Are Liberals Smarter and Nicer? Just Ask Academia

A recent article appearing in Yahoo! News highlighted a study by psychologist Gordon Hodson of Brock University in Ontario in which a nexus is supposedly found between being unintelligent and conservative and being racist. I presume then that, as conservatives and morons tend to be more racist, the dots between them are connected? The story not only provided an overview of the study but also links to other similar studies which appear to back up Hodson’s conclusions. Well then, there it is. We always knew that liberals are smarter and more tolerant. We just needed a study to prove it.

Gordon Hodson

At best, psychology is an inexact science, as the human brain is the most complex system in the known universe, and to try to understand what makes it tick is daunting if not impossible. But layer on top of that the possibility that the researchers themselves may harbor a bias that leads them to subconsciously steer their studies towards reaching pre-determined conclusions, and you have the makings of a sham science project … with predictable results.

Hodson’s complete study is not available for free online, so I readily admit I only know what has been made public. Apparently the researchers offered a list of questions which would measure participants’ left or right leanings based upon the answers. For example, one measure in defining “conservative” is gauging one’s level of agreement with the statement “schools should teach children to obey authority.” Then they overlaid these results with responses to questions with overtly racial overtones such as “I wouldn’t mind working with people of other races.” I guess if you answer “yes” to authority and “no” to working with others not like you, you are a conservative racist. Conversely, if you replied “fight the power, maaan” and “I want my office to look like a rainbow, my brother,” then you are a tolerant and cognitively well-adjusted liberal. Oh, if only the world were so simple.

But the world is not simple.  Even the questions I offer as examples have nuance. For instance, I was never taught by my Marine Corps dad (as conservative as they come) to unconditionally obey authority. In fact, he revered the Founding Fathers, for whom declaring our independence was an enormous thumb in the eye of the crown’s authority. I was, however, taught to respect authority. There is a subtle difference. When it comes to blindly obeying, it depends on the situation. If it involves heeding police instructions at an intersection, then by all means I do it–unless I discover that the cops are beating a man to death with night sticks and demanding I join in.  As to working with other races, that depends on the individuals. Are they college-educated or street thugs? Are they going to speak a foreign language in my presence all day, making me uncomfortable? This applies to whites as well, though. Are they respectable or trailer trash? So it is not race per se that will make me choose the complexion of my co-workers but who they are. How does one distill these textured concepts into a questionnaire that may pigeonhole me as racist if I check box A instead of B?

Speaking of complexity and texture: to me, the salient feature of this article and only real admission that this study may not be fair, or even complete, is this parenthetical afterthought: “(These questions measured overt prejudiced attitudes, but most people, no matter how egalitarian, do hold unconscious racial biases; Hodson’s work can’t speak to this ‘underground’ racism.)”

Well, I can speak to it. “Underground racism” is an antiseptic term for  “how liberals behave as opposed to what they profess.” One can insist until blue in the face that they are color-blind (and answer as such on Hodson’s study earning them a gold star), but the moment they can afford to, they will move as fast as they can to an all-white neighborhood to raise their kids. They will insist  they do not see the world through multi-colored glasses, but when a presidential candidate calls Barack Obama the “food stamp president,” immediately those whom I bet this study would label as the non-racists jump to the conclusion that such a statement is racially charged. It is not. It is a straightforward fact that more Americans of all shades have joined the food stamp rolls during Obama’s watch than ever before. One can argue the economics underscoring this trend, but only those who either consciously or subconsciously associate food stamps with blacks would see racism in such a statement where none exists. So who are the true bigots again? I refer you to Bill Maher for an illustration of the concept.

“Underground racism” comes in many forms, some of which are quite insidious, such as  paternalism of the state. Also, there is that ever-so-subtle patronizing so common in liberal arts academia and mainstream journalism. For example, some can argue that those who oppose “Black History Month” could be racist. Yet, what does promoting such an idea say about those who envision and proffer it?  As black actor Morgan Freeman once said in a moment of racial clarity that has since abandoned him, only one who views the world through the prism of color would see ‘black history’ at all and not simply American history. Freeman asked the poster-child of elitist race-pandering Mike Wallace, who also happens to be Jewish, what month is “Jewish History Month”? There is none. Does Wallace want one? Emphatically, he replied no.Yet he defends Black History Month why, exactly? I wonder how Wallace and his peers would have scored on Hodson’s study–a study in which the very definition of racism is, if not off-sides, then at least incomplete.

