monarchist but pro-markets. There's no essential there, there. That's the point I've been trying to make, and the point that Haidt has made his name defying (with cherry-picked evidence of his own). I think the best evidence is that orientations and framings do change, that politics has always created weird alliances of interests and factions that then get solidified into something we call ideological consistency, but that that ideological consistency has always been a sham, a way to justify arbitrary constellations of interests in a way that makes sense of the mess underneath."

That's not actually an argument that the orientations and framings do change; that "liberals" (now "classic liberal") is closer to libertarian does not mean that the underlying values and orientations are different in any given polity, simply how they organize themselves. And I think that there are a lot of fairly consistent ideologues — most political philosophy counts consistency as a virtue, and there have certainly been many published normative political philosophers.

"According to Haidt, the problem is that liberals somehow just don't recognize several fundamental moral intutions: we don't think purity, loyalty, and appropriate authority matter. So he's been telling this "liberals have broken moral compasses" story for a while now, and it's dumb. The liberal response has largely been to say that Haidt's description is right (we don't care about purity, ingroup loyalty, or hierarchical moral intutions) but that this is really us being rational and overcoming bad impulses.

I think that story is bullshit, too: everyone on both sides of partisan debates finds ways to incorporate the full panoply of moral intuitions. We just do it differently, on different topics: liberals don't find homosexuality unpure and thus immoral, we find GMOs and pollution unpure and thus immoral. We don't respect priests, we respect scientists. Etc.
"

So, with Haidt, he actually points that liberals (in general) do value food purity. And it doesn't have to be that liberals don't value them at all or have a broken moral compass, but that they place relatively different weights on different values.

Like I mentioned upthread, I'm not really trying to defend Haidt too much; I do think that a lot of his arguments are facile at best (there are a lot of examples that he cites that could be placed in several different value categories, reminding me of the Donny Darko "love versus fear" scene). And I do think that Haidt is enjoying his moment in the contrarian conservative sun and has thus oversold a lot of his research in a way that is pretty dumb toward liberals. I agree with you in general, but I still see some value in the conceptualizations that he's using, not least because I know from LGBT advocacy that many of the insights he recommends are actually effective in appealing to people outside of the base. I just think that you're erring too much on the side of Hereclitus in denying unifying political ideological themes and that you're too willing to chalk thematic consistency up to coincidence.

"So if that's right, then there's nothing intrinsicially better about "including" conservative researchers. You won't be including lost moral intutions or perspectives."

There will be some perspectives that will be lost, certainly. For example, years ago I ended up in a debate with a conservative poli-sci prof about a ballot proposal to form a green belt around the city I lived in at the time. Since I lived out on the edge of what would be the greenbelt and saw the development of that sprawl as both environmentally and socially undesirable (removing pressure to do more development inside the city, where urbanism was needed), I was arguing for the greenbelt. His position was that the greenbelt would have the unintended consequence of increasing housing prices by decreasing supply, and that the weak language of the greenbelt wouldn't actually prevent the development of more sprawl. While the audience (mostly liberal) thought I won the debate, I was actually wrong about the long-term effects; he was right. The greenbelt initiative should have been defeated and either rewritten or those goals approached through other means. His conservative orientation made him see flaws that I ignored.

The other side of that is that while plenty of conservative perspectives are lost through the general over-representation of liberals in social science, not all of those conservative perspectives are worthwhile. I'd argue that a goodly proportion are pure bunk, at least given what's subsidized through conservative think tanks. Many of them start with premises that have been thoroughly deprecated, like the Laffer curve, and then build up from there.

"Lastly, while I agree it's crazy to call FDR a conservative, there's a meaningful sense in which it's conservative to want to preserve Social Security, Medicaid, and unions. Those things have the authority of tradition behind them! But somehow it's a Slate-pitch (i.e. stupid contrarianism) to suggest that Republicans are the radical neophiles in a lot of public policy areas. Many Republicans want to run massive free market experiments on the populace. I think they may well be the radicals here!"

Dude, that's what I was saying upthread that you said was almost certainly wrong! Glad to have persuaded you, but sheesh!
posted by klangklangston at 5:15 PM on November 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


I mean, otherwise, why would so many rural poor people support the GOP?

My guess is that they are typically self-employed and/or tend to work temporary jobs for cash, utilizing the environment, and thus identify with billionaires before they would empathize with the average wage slave or student.

As for differences between left and right, I remember the controversy when it was discovered that conservatives had a difficult time reversing a simple routine, but this site has a large list of differences as well.
posted by Brian B. at 2:50 PM on November 8, 2014


I mean, otherwise, why would so many rural poor people support the GOP?

My guess is that they are typically self-employed and/or tend to work temporary jobs for cash, utilizing the environment, and thus identify with billionaires before they would empathize with the average wage slave or student.

