Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the day “February 7, 2012”

Simple Republicans – Tom Rossi

Continuing the discussion (one-sided, though it may be) from last week, we are looking at the question: Are conservative patterns of thinking (Me Tarzan. You Jane. Taxes… bad.) the result of “dumbness”?

Conservative views are not necessarily the result of dumbness (although I can certainly believe that racism is). They are often based on attractively simple ideas, and in fact the human mind tends to gravitate toward parsimony. For example, what feeling do you get when discussing politics with someone and he or she says, “It’s all about the money.”? Does that not almost make any other point moot? An idea like that can bring an end to further analysis because it just seems pointless.

The fact is that simplistic ideas are certainly not automatically wrong. It is all (at least mostly) about the money. But some ideas are not only overly simplistic, but they signify an underlying tendency toward scapegoating and selfishness – blaming “the others” or “the outsiders” or those who are different in some way when things aren’t as they should be. An example of this is blaming immigrants for the current state of our economy, even after a pointless war and various Wall Street entities have done trillions of dollars worth of damage.

It’s easy to give in to simplistic explanations through the process of induction, the opposite of the “deduction” made so famous by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in his “Sherlock Holmes” novels. Induction is the process by which you apply an observation to the larger group: Joe likes pizza, and from that you might assume that most people probably like pizza. It can also lead you to make the cognitive leap from seeing a black man wanted for robbery on TV, to the conclusion that black people are thieves. Or, when you hear about some people cheating the unemployment system you conclude that the program should be eliminated.

The desire for simplistic logic can lead to resentment of complication or people who see the world as complicated… even if complication is inevitable in a world of 7 billion people, over a billion computers, and almost a billion businesses (those last two are consensus estimates).

It’s actually quite difficult to correlate IQ (an imperfect measure of intelligence anyway) with political views. This is because IQ is not broadly measured. The most practical substitute (although still far from perfect) is the highest education level that a person has attained: high school, college, graduate school, etc.

With the help of a graduate-level statistics professor, I actually did some research (technically a statistical meta-analysis much like Hodson’s study appears to be) on the link between education and political party affiliation. The research is unpublished, of course, because if I actually ever accomplished something in the real world, my father would have a heart attack. I simply will not be responsible for that. The research was based on the General Social Survey, conducted semi-annually by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago and the results were pretty interesting.

The higher the level of education attained by a person, the higher the probability that that person will self identify as a Republican… up to a point. That point is a Bachelor’s degree. The relationship then reverses for people who go on to acquire a post-graduate degree such as a Master’s. People who complete a Bachelor’s degree and go no further are often those whose main purpose in college is to get a jump-start on a career – in order to earn some money.

And therein may lie the biggest clue. It seems that the more a person prioritizes money, the more likely that person is a conservative. But it’s not nearly that simple.

In fact, this topic is complex enough that it’ll probably take me another post to sort it all out and settle the issue. Riiiiiiight. Maybe we’ll revisit this mess another time. For now, suffice it to say that I believe that conservative principles are too simplistic to define or govern the modern (1400 A.D. to present) world. If it seems like I’ve left a few loose ends here, it’s because all of this makes my head hurt.

-Tom Rossi


Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.


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