So who’s right? Are conservatives more prejudiced than liberals, or vice versa? Research over the years has shown that in industrialized nations, social conservatives and religious fundamentalists possess psychological traits, such as the valuing of conformity and the desire for certainty, that tend to predispose people toward prejudice. Meanwhile, liberals and the nonreligious tend to be more open to new experiences, a trait associated with lower prejudice. So one might expect that, whatever each group’s own ideology, conservatives and Christians should be inherently more discriminatory on the whole.
But more recent psychological research, some of it presented in January at the annual meeting of the Society of Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP), shows that it’s not so simple. These findings confirm that conservatives, liberals, the religious and the nonreligious are each prejudiced against those with opposing views. But surprisingly, each group is about equally prejudiced. While liberals might like to think of themselves as more open-minded, they are no more tolerant of people unlike them than their conservative counterparts are.
Political understanding might finally stand a chance if we could first put aside the argument over who has that bigger problem. The truth is that we all do.
Robert Burton em entrevista à Scientific American:
BURTON: A personal confession: I have always been puzzled by those who seem utterly confident in their knowledge. Perhaps this is a constitutional defect on my part, but I seldom have the sense of knowing unequivocally that I am right. Consequently I have looked upon those who ooze self-confidence and certainty with a combination of envy and suspicion. At a professional level, I have long wondered why so many physicians will recommend unproven, even risky therapies simply because they “know” that these treatments work.
LEHRER: To what extent do these mechanisms come into play during a presidential election? It seems like we all turn into such partisan hacks every four years, completely certain that our side is right.
BURTON: The present presidential debates and associated media commentary feel like laboratory confirmation that the involuntary feeling of certainty plays a greater role in decision-making than conscious contemplation and reason.
I suspect that retreat into absolute ideologies is accentuated during periods of confusion, lack of governmental direction, economic chaos and information overload. At bottom, we are pattern recognizers who seek escape from ambiguity and indecision. If a major brain function is to maintain mental homeostasis, it is understandable how stances of certainty can counteract anxiety and apprehension. Even though I know better, I find myself somewhat reassured (albeit temporarily) by absolute comments such as, “the stock market always recovers,” even when I realize that this may be only wishful thinking.
Sadly, my cynical side also suspects that political advisors use this knowledge of the biology of certainty to actively manipulate public opinion. Nuance is abandoned in favor of absolutes.
LEHRER: How can people avoid the certainty bias?
BURTON: I don’t believe that we can avoid certainty bias, but we can mitigate its effect by becoming aware of how our mind assesses itself. As you may know from my book, I’ve taken strong exception to the popular notion that we can rely upon hunches and gut feelings as though they reflect the accuracy of a thought.
My hope is the converse; we need to recognize that the feelings of certainty and conviction are involuntary mental sensations, not logical conclusions. Intuitions, gut feelings and hunches are neither right nor wrong but tentative ideas that must then be submitted to empirical testing. If such testing isn’t possible (such as in deciding whether or not to pull out of Iraq), then we must accept that any absolute stance is merely a personal vision, not a statement of fact.
Perhaps one of my favorite examples of how certainty is often misleading is the great mathematician Srinivasava Ramanujan. At his death, his notebook was filled with theorems that he was certain were correct. Some were subsequently proven correct; others turned out to be dead wrong. Ramanujan’s lines of reasoning lead to correct and incorrect answers, but he couldn’t tell the difference. Only the resultant theorems were testable.
In short, please run, do not walk, to the nearest exit when you hear so-called leaders being certain of any particular policy. Only in the absence of certainty can we have open-mindedness, mental flexibility and willingness to contemplate alternative ideas.
Camille Paglia, “Liberdade vs. politicamente correcto,” Ler, no. 144 (Inverno de 2016): 71:
George H. Nash, “Populism, I: American conservatism and the problem of populism”:
In the late 1950s and early 1960s the three independent wings of the conservative revolt against the Left began to coalesce around National Review, founded by William F. Buckley Jr. in 1955. Apart from his extraordinary talents as a writer, debater, and public intellectual, Buckley personified each impulse in the developing coalition. He was at once a traditional Christian, a defender of the free market, and a staunch anticommunist (a source of his ecumenical appeal to conservatives).
