Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Connection Between Conservatism And Stupidity?

By Manifesto Joe

I put a question mark on that title because I think it's a proposition that may go a bit too far. There are definitely brainy conservatives, and I have had the misfortune of knowing a number of very vapid, ungrounded and ironically intolerant liberals.

But a new study does seem to establish a certain connection among factors of low IQ, social conservatism and prejudice. This story made the rounds on the Internet, but in case you didn't see it, here's a link.

Even before this study, this was not entirely new as a general observation. The English political philosopher John Stuart Mill routinely referred to British Conservatives, the Tories of the 19th century, as "the stupid party." A famous quote from Mill was something to the effect that while not all conservatives are stupid, most stupid people are conservatives.

But after 55, going on 56 years on the planet, I've also seen that advancing age does make many people more "conservative." That's not connected with stupidity, despite the inevitable loss of brain cells with age. One does become more cautious and circumspect. Some 35 years ago, I was a hard-core social libertarian, believing that any human activity in which a direct and arbitrary victim cannot be identified should be quite legal and tolerated.

I can't say I'm there anymore. I've never been to Vegas, but I've been to a few casino spots closer to here. Looking around, it was pretty easy to see the very grave social costs of legal gambling.

As for hookers, I have absolutely no personal experience with them. But I've heard of areas of the city in which I live where families have said their teenage son was approached and propositioned, in the front yard of their home, by a local prostitute. Not cool.

While there's still the argument that people are going to pursue gambling and sex-for-money anyway -- they always have -- I've come to see that it's not a bad idea to give communities the option of at least zoning such activities, so that they are legally restricted to specified areas. Over decades, I suppose I've become what could be described as a social moderate.

So I would hesitate to say that there's an entirely direct link between social conservatism and stupid people. It's characteristic of more liberal types to be cognizant of ambiguity, so I'll be "liberal" here, in that way. It's not nearly that simple, and never has been.

I would go so far as to say that, among people I am now aware of who do things like call the president "Barack Osama" and doggedly allege that he was born in Kenya, they are indeed pretty fucking stupid. I think the study is quite on the mark that there is a connection between prejudice and stupidity. And incidentally, virtually all such people are "social conservatives."

I grew up in a libertarian-style, Goldwater-Republican conservative family, so the grounding I had was much more related to neoliberal capitalist economics and a sort of 19th-century rugged individualist way of thinking about the world.

It has been asserted that people's politics and religion are generally fixed by the time they are, say, 10 years old. That was never true of me at all. To me, public philosophy is a quest that one pursues for a lifetime, and the behavior of forever thinking only what Dad and Mom taught you to think -- well, that is the true hallmark of stupidity. Whether it's a "red diaper baby" rebelling against Marxist ideas as an adult, or a Southern reactionary becoming a liberal after going to college -- that shows that at least the person is actively thinking about the issues, rather than smugly hanging onto family platitudes.

In my case, I noticed that my friends were usually more tolerant, liberal types, and that I didn't get along as well with the small-minded philistines I usually found among conservatives. Later I spent much time dwelling on economic questions -- well into my 30s, when I spent three years editing college economics textbooks. After reading all sides of such questions, I came to view laissez-faire as one undesirable extreme, and Marxism-Leninism as the other. The neo-Keynesian, mixed-economy model was the one that made the most sense to me, both historically and theoretically. It seems to be the one that truly delivers the goods to the many, not just the few.

Since libertarian-type conservatives are usually what could be described as civil libertarians, once my economic view had changed it was a very short walk toward liberalism. But I remain reluctant to wear that label. Liberals believe certain things that I do not, and am unlikely to ever embrace.

But as the American political scene has become so stupifyingly reactionary since around 1980, that simplifies things quite a bit. The bottom line has become that anybody who can't watch Fox News for 15 minutes without telling himself/herself that this is bullshit propaganda -- you become a liberal by default.

I personally prefer the term "progressive." That's a label that differentiates one from the capitalist neoliberalism that has become despised the world over, but also from the more knee-jerk sort of leftism that one sees so often among "conditioned" liberals.

In his 1953 book The Conservative Mind, Russell Kirk put forth six "canons" of conservatism that can be summarized as follows:

1. A belief in a transcendent order, which Kirk described variously as based in tradition, divine revelation, or natural law;
2. An affection for the "variety and mystery" of human existence;
3. A conviction that society requires orders and classes that emphasize "natural" distinctions;
4. A belief that property and freedom are closely linked;
5. A faith in custom, convention, and prescription, and
6. A recognition that innovation must be tied to existing traditions and customs, which entails a respect for the political value of prudence.

Kirk had no use for libertarian thinking, which he associated with 19th-century classic liberalism. His most enduring book touched very little on economics at all, so what he was describing was the phenomenon of "social conservatism," which has become a powerful force in contemporary U.S. politics.