In a way, even well-intentioned academics could be falling victim to some odd cousin of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle with such studies. I find it somewhat unfeasible that a liberal (call it a hunch) who views conservative ideology with hostility could possibly create a study that does not have this bias seep into the methodology making truly impartial findings beyond reach. As anyone who has seen the liberal bias of  the mainstream media in action can attest (see Obama 2008 campaign), it is almost impossible to separate personal beliefs from such human nature studies far removed from the more precise physical sciences that attempt to link a political ideology to both intelligence and an ingrained, if unpleasant, human characteristic.

Another attempt to explain this human characteristic is provided by Ms. Pappas through a link to a piece about the various “isms” and their relation to societal rather than cognitive influences as studied by Georgia Tech psychologist Paul Verhaeghen. “There’s one idea that people tend to associate black people with violence, women with weakness, or older people with forgetfulness because they are prejudiced. But there’s another possibility that what’s in your head is not you, it’s the culture around you,” Verhaeghen said in a statement.

To me there is a glaring problem with Verhaeghan’s thinking at its core and reveals a pre-determined idea of what counts for an “ism” that surely influences his research. Whatever their origin, his examples  are not expressions of bias at all. They are associations based upon empirical fact, regardless of how uncomfortable or politically incorrect.

In the United States, blacks do commit an alarmingly disproportionate number of violent crimes relative to their population. It is therefore not ‘prejudiced’ to associate blacks, who though only 18% of the population commit half of all homicides, with violence more than whites, but rather a reflection of a sad reality. If I am prejudiced for saying this, then what of Jesse Jackson who admitted:”There is nothing more painful to me… than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery. Then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved.”

And it is not a stereotype to label women as physically weaker than men on the whole. If you think otherwise then you have never watched a sporting event in your life. There is a reason why we have the WNBA, women’s tennis, women’s golf, etc. Again, that is just seeing life as it is, not as one would want it to be.

Yet again, one aspect of old age for many seniors is indeed memory loss (as I am starting to discover myself, unfortunately). Yet again, one aspect of old age is indeed mem–ach, you see?

So the question really comes to mind: how can one possibly make a study of what is “prejudiced” or not when its very definition I believe to be suspect or at least  in the eye of the one running the study. What one researcher describes as a “stereotype” I would argue is just recording what your own eyes see and what the data confirms. In some circles this is known as a reality check.

And based on his faulty notion of prejudice, in the end we see a supposedly impartial researcher’s true left-wing agenda seep through in the conclusion he drws from his biased study. After deciding that what you see, hear, and read is making us bigots rather than observers, Verhaegan offers something that would make George Orwell cringe: “There’s a reason for political correctness,” he says. “At least, as studies suggest, it might be a good idea to not put stereotypes out there too clearly, because if you do, people will internalize them.” Oh yes, we need even more stifled dialogue. Maybe that will get us to racial nirvana.

Do such studies ever leave liberals holding the short intelligence straw? Actually, in May 2010, the Journal of The American Institute for Economic Enlightenment did a study trying to find clues to economic literacy which included links to political ideology. It asked eight questions about economics such as “Agree/disagree: rent control leads to housing shortages” (Disagree=economically unenlightened). The results found that the least economically enlightened defined themselves as “progressive/very liberal.” The most economically astute were “very conservative.”

So what does this pro-conservative economics survey tell us? Are liberals, in fact, economic nit-wits? Well, I’m not sure, but I know I didn’t read about it on and the ABC-affiliated Yahoo! News. And I highly doubt even if they did grudgingly report the findings, they would have led with something so damning as “As is to be expected, liberals are economically illiterate.” One thing it could mean is that such surveys involving correlations between intelligence, racism, economics and politics could be as inexact as the science of psychology itself… and as prone to bias as the researchers clamoring for relevance–and perhaps, even, also seeking a bit of reassurance that their own left-wing political beliefs stem from a superior intelligence to match their attitudes.