Me Am Conservative

Kari Norgaard, the Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Oregon who looks unsettlingly like Gary Busey in drag, has diagnosed me as diseased because of my unwillingness to embrace the increasingly convoluted and contradictory assumptions inherent in the latest faddish thinking re: anthropogenic global warming.

In other words, global warming skeptics aren’t just wrong; they’re sick.

This is just a variation on a popular theme: that conservatism isn’t a legitimate way of thinking, and that it’s adherents aren’t just wrong; they’re defective.

That’s the rationale behind a study released a couple months back claiming that conservatives are biologically dumber than liberals.  Not having seen the study, I can’t debunk it directly, and, being a conservative, I probably wouldn’t be able to understand it, as it probly yooses big werds and stufff. But reading the short summaries in the news articles shows me there’s some intellectual sleight of hand that undermines the central premise.

The researchers claim, for instance, that “individuals with lower cognitive abilities … gravitate towards more socially conservative right-wing ideologies that maintain the status quo” because it makes them feel “safe.” In other words, then, the word “conservative” is used to describe someone who is protective of the way things as they currently are and resistant to change. But that’s a bait-and-switch. If the status quo is liberal, is it really appropriate to say that those who are resistant to change are conservatives?

I addressed this in a post a few years back, but since most of you aren’t going to click through and read my old stuff, then let me sum up: The word “conservative” has two distinct definitions, and you don’t get to mix and match them. In one sense, you are conservative if you want to keep things exactly the way they are. In a political sense, you are conservative if you want to limit the size and influence of centralized government. So if you’ve got a big centralized government and you’re a political conservative, then the status quo is not your friend.

The fact is that great conservatives are more than happy to mix things up, while plenty of liberals cling to an ossified New Deal ideology that hasn’t changed in 75 years. I’d have to see the research questions to prove the point, but it’s likely the study didn’t include questions like “do you think Social Security should be modified to include private accounts, or should the program stay unchanged?” The conservative/right wing answers would lean toward private accounts. But the conservative/no change answers would all say “leave it alone.” Try the same thing with school vouchers, increased domestic oil production, and welfare reform. What positions on these issues are more likely to make a dumb person feel safe?

And who determines what questions represent a “conservative” point of view? Case in point: the individual health care mandate at the core of the current debate over Obamacare. When Mitt Romney signed the Massachusetts health care bill that’s still getting him into trouble, such a mandate was a conservative alternative to a single-payer system. Now the individual mandate is considered a left-wing assault on the Constitution. So is that idea conservative or liberal?

Determining whether or not you’re conservative is not like testing whether or not the sky is blue. The definition of “blue” is not really in dispute. The definition of “conservative” is. How you define that term inescapably reflects a personal bias, and, inevitably, that bias becomes apparent over time. You’ll notice that the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute don’t have a lot of published research on this question. It’s always liberals with an axe to grind who find this subject fascinating. It’s guys like Satoshi Kanazawa, a left-wing “evolutionary psychologist” who published a similar study in 2010 that nobody cites anymore.

Kanazawa’s findings were a really big deal at the time they were published, and the conclusions were heralded as further evidence of the indisputable fact that if you vote for someone with an R by their name, you’re brain damaged. But that only lasted until the kook who conducted the study published a not-so-charming article the next year titled “Why Black Women Are Less Attractive Than Other Women.” I can’t link to the piece, because it no longer exists online. Needless to say, Kanazawa was fired; his work was discredited, and it’s as if the 2010 study never existed.

What’s sad about this is that it’s a sophisticated way of promulgating a logically fallacious argument. Or, in smaller words for you dumb right wingers, it’s a way to insult conservative people in order to avoid responding to conservative ideas.

Think of it this way. I know some really, really dumb people.  All of them, however, believe the sky is blue. So by proving these people are dumb, do you prove the sky is green? If you prove conservatives have lower grades and test scores than liberals*, do you therefore make the case that we need a single-payer healthcare system? Does a professor who attributes scientific skepticism to disease no longer have to account for well over a decade of stagnant global temperatures?

Ad hominem arguments don’t become efficacious when they’re gussied up and presented as science. Or, in words my fellow troglodytes can understand, sticks and stones may break my bones, but you liberals are still wrong.

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* George W. Bush had better grades than both Al Gore and John Kerry. Fact. 

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