Let's take these "canons" one at a time. Some of them seem to make good sense, so why would an intelligent person take exception?

1. Muslims also believe in a transcendent order, as do Hindus. There's quite a bit of diversity on this point among Christians, and there appears to be that among other major world religions as well. Who's got the right formula? I have no idea. And I suspect that anyone who claims to have the right one is either delusional or a liar. That's one thing experience has most decidedly taught me.

2. Hard to argue with that one. In fact, it appeals to the liberal habit of seeing the world as an ambiguous and complex place, rather than a simple, structured and absolute one.

3. Ever suffered a stupid and/or foolish boss? With the world being the kind of capricious and dicey place that it is, it's not uncommon to see the most silly kinds of people sitting in exalted positions, lording it over people who are vastly superior to them on many levels. Conservative canon No. 3 has no relationship to merit, that seems certain.

4. What conservatives -- and libertarians -- routinely forget is that property is a purely human construct. It's a legal artifact that exists on paper, and routinely protects weak from strong. That's great, and I'm all for it on that level -- but then don't hypocritically turn around and argue that it exists because of any kind of natural law. It exists in spite of natural law. NATURAL LAW is survival of the fittest. If I can get the drop on you and yours, murder all of you, bury all of you in the back yard, and take all the property -- according to natural law, it's now MINE. Property rights, as enforced by society's laws, are the very rights that prevent me from doing that.

In other words, property rights are not, and have never been, absolute. They are conditional.

5. There are plenty of "customs" and "traditions" in the Roman Catholic Church. Need I say more?

6. This is another one that's hard to argue with at first. But today's conservatives seem totally out of touch with that. They want to take U.S. society back to a time (the first Gilded Age) in which 1 out of 3 Americans lived in poverty -- and that was 1 out of 2 among the elderly, since there was no pension system. In contrast, they seem to demonize the era from 1935 to 1980, in which poverty was greatly reduced and the U.S. saw its global power multiplied with the creation of our great middle class. Exactly what is "conservative" about their current position?

I suppose I've covered enough ground here for one post. Suffice it to say that I see much wisdom in the J.S. Mill quote mentioned earlier. I've known a few brilliant conservatives in my time. But I've known many more imbecilic right-wingers.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.


Jack Jodell said...

Thank you for this brilliant piece of introspection. But I would not automatically pair caution with conservatism; to me, it would be the exercise of common sense based on past experience. After all, today's "conservatives" are in actuality radical reactionaries, and display little caution in their actions. Like you, I consider myself a progressive rather than a liberal, for much the same reason as you do.

Motivated In Ohio said...

I received an email the other day, from an otherwise nice woman. She sent me a copy of The President's "Kenyan Birth Certificate" along with a link that said under the affordable care act one can only get $5,000 per year in health care. I fact checked it, sent the correction and I doubt if I will hear from her again. While I agree that there are many brilliant conservatives, people like these and our current Congress give conservatives the reputation of being stupid.

There is a gentleman, a "Goldwater Conservative" who I agree with more than not. He doesn't suffer the misled opinions of the Tea Party, or the paranoid delusions of the Religious Right.

I call myself a liberal, because I believe that this country was founded by forward thinking men (the conservatives wore red coats or went back to England). Liberals lifted 80% of seniors out of poverty with Social Security, passed the Civil Rights act, enacted Medicare so that Seniors can get health care.

Manifesto Joe said...

Hi, folks:

One thing that all this brings to mind is that I would caution anyone not to romanticize Barry Goldwater. Oh, he seems almost like a warm/fuzzy compared to the looney right-wingers we have running loose in the country now.

But, I admit rather sheepishly that my parents were both wholeheartedly for Barry, to the extent that they lost business (they were operating an old-time service station at the time) because of bumper stickers and pins and such. One reason I know a lot about him is that I still have some campaign "literature" from the time.

There's a tendency to romanticize him now, but he said some downright kooky things around the time of that '64 campaign. Plus, he was one of the original creators of Reagan, Jesse Helms, and now the Frankenstein monster we deal with among Tea Party radicals.

American politics has moved so dramatically rightward that, ironically, I'd say that the people now described as moderately liberal Democrats are the country's genuine conservatives. Jack's right -- the people who wear that label now are radicals and reactionaries, lacking the grounding and common sense that would characterize true conservatives.

Online Casinos said...

Nice post , thanks for sharing.

but i heard that US has banned online payment on playing online games , uh ? right ?

poker games said...

hmm . . . ! nice post but i just want to know about the new policies about the online casino and different betting in this scenario..

Manifesto Joe said...

Can't say I've given it much thought. Regulating a lot of online activity seems like something that could open up a big can of worms. I've never played online poker or the like, so I don't know what the rules are.