There's an entire underground economy of disability (often dubious) in the South and Appalachia, but since these programs aren't called "welfare", they can mask the sting of people on the dole. Between disability, unemployment and the military, the "red state" economy is strongly subsidized by the system those billionaires are trying to dismantle.

My question was rhetorical; I'm aware of the "What's the Matter with Kansas?" and the "identity" theses and largely agree with them. My point was that ideology cannot be totally explained as a thinly veiled rationalization for interests as argued above. The counter argument given was that these people have been duped, and think they are voting for their interests, thereby saving the "ideology isn't really real" position.

I think it's a mistake to argue that most of these voters are duped: most of them don't believe that they are going to be richer under a Republican president; and they tend to be extremely cynical. Most of them barely pay taxes as it is*. This people are making choices not necessarily based on personal best interests, but out of a belief it what's "right" (e.g., religious social conservatism, military adventurism), distrust of elites and, in some cases, bigotry. These are classic rural parochial interests: fairly enduring beliefs that inform ideology, and only loosely tied to self-interest. Quite different from the argument above.

*Upper middle class voters are a different story, as they would see immediate benefit from Republican control; the issue there is myopically seeking short term benefit as the cost of greater long term benefits. The "they've been had" argument is actually a lot strong here; but even the leadership may be under the same delusion.
posted by spaltavian at 6:45 AM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


I just think that you're erring too much on the side of Hereclitus in denying unifying political ideological themes and that you're too willing to chalk thematic consistency up to coincidence.

I love the Donnie Darko reference: that hits home to my reading as well. I just don't think you can give a good account of what's going on cross-culturally or over any lengthy period of time when you look at what counts as ideological consistency. The very idea that there's some pre-existing standard to which we can adhere consistently or inconsistently is a projection of current partisan politics, on my view. And I'm sorry to just handwave at a whole body of literature, but that's mostly the view in political science and political theory, too. Haidt is riding high on pop political psychology and pop neuropsychology (even though he doesn't do neuro work), but he doesn't represent the best arguments in the field. We're just too prone to pop neuro explanations and facile TED talks, and most experts agree that those stories are missing a lot of important stuff, including many of those who have been able to find novel neuro effects around disgust and political orientation.

I think of the problem like this: say you noticed some psychological effect that had a high correlation with other political beliefs. Disgust and LGBT tolerance are the best studied effects like this, as well as racial tolerance and cross-race effects. (And in one famous experiment it turns out that liberal "brains" are much more prone to racial distinctions than conservative ones.) But the problem is that the underlying interest in LGBT and racial issues don't have any specific relationship to the rest of one's political orientation.

Let me say this again, to be clear: racial equality has no ahistorical political ideology attached to it. LGBTQ equality has no ahistorical political ideology attached to it. Here's what I mean: political ideologies are generally ranked on criteria on orientations that contrast individualistic and communal on one scale with egalitarian and hierarchy/deferential on another. You can add other claims, like central versus local authority, market versus state, technophilic versus techno-pessimistic, privacy versus public health, etc. But precisely because there's not a single policy that will be best for these groups in all circumstances, there's no way that there can be an ahistorical correlation between tolerant psychological effects and political ideologies.

Just think of one dimension: right now, the policies that are most helpful to LGBTQ folks tend to involve the state in equality and non-discrimination efforts. So state-oriented ideologies look like the best ones if you're doing LGBTQ work. But it was only a few decades ago that the primary problem for LGBTQ folks was state discrimination: sodomy and cruising laws were being used to target LGBTQ folks for persecution. So in that setting, anti-statist ideologies were the best fit for a person seeking equality and tolerance. At the most basic level, keeping the state *out* of certain spheres, indifferent to "public health" questions, would look like a good bet for a "liberal brain." Today, it's the opposite. In the same way, empowering the state to intervene looked good in 1900 if you had a "conservative brain" and today it looks bad.

So even if we find that there are deep-seated psychological tendencies that militate in favor of tolerance for or equality with groups that are currently disadvantaged, we won't have generated anything like a partisan brain. We may have racist brains (we probably do) and we may have homophobic brains (less convincing evidence on that: projective disgust is nature, not nurture) but that's not the same thing as having a liberal or conservative brain.

Worse still , partisan psychology arguments are unnecessarily polarizing: in a healthy democracy, there are going to be lots of "conservative" brains in the leftist party and lots of "liberal" brains in the rightist party. If we've begun sorting ourselves neatly the way Haidt thinks, it is probably a bad thing, overall.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:33 AM on November 10, 2014


projective disgust is nature, not nurture

Sorry, I reversed this: projective disgust is nurture, not nature. That is, there's a natural gag reflex at disgusting things, but it takes a culture to tell you that gay or interracial marriage is also disgusting. Once you've internalized that, though, you're going to look like you have a "natural" disgust reaction to LGBTQ or miscegenation, as well.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:00 AM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


anotherpanacea: Just think of one dimension: right now, the policies that are most helpful to LGBTQ folks tend to involve the state in equality and non-discrimination efforts. So state-oriented ideologies look like the best ones if you're doing LGBTQ work. But it was only a few decades ago that the primary problem for LGBTQ folks was state discrimination: sodomy and cruising laws were being used to target LGBTQ folks for persecution.

