Individualism and the FollowerArk

Sometimes, while channel surfing, my attention latches onto one of the religious channels. I call it ‘doing research.’ Well, it is a guilty pleasure–watching theocrats. (See Frank Schaeffer: Spaceship Jesus Will Come and Whisk Us Away for a good take.) Glenn Beck provides another guilty pleasure, although I depend on Crooks and Liars and MediaMatters to pluck the ripest insanity out of a sea of lunacy.

Beck is a masterful architect, but of what, I’m not sure. He’s not really a polemicist or propagandist in the sense that both those dispositions usually presume coherency. His basic argument is structured as a sort of daft hermeneutics, connecting dots, but doing so incoherently across domains. It all ends up, usually, in the same place: a cabal of Marxist elitists are planning to take over the country and “control every aspect of your life.”

The aspect that evokes cognitive dissonance is Beck’s appeal to freedom from control, while offering at the same time, an analysis that could only be practically powerful were persons to accept it uncritically ‘en mass.’ For Beck, America is free when there is a monotheism of individuality, and if you’re so individuated as to disagree, well then, you’re helping to destroy the country.

Jon Stewart breaks down Beck’s hermeneutics.

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What would be the nature and inherent cognitive complexity of someone who would buy Beck’s binary paranoia, who would follow his connected dots to their satisfying conclusion: slaughter or ark? Decades ago I wondered the same thing about who possibly could find Ayn Rand’s insipid version of logical rationality reasonable.*

Jason Richwine, unintentionally unleashing silliness in The American, the Journal of the American Enterprise Institute, Are Liberals Smarter Than Conservatives?, ponders anecdotal counter-factuals, while missing the point of Lazar Stankov’s research, Conservatives and Cognitive Ability. Heck, Richwine misses the point even though it’s pointed to in the paper’s title.

Richwine does mention that conservatism isn’t defined deeply enough in Stankov’s research. I’d love to see a factor analysis of policy-oriented beliefs meshed with a meta-analysis of several orders of cognitive complexity and personality constructs. For example, is there a correlation across the range of the former beliefs with binary attitudes? How does ideological certainty correlate with tendencies having to do with reducing complexity, anxiety, and dissonance? I don’t think Richwine read the paper though, because Stankov’s work is not primarily concerned with ‘smarts’, and is, in fact, focused on a very complex meta-analysis, very close to my intuition about what I’d like to see.

In our work, conservatism is captured by a score — usually a factor score — obtained from several scales that were not developed specifically for the measurement of conservatism. Thus, it incorporates measures of Personality (Big Five from IPIP), Social Attitudes (Saucier, 2000; Stankov & Kneževi?, 2005), Values (Schwartz & Bardi, 2001), and Social Norms (GLOBE; House, Hanges, Javidan, Dorfman, & Gupta, 2004) — a total of 43 different subscale scores.Nevertheless, ouranalyses show the presence of a factor of Conservatism that has loadings from subscales from all these domains and captures many constructs that are included in the nomological net of Jost et al. (2003) and Wilson (1973). This factor is expected to correlate with cognitive ability for reasons outlined above. What are the other factors that emerge from the analysis of 43 subscales? Are they also expected to correlate with cognitive ability? Stankov (2007) found three domain-related factors. They are quite different from the Conservatism factor in that they show very little overlap between the domains.

These are:

• Personality/Social Attitudes. This is usually a bipolar factor contrasting Personality traits on the negative side and Social Attitudes on the positive side. Loadings of Personality traits on this factor are typically lower than loadings from the Social Attitudes measures. In some of our analyses, this factor splits into a separate Personality factor representing “good” evaluative processes (or perhaps social desirability) and a Social Attitudes factor representing anti- or amoral attitudes towards social objects (Stankov & Kneževi?, 2005). • Values. See Method section for the interpretation of this factor.

• Social Norms. Several Social Norms scales from GLOBE study (House et al., 2004) load on this factor. In this paper I report the analyses based on a smaller (22) number of variables that correspond quite closely to the solution obtained with the full set of 43 measures. Smaller number of variables is employed in order to carry out simultaneous (i.e., multilevel) structural equation modelling of individual- and country-level data that has not been reported in the past.

There is no empirical evidence or theoretical arguments in the literature that suggest a relationship between cognitive ability and Values or Social Norms.2 Thus, it is reasonable to assume that these two constructs do not correlate with cognitive measures. The situation is different with the Personality/ Social Attitudes dimension. Jost (2006) reports that Conscientiousness (positively) and Openness to Experience (negatively) correlate with Democrat/Republican voting preferences of the states within the U.S., interpreted as reflections of liberal/conservative tendencies. Openness to Experience is also known to correlate about .30 with measures of intelligence (Stankov, 2005; Stankov and Lee, 2008). The other side of this bipolar factor, Social Attitudes, captured by Toughness, Maliciousness, and Betaism (i.e., non-PC motives for behavior), have qualities reminiscent of Dogmatism and Authoritarian personalities that are often seen as components of conservatism (see Jost et al., 2003). Since in our work they define a factor that is separate from conservatism, it is reasonable to assume that there is a separation between thuggish and rough Social Attitudes trait and Conservative syndrome that captures not only social attitudes but also Values, Social Norms, and Personality traits. These rough social attitudes are also likely to be related to cognitive ability—they often reflect difficulties or disinclination to make fine-grained analysis of a problematic situation (see Wilson, 1973).

Snap! Maybe the article was so complex it caused Richwine anxiety? I wonder what Glenn Beck would think?

*John Galt’s Monologue

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