conservatives: less factual, more fearful

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Jonah Goldberg [of Liberal Fascism infamy] writes that Chris Mooney's Republican Brain "purports to show that conservatives are, literally by nature, more closed-minded and resistant to change and facts:"

His evidence includes the fact that conservatives are less likely to buy into global warming, allegedly proving they are not only "anti-science" but innately anti-fact, as well. "Politicized wrongness today," he writes "is clustered among Republicans, conservatives and especially Tea Partiers."

"The data might be correct," Goldberg avers, but "the conclusions are beyond absurd."

Oblivious to the anti-factualness of his criticism, Goldberg blunders onward. He parodies scientific analysis as an "algorithmic whirligig" and calls Mooney's research "inherently undemocratic and ... self-serving bigotry that allows liberals to justify their own closed-mindedness on the grounds that Republicans aren't even worth listening to."

Mooney's response points out that Goldberg "extensively misrepresented The Republican Brain:"

He talks about Republicans having "bad brains," as if this is something that I allege. This is both inflammatory and false. I say no such thing.

...it is hard to miss the irony here. Conservatives are reacting defensively to a book about how they react defensively...just as the book predicted they would.

As for Goldberg's latest screed, The Tyranny of Clich├ęs: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas, Mother Jones points out the following:

Jonah Goldberg argues that liberals craftily use innocuous-sounding yet hackneyed phrases such as "social justice" and "diversity" to obscure their nefarious intentions. Never mind that issue-framing is nothing new in American politics and that conservatives are pretty darn good at it. And never mind that Goldberg's last book, Liberal Fascism, indulged in the very argument-by-sloganeering that he now decries.

AlterNet's Joshua Holland wonders why the conservative brain is more fearful, and wants us to "Consider for a moment just how terrifying it must be to live life as a true believer on the right:"

Reality is scary enough, but the alternative reality inhabited by people who watch Glenn Beck, listen to Rush Limbaugh, or think Michele Bachmann isn't a joke must be nothing less than horrifying. Research suggests that conservatives are, on average, more susceptible to fear than those who identify themselves as liberals [which] has implications for our political world.

The "nightmarish landscape[of] the world around them" is indeed frightening:

The White House has been usurped by a Kenyan socialist named Barry Soetero, who hatched an elaborate plot to pass himself off as a citizen of the United States - a plot the media refuse to even investigate. This president doesn't just claim the right to assassinate suspected terrorists who are beyond the reach of law enforcement - he may be planning on rounding up his ideological opponents and putting them into concentration camps if he is reelected. He may have murdered a blogger who was critical of his administration, but authorities refuse to investigate. At the very least, he is plotting on disarming the American public after the election, in accordance with a secret deal cut with the UN and possibly with the assistance of foreign troops.

On issues as diverse as immigration, terrorism, violent crime, "sharia law," "death panels," global warming "hoaxes," gay "indoctrination" in sex-ed classes, rampant voter fraud, and the ever-popular "War on Christmas," Holland implores us not to "look at these specters haunting the right with exasperation or amusement, but just consider for a moment how bleak the world looks to those who buy into these ideas." It's hard to be empathetic toward their self-inflicted fantasies when they're burying us under a blizzard of bullshit, but we must try.

In his piece on anti-gay pseudoscience, Mooney examines "the underlying psychology behind how conservatives, especially religious ones, can believe such falsehoods" about same-sex marriage (such as Amendment 1 in North Carolina) and asks "Don't Christian conservatives want to be factually right, and to believe what's true about the world?:"

And shouldn't a proper reading of this research actually come as a relief to them, and help to assuage their concerns about dangerous social consequences of same-sex marriage or civil unions? If only it were that simple. We all want to be right, and to believe that our views are based on the best available information. But in this case, Christian conservatives utterly fail to get past their emotions, which powerfully bias their reasoning.

"Christian conservatives," he observes, "rely on their gut emotions to come up with wrong beliefs:"

Their deep emotional convictions guide the retrieval of self-supporting information that they then use to argue with, to prop themselves up. It isn't about truth, it's about feeling that you're right -- righteous, even.

"In the end," he concludes, "facts are facts -- and emotions and gut instincts are an utterly unreliable way of identifying them:"

We can try to be understanding of people different from us -- even when they're manifestly failing at the same task. But the latest research makes it more untenable than ever to base public policy on gut-driven misinformation.


update (5/3):
Amanda Marcotte contemplates the psychology involved, and asks, "Do they really believe this shit?"

I'm not so sure. I've said it before, but I think it's worth repeating: I think they only "believe" it. Which is to say, there are two kinds of ways people believe something. They have things they believe because they're factually accurate: That it's raining outside, that items dropped will fall, that Barack Obama is President. Then there's stuff that isn't real that people believe: that there's a God in heaven and an afterlife, that miracles happen, ghosts exist. These are things you don't really believe in the same way you believe in truths. It's more that these beliefs are convenient to apply a belief-like approach to, because the stories make you feel good or, more commonly, because joining in the belief connects you to your community.

In the end, she writes, "I don't think they believe-believe this stuff:"

I think they're just confused about the difference between fake belief and real belief, though I think they're highly motivated to be confused about it. After all, that confusion helps generate right wing identity. They may even mistakenly believe it's politically beneficial, though the available evidence shows that it instead causes everyone else to think they're nut jobs.

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on May 2, 2012 7:34 PM.

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