The "state" you're talking about with respect to sodomy/cruising laws consisted of municipal and state statutes implemented by the smaller layers of government preferred by conservatives, and it took "big government" at the federal level to rule these unconstitutional, just as it took LBJ sending troops to Alabama to intervene against Wallace. Anti-statists have rarely if ever (at least in this country) favored less government intervention in practice, they've just favored roughly the same amount of intervention, but implemented by the smaller levels of government.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:56 AM on November 10, 2014 [3 favorites]


The "state" you're talking about with respect to sodomy/cruising laws consisted of municipal and state statutes implemented by the smaller layers of government preferred by conservatives, and it took "big government" at the federal level to rule these unconstitutional, just as it took LBJ sending troops to Alabama to intervene against Wallace.

While federalism/antifederalism takes up a big part of US politics, that's largely because of the legacy of slavery and abolition. Even attitudes towards the Supreme Court are mostly driven by our sense of the overall policy preferences of that nine person group. So one can love the Warren Court and develop some fairly pro-centralized government hopes. But the Lochner Court was no friend of my causes, and I'd certainly not be a fan of central authority under it. Nor am I fan of the way that preemption is used to prevent state regulation of environmental causes. All you have to do is imagine that Ruth Bader Ginsburg is replaced by another Scalia type and you'll find your own thoughts on central government shifting, too! ;-)

Why should it be otherwise? Mixing procedural (who decides) and substantive (what they decide) issues is always going to lead to weird alliances and inconsistencies.
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:22 PM on November 10, 2014


You're sidestepping the central point of my response, which is that your one real-world example doesn't actually support your thesis. People harmed by sodomy/cruising laws were helped by more government, not less of it.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:24 PM on November 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


They were helped by the Supreme Court limiting government intervention. That's not quite the same as more government. In Lochner, workers were harmed by the Supreme Court limiting government intervention.
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:26 PM on November 10, 2014


If you're going to move the goalposts away from the sodomy/cruising example, we can do that. Of course specific instantiations of reactionary or radical governmental institutions can work in ways that are anathema to people with certain ideologies, but that's not what you were trying to convey when you said "But it was only a few decades ago that the primary problem for LGBTQ folks was state discrimination: sodomy and cruising laws were being used to target LGBTQ folks for persecution. So in that setting, anti-statist ideologies were the best fit for a person seeking equality and tolerance."

If all you're trying to say is that times change and how we characterize views on specific issues on a liberal/conservative changes, then there's really nothing to argue about because that is plain as day. But this notion that somehow "anti-statist" ideology was appealing to (or should have been appealing to) people living under discriminatory state/local laws is absurd.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:44 PM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm trying to talk about how a person cashes out their anti-statism. The US has several levels of government, so being "anti-statist" generally can mean being individualistic and it can mean being communitarian, depending on context. Asking for the Supreme Court to intervene is not asking for "more government." It's asking for people with guns to leave you alone, and if they won't, other people with guns stop them.

Basically, it's not clear which part of the brain makes the local/federal distinction. I actually favor localism for lots of things, which is a luxury for me because I live in DC. If I lived in Texas, I'd hate localism.

There's basicaly no longterm cross cultural evidence that these questions align along the more/less government axis. On LGBTQ issues, you could say you just want to government to do the right thing, or barring that, to leave you alone. Or you could say that you want the government to leave you alone, or barring that, to do the right thing. That's what a cross-cultural psychological root to ideology would indicate. But the right policy is usually more important than the procedure.

Just look at arguments within the LGBTQ community about whether marriage equality is preferable to eliminating the state's role in marriage completely. Even if you think you've got that figured out, this question is taken up among Black Feminists in a very different way!
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:48 PM on November 10, 2014


Mod note: feckless fecal fear mongering, your choice here is flagging or MetaTalk. Telling someone to stop talking in a thread is not an option, sorry.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 1:24 PM on November 10, 2014


Your assertion that non-statist ideologies would have been better for us is incorrect, as the social problems supporting governmental ideology were still in place.

Just look at arguments within the LGBTQ community about whether marriage equality is preferable to eliminating the state's role in marriage completely. Even if you think you've got that figured out

At the end of the day that distinction is irrelevant, because the point is to end governmental discrimination. Whether that ends by widening the governmental definition or by withdrawing government completely does not, from a functional point of view, make any difference to me and mine.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:34 PM on November 10, 2014


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