As this consolidation began to occur, a serious challenge arose to the fragile conservative identity: a growing and permanent tension between the libertarians and the traditionalists. To the libertarians the highest good in society was individual liberty, the emancipation of the autonomous self from external (especially governmental) restraint. To the traditionalists (who tended to be more religiously oriented than most libertarians) the highest social good was not unqualified freedom but ordered freedom grounded in community and resting on the cultivation of virtue in the individual soul. Such cultivation, argued the traditionalists, did not arise spontaneously. It needed the reinforcement of mediating institutions (such as schools, churches, and synagogues) and at times of the government itself. To put it another way, libertarians tended to believe in the beneficence of an uncoerced social order, both in markets and morals. The traditionalists often agreed, more or less, about the market order (as opposed to statism), but they were far less sanguine about an unregulated moral order.
Not surprisingly, this conflict of visions generated a tremendous controversy on the American Right in the early 1960s, as conservative intellectuals attempted to sort out their first principles. The argument became known as the freedom-versus-virtue debate. It fell to a former Communist and chief ideologist at National Review, a man named Frank Meyer, to formulate a middle way that became known as fusionism—that is, a fusing or merging of the competing paradigms of the libertarians and the traditionalists. In brief, Meyer argued that the overriding purpose of government was to protect and promote individual liberty, but that the supreme purpose of the free individual should be to pursue a life of virtue, unfettered by and unaided by the State.
As a purely theoretical construct, Meyer’s fusionism did not convince all his critics, then or later. But as a formula for political action and as an insight into the actual character of American conservatism, his project was a considerable success. He taught libertarian and traditionalist purists that they needed one another and that American conservatism must not become doctrinaire. To be relevant and influential, it must stand neither for dogmatic antistatism at one extreme nor for moral authoritarianism at the other, but for a society in which people are simultaneously free to choose and desirous of choosing the path of virtue.
What do conservatives want? To put it in elementary terms, I believe they want what nearly all conservatives since 1945 have wanted: they want to be free; they want to live virtuous and meaningful lives; and they want to be secure from threats both beyond and within our borders. They want to live in a society whose government respects and encourages these aspirations while otherwise leaving people alone. Freedom, virtue, and safety: goals reflected in the libertarian, traditionalist, and national security dimensions of the conservative movement as it has developed over the past seventy years. In other words, there is at least a little fusionism in nearly all of us. It is something to build on. But it will take time.
Camille Paglia, “Liberdade vs. politicamente correcto,” Ler, no. 144 (Inverno de 2016): 67:
Mantenho, de acordo com a minha desalentada observação na época, que esses novos programas suplementares raramente, ou mesmo nunca, se alicerçavam em princípios académicos autênticos: eram gestos de relações públicas destinados a abafar críticas de um passado intolerante. Na concepção de qualquer programa de estudos femininos, por exemplo, devia ser obrigatório para as alunas fazerem pelo menos uma cadeira de biologia básica, para que o papel das hormonas no desenvolvimento humano pudesse ser investigado – e rejeitado, se necessário. Mas não, tanto os estudos femininos como, mais tarde, os estudos de género evoluíram sem referência à ciência, garantindo desse modo que a sua ideologia permaneceria partidária e unidimensional, a sublinhar a construção social do género. Qualquer ponto de vista diferente é considerado uma heresia e praticamente nunca foi sequer apresentado aos estudantes como hipótese alternativa.
Daniel Johnson, “Ideology as a vocation”:
Scholarship requires one to follow the evidence, the logic, and above all one’s conscience. Ideology promises a release from all three, into a gravitas-free zone where all that matters is commitment to a cause. Once a scholar has made ideology rather than integrity his or her vocation, it is almost irrelevant which ideology it is.