At the wonderful Retraction Watch site, under the title Epic Correction of the Decade, we find out that that study which purported to show that conservative people are more authoritarian and prone to “psychoticism” than their clearly better adjusted and more stable liberal neighbors, a report you could have read about in just about every major publication in this country – I saw it at the NYT – got a couple things a tinsy bit wrong – as in completely and stunningly diametrically opposite the truth wrong:
The authors regret that there is an error in the published version of “Correlation not Causation: The Relationship between Personality Traits and Political Ideologies” American Journal of Political Science 56 (1), 34–51. The interpretation of the coding of the political attitude items in the descriptive and preliminary analyses portion of the manuscript was exactly reversed.
A little background: I’ve lived in California all but 7 years of my life, the last 30+ years in the Bay Area. I’ve lived in San Francisco and Berkeley. I’ve been here long enough to have caught (inadvertently) a Gay Pride parade, and walked on the Cal Berkeley and San Francisco State campuses enough to catch a bit of the local, um, color, socially and politically speaking. (1) I’ve played at parties thrown by Unitarians, taken teacher’s union officials to dinner, and attended a longshoremen’s union meeting. Plus, for the last 20 years, I’ve been deeply involved with an alternative school.
In other words, I’ve had LOTS of experience with what used to be the lunatic fringe of the Left, but has come to be pretty much the mainstream.
One thing stands out above all others in my sample: These are not happy people. They are consistently mad about something, and seem to be even madder that you aren’t just as mad, and maddest of all that you ain’t buying what they’re selling. Had to look up psychoticism – another bit of fancy psychobabble that seems to add a patina of legitimacy in the eyes of the Easily and Deeply Impressed – and the term fits perfectly: As the oracle Wikipedia puts it, “Psychoticism refers to a personality pattern typified by aggressiveness and interpersonal hostility.” I’d add ‘projection’ to that list as well: having participated in a number of Walks for Life, wherein the most aggressive thing 99% of the people in the Walk do is sing a hymn, yet they are relentlessly heckled with bullhorns and posters and banners meant to be provocative and insulting. Yet, invariably, if anyone is accused of ‘aggression’, it’s the walkers.
The union officials I’ve met seemed more than anything to want somebody to die a miserable death, preferably now, right here where they can watch. Think I’m kidding? That longshoremen’s meeting was my first encounter with a dude – president of that particular union – throwing a complete spittle-flecked Marxist nutty. From his comments, it was clear there was nothing management could do that would satisfy him short of roasting in hellfire. It was bracing. He also was apoplectic over management’s resistance to unionization. Um, dude – why would someone you want dead want to cooperate with you? And I have never been treated to the level of dripping, condescending contempt I experienced when I was part of a group taking some teacher’s union leaders out to dinner as part of a business meeting. It was surreal, but the message was clear.
Anyway, suffice it to say that my personal dataset of interactions with self-identified liberals out here in California would not have backed up the original, uncorrected conclusions of the study.
But, boy, did that study get way more than its 15 minutes of fame!
The retraction? Oh, not so much. We still await massive front page banners such as ‘That Bit About Conservatives Being Aggressive Authoritarians? Turns Out It’s Liberals’ complete with blushing apologies from all the people who were so eager to indulge their confirmation biases that the study achieved Sacred Text status before the figurative ink was dry.
And we will continue to wait, and the largely useless and defeatist division of the entire country into liberals and conservatives will continue to be used by demagogues to inflame the passions and chaos that are the necessary conditions under which tyrants seize power.
h/t to Simcha Fisher, who posted the first link to this I saw.
- I took Greek at the one school and got an MBA at the other, so I was off the beaten track, politically – but still, it’s unavoidable. I could tell stories…
- I agree with a certain point John C Wright recently made: the label Conservative, like the label Capitalist, is just a leftist swear word for people who disagree with them. The reality is that I, like a lot of the more intellectually inclined people name-called Conservatives, am completely neutral both on conserving things and changing things – until you spell out exactly what you want conserved or exactly what you want changed and into what you’d change it. Some changes are good – for example, simply abolishing compulsory state schooling would be an unmitigated good. Some conservation is bad – for example, conserving the insane abortion on demand laws we’ve had for 40+ years is an ongoing disaster. I have never used ‘Conservative’ in any unqualified sense about myself.