First of all, I have known some very intelligent people who have conservative political views. Not only are they smart, but their political views are smart as well. Their arguments are usually well developed, informed, and are very intelligent, based on legitimate facts, figures and historical interpretations.
Quite often I disagree with them, but this is because we subscribe to some different historical and philosophical interpretations. However, when we debate, I hope both of us walk away better informed than when we started.
These debates usually change no minds, but they can actually make each of our arguments stronger, because through a well-informed conversation on an issue, we both learn some new facts and figures, holes are punched in our weaker arguments, and we have to find support for fuzzy truths we may have thrown out in haste or drop those imperfect arguments from our repertoire. In the end, each side can make a better informed decision on the point being discussed and, hopefully, takes away stronger arguments in defense of our views.
But what about right and wrong? What about winning? Well, in intelligent debates, we are usually arguing sane problems and issues that have multiple, legitimate, intelligent solutions. There usually is not a right answer or a wrong answer. Or they are very complex problems that require the best ideas from both the right and the left to be adequately resolved.
Of course, I am not talking about racism, prejudice, discrimination, or science. I usually find that intelligent conservatives and I pretty much share the same views here. Because we are not stupid or ignorant.
Which brings us to this…
…Canadian study published last month in the journal Psychological Science, which revealed that people with conservative beliefs are likely to be of low intelligence. Paradoxically it was the Daily Mail that brought it to the attention of British readers last week. It feels crude, illiberal to point out that the other side is, on average, more stupid than our own. But this, the study suggests, is not unfounded generalisation but empirical fact.
It is by no means the first such paper. There is plenty of research showing that low general intelligence in childhood predicts greater prejudice towards people of different ethnicity or sexuality in adulthood. Open-mindedness, flexibility, trust in other people: all these require certain cognitive abilities. Understanding and accepting others – particularly "different" others – requires an enhanced capacity for abstract thinking.
But, drawing on a sample size of several thousand, correcting for both education and socioeconomic status, the new study looks embarrassingly robust. Importantly, it shows that prejudice tends not to arise directly from low intelligence but from the conservative ideologies to which people of low intelligence are drawn. Conservative ideology is the "critical pathway" from low intelligence to racism. Those with low cognitive abilities are attracted to "rightwing ideologies that promote coherence and order" and "emphasise the maintenance of the status quo".
Pausing for a second… I do not equate conservative ideology with intolerance, necessarily. Social conservatism, perhaps, but not conservatism in general.
It seems as if a narrow path is being walked here, almost but not quite defining conservatism as racist and intolerant. That may be problematic. Further, if these sorts are drawn to the conservative ideology, does that mean conservative ideology is intolerant? Or does it become intolerant because of the influx of these intolerant people with low IQs? In the end, does it matter even matter where the causes and effects lay? Or has it become a self-perpetuating cycle with the chickens shitting all over the eggs they are laying, beyond any identification of cause and effect?
Blah. From here the article climbs up onto more solid ground… The problem lies not with a lack of intelligent conservatives, but with the way the intelligent conservatives have been pandering to their side’s “basest, stupidest impulses.”
This is not to suggest that all conservatives are stupid. There are some very clever people in government, advising politicians, running thinktanks and writing for newspapers, who have acquired power and influence by promoting rightwing ideologies.
But what we now see among their parties – however intelligent their guiding spirits may be – is the abandonment of any pretence of high-minded conservatism. On both sides of the Atlantic, conservative strategists have discovered that there is no pool so shallow that several million people won't drown in it. Whether they are promoting the idea that Barack Obama was not born in the US, that man-made climate change is an eco-fascist-communist-anarchist conspiracy, or that the deficit results from the greed of the poor, they now appeal to the basest, stupidest impulses, and find that it does them no harm in the polls.
…"the crackpot outliers of two decades ago have become the vital centre today". The Republican party, with its "prevailing anti-intellectualism and hostility to science" is appealing to what he calls the "low-information voter", or the "misinformation voter". While most office holders probably don't believe the "reactionary and paranoid claptrap" they peddle, "they cynically feed the worst instincts of their fearful and angry low-information political base".
This is troubling in so many ways. But this is why so many poor Americans are fervent Republicans while many of the policies and practices of the GOP act against their own best interests at worst, or have little to do with any issues really effecting the poor at best.
Even more troubling:
In the UK, “the Guardian reported that recipients of disability benefits, scapegoated by the government as scroungers, blamed for the deficit, now find themselves subject to a new level of hostility and threats from other people.”
And even worse, and heading towards my real point here:
These are the perfect conditions for a billionaires' feeding frenzy. Any party elected by misinformed, suggestible voters becomes a vehicle for undisclosed interests. A tax break for the 1% is dressed up as freedom for the 99%. The regulation that prevents big banks and corporations exploiting us becomes an assault on the working man and woman. Those of us who discuss man-made climate change are cast as elitists by people who happily embrace the claims of Lord Monckton, Lord Lawson or thinktanks funded by ExxonMobil or the Koch brothers: now the authentic voices of the working class.
Many of the policies that benefit corporations are acutely harmful to the poor. Tax policy? Maybe, maybe not, but the minimum wage? Expensive workplace safety regulations? Even more costly environmental protection regulations?
The people arguing for deregulation will never live where the water supply has been poisoned by carcinogens, so why should they worry? Guess who gets to live there? The people voting for the conservative candidates who argue that such regulations kill jobs.
The real issue is not the IQ of the voters. I know for a fact that many of the loudest voices on the left should be locked in small rooms and only allowed to talk to rocks. Both sides have these people.
But what is so disturbing to me is how so many on the right so callously prey upon the ignorance of many in their voting base.
Perhaps this is my own prejudice, but what I see so often is the left saying, vote for us and we’ll keep the plant next door to your house from killing you while the right says, vote for us, and we’ll keep the left from putting job killing regulations on the plant next door to you and who really believes in all that science stuff, anyway, that says arsenic is bad for you? Jobs and superbabies! You can have it all!
I used the photo of the class warfare sign at the top of this post because I feel that this really is class warfare. It is an act of class warfare for the right to use these tactics on their own supporters.
The right says we cannot have a discussion about income inequality, because that is class warfare and an attack on the capitalist principles of the American Dream. Those on the right who would actually benefit from having this discussion, those who desperately feel the worsening ache of the dying American Dream every day, turn angry, fearful eyes towards those on the left who are fighting for them, away from those on the right who are actually stealing access to the American Dream from the vast majority of the country’s citizens in the first place.
And that, beyond being reprehensible, is just plain frightening.