Stupid Studies

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There's a study out that purports to show that whiny kids are more likely to be conservatives when they grow up.

Even if that is true -- and there's no way to know, even if the study was a good one, because the study was done in a specific geographic location where that might be true primarily because of those local factors -- it's not very interesting.

The article references another study, saying, "The researchers reviewed 44 years worth of studies into the psychology of conservatism, and concluded that people who are dogmatic, fearful, intolerant of ambiguity and uncertainty, and who crave order and structure are more likely to gravitate to conservatism."

You need a study for that? It's obvious that if you have a stronger-than-normal need for structure, in the U.S. anyway, you will tend to be more conservative. And similarly, if you have some stronger-than-normal aversion to structure, you will tend to be more liberal.

But this only describes the fringe cases. I am strong-willed and independent, and have been since at least Junior High. And I do readily admit that some of those personality traits have tended to make me more open to liberal ideas. I am very anti-authoritarian. I think people should be able to do as they please so long as they are not harming anyone else. I am therefore open to some drug legalization, and I support civil unions for homosexual couples.

So why am I not a liberal? Because there's something more important than my personality traits that determines my political leanings.

The article concludes with this:

All of us, liberal or conservative, feel as though we've reached our political opinions by carefully weighing the evidence and exercising our best judgment. But it could be that all of that careful reasoning is just after-the-fact self-justification. What if personality forms our political outlook, with reason coming along behind, rationalizing after the fact?

It could be that whom we vote for has less to do with our judgments about tax policy or free trade or health care, and more with the personalities we've been stuck with since we were kids.
Well, that's getting close to the point, but it is still missing it. It's not personality, it's beliefs.

For example, I believe that individual liberty is a higher principle than helping my fellow man, which is also of great importance to me. But given the choice, I'll choose liberty. That means I don't believe in being forced to help my fellow man, and this therefore informs my views on the welfare state. Further, I believe that the helping your fellow man is best -- most efficient, most productive, most beneficial in every way -- if it is done freely.

There's no objective right or wrong on which is the best way to help people, through government programs or private acts. And I don't pretend otherwise. I do not, as the author claims, feel that my opinion is based primarily on objective analysis: I know full well it is at root based on a subjective, but well-supported, set of beliefs. The analysis of the evidence then fits into that existing framework.

So I am not against the welfare state because of my personality; I am against it because of my deeper beliefs, and subsequent objective analysis. Those beliefs are in part informed by my personality, but far less so than they are informed by my culture and personal experiences.

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<pudge/*> (pronounced "PudgeGlob") is thousands of posts over many years by Pudge.

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