[ExI] Reinforcing our Prejudices

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Sun Apr 20 22:17:41 UTC 2008

Damien had written

>>> http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/17/opinion/17kristof.html?th&emc=th>
>>> <We seek out information that reinforces our prejudices....
>>> This resistance to information that doesn't mesh with our 
>>> preconceived beliefs afflicts both liberals and conservatives,
>>> but a raft of studies shows that it is a particular problem with 
>>> conservatives.

When you've debated philosophically fundamental issues
for years and years, eventually you can't help but wonder
if there is indeed something wrong with those who 
fundamentally disagree with you. You probably recognize
that while you don't actually have any good evidence, the 
possibility does exist..

We naturally then turn to other parallel meta-investigations.
Perhaps if there is nothing fundamentally wrong with our
adversaries, maybe key differences in personality or 
upbringing---gads! even the genes!---may help explain
what's going on. 

Alas, well-intentioned efforts sometimes go amiss. Robert
Altemeyer created an "Authoritarian Scale" as part of his
project to demonstrate that conservatives had more
authoritarian personalities. (Ironically, it's not clear until
you read the papers whether he means authoritarianism
in leading, or in submissively following someone. See his
first paragraph of the following.)

It was inspired, of course, by the classic but extremely lame book
"The Authoritarians" 1950, by Theodor W. Adorno. Noting the
commonly acknowledged flaws in Adorno's approach,
psychology Professor Robert Altemeyer made a new attempt in

However, a different psychology professor, John J. Ray of 
the university of New South Wales, Australia, has strongly rebutted 
Altemeyer's claims in http://www.jonjayray.110mb.com/altdef.html

Standing back a moment to glance over the general question, 
there certainly are differences between (A) traditionalists (B)
secular progressives,  or, using a different coordinate system
(1) conservatives (2) "liberals".  Traditionalists and conservatives
are both more religious, for example.

But so far as I know, no unbiased reports of personality differences
exist. Both Sowell's work and Jonathan Haidt (from the conservative
and liberal sides, respectively), whether it's "Conflict of Visions" or
depict differences in values or outlook probably acquired in adolescence
or as early adults.

But even if personality or genetic differences are found, shouldn't
we be further asking, "what if you control for income?", "what if you
control for religiosity?", "what if you control for ethnicity?", etc.?
The truth emerges only when you tease out what is really varying
under the mass of data.


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