Say what you want about The Authoritarian Personality, but at least it was an interesting read.
Today’s chin-scratching sociologies of the right-wing, by contrast, are usually bland mixtures of determinism, cargo cult science, and question-begging. If Chris Mooney’s feature-length preview of his new book is any indication, The Republican Brain (released tomorrow) is solidly of the latter pedigree.
To demonstrate that conservatives are science-hating troglodytes, Mooney employs Conservapedia as a straw man. This allows him to bring up all kinds of amusing anecdotes like the wiki’s skeptical entry on the theory of relativity. He avers:
Every contentious fact- or science-based issue in American politics now plays out just like the conflict between Conservapedia and physicists over relativity. Again and again it’s a fruitless battle between incompatible “truths,” with no progress made and no retractions offered by those who are just plain wrong—and can be shown to be through simple fact checking mechanisms that all good journalists, not to mention open-minded and critically thinking citizens, can employ.
What’s more, no matter how much the fact-checkers strive to remain “bi-partisan,” it is pretty hard to argue that, today, the distribution of falsehoods is politically equal or symmetrical. It’s not that liberals are never wrong or biased; in my new book, The Republican Brain, The Science of Why They Deny Science—and Reality , from which this essay is excerpted, I go to great lengths to describe and debunk number of liberal errors. Nevertheless, politicized wrongness today is clustered among Republicans, conservatives, and especially Tea Partiers. (Indeed, a new study published in American Sociological Review finds that while overall trust in science has been relatively stable since 1974, among self-identified conservatives it is at an all-time low .)
He goes on to argue that much of the partisan environment can be explained in terms of political psychology, citing the old “openness to experience” metric. The subhead’s “reality check” for liberals is that they just don’t understand conservatives, which is to say they just don’t understand that conservatives aren’t worth arguing with because they’re intractable.
The rise of the Religious Right was thus the epitome of conservatism on a psychological level—clutching for something certain in a changing world; wanting to preserve one’s own ways in uncertain times, and one’s own group in the face of difference—and can’t be fully understood without putting this variable into play.
Mooney has a good point here, but it only shows the dead end of arguing from the standpoint of political psychology. The Religious Right stands in for conservative governance and Conservapedia – raging id of the red-blooded right’s collision with social editing – replaces conservative thought. If, as he admits, there could be a left-wing personality, then it wouldn’t it be the opposite of authoritarian? And wouldn’t it make sense that the regnant rent-seeking statist party dominant prior to the Religious Right’s appearance relies on an ideology of submission? In that light, who wouldn’t want to “clutch for something certain in a changing world?”
Glenn Reynolds writes a positivistic defense of conservatism and science in the New York Post:
Gauchat points out, correctly, that you can’t lay the blame at the feet of biblical creationists and anti-evolutionists, who were no less common in 1974. Nor is sheer ignorance responsible, as the decline in trust rose with education. Instead, he suggests that it’s the increasing use of science as ammunition for big-government schemes that has led to more skepticism.
There’s probably something to that, but if you read the actual paper something else becomes clear. Despite the language in the coverage, it’s not science as a method that people are losing confidence in; it’s scientists and the institutions that purport to speak for them.
Elsewhere in the conservatives-don’t-think universe, a research team led by University of Arkansas psychologist Scott Eidelman proposes in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, “When effortful, deliberate responding is disrupted or disengaged, thought processes become quick and efficient … These conditions promote conservative ideology.”
Kevin Drum wonders why European conservatives don’t hate science as much as American ones do:
But the problem I have with Chris’s piece is this: temperament is universal, but Republicans are Americans. And it’s Republicans who deny global warming and evolution. European conservatives don’t. In fact, as near as I can tell, European conservatives don’t generally hold anti-science views any more strongly than European progressives.
Democracy in America says they do.
Update: A. Barton Hinkle FTW.