Intelligence challenged people and free speech

By Razib Khan | September 15, 2012 6:23 pm

 

In the post below I took the time out to link to the GSS, as well as posting my exact queries. As payment for this consideration the first comment was absolute drivel. I understand people have political opinions, but I’m not too interested in your opinions. You may be interested in your opinions, but I’d rather have more data. Most people don’t know enough for me to have interest in their opinions (most != all, many readers do have opinions in their specialties which I seek out).

I was trying to make a point that anger and even violence in reaction to actions which offend are actually comprehensible as the modal human response. The community reacts to punish those who violate taboos. The taboos may differ, but the response to the action of violation is normal and natural. A primary issue that needs to be considered is that taboos differ from society to society, so one is often not conscious of the act of violation (e.g., if you show the bottom of your shoes to people when you sit down, that’s an offensive act in some societies).

An implication here is that American norms of free speech near absolutism, enforced through the fiat of the courts because of their interpretation of the applicability of the Bill of Rights, are radically non-intuitive to most people. The only reason that they are intuitive to many Americans is that we are acculturated over time. This is clear when you look at differences of intelligence and education. In short, less intelligent and educated Americans are much more skeptical of allowing social deviants to speak. This is true even in cases where they are more likely to agree with the deviant in question (e.g., these groups have a more pro-military bent, and yet are more accepting of the concept of censure of pro-military opinions).

I have limited all the results to the year 2000 and later. Additionally, I classify those who score 0-4 on the WORDSUM vocab test as stupid, those who score 5-8 as average, and those who score 9-10 as smart. WORDSUM has been reported to have a 0.7 correlation with general intelligence. In this data set 20% of individuals scored 0-4, 69% 5-8, and 12% 9-10.

Stupid Average Smart
Allow racist to speak 52 60 84
Allow homosexual to speak 74 86 98
Allow militarist to speak 51 67 93
Allow communist to speak 51 68 95
Allow atheist to speak 64 79 97
Allow Muslim to preach hatred of America 25 41 74

I wanted to repeat the logistic regression I did earlier, this time with more variables. If you care, they are: SPKRAC, SPKHOMO, SPKMIL, SPKCOM, SPKATH

Allow group to speak
Communist Racist Homo Militarist Atheist
B Prob B Prob B Prob B Prob B Prob
SEX 0.279 0.01 0.331 0.00 -0.209 0.11 -0.062 0.53 0.282 0.01
AGE 0.012 0.00 0.008 0.00 0.019 0.00 0.021 0.00 0.017 0.00
SEI -0.004 0.18 -0.003 0.29 -0.009 0.05 -0.013 0.00 -0.011 0.00
DEGREE -0.366 0.00 -0.119 0.02 -0.267 0.00 -0.108 0.06 -0.138 0.04
WORDSUM -0.229 0.00 -0.139 0.00 -0.276 0.00 -0.204 0.00 -0.228 0.00
RACE(Recoded) 0.068 0.58 0.021 0.86 -0.096 0.54 0.29 0.02 0.078 0.55
HISPANIC(Recoded) 0.419 0.01 0.876 0.00 0.173 0.36 0.49 0.00 0.463 0.00
GOD 0.194 0.00 0.176 0.00 0.233 0.00 0.149 0.00 0.228 0.00
POLVIEWS 0.025 0.50 0.07 0.04 0.227 0.00 0.079 0.03 0.103 0.01

Most of you may not know the GSS codes for variables, but I do, so I will tell you what the above means. For sex 1 = male and 2 = female. And 1 = allow speech, and 2 = disallow. Therefore, you see that women are more skeptical of free speech for communists, racists, and atheists. Additionally, this skepticism is statistically significant. In contrast, they more supportive of free speech for homosexuals and militarists than men. These results are on the border of significance, but in general women support gay rights more robustly than men, so I think we can accept that.

For age the values are straightforward. Older people have higher values. There isn’t a strong trend. Similarly with socieconomic index. The magnitudes for the beta are not high because intelligence and education probably is what is really driving the socioeconomic differences. And as you can see in every case people with more education or a higher intelligence are more supportive of free speech. These are the people who run American society. I’m intrigued that when accounting for background variables non-whites don’t seem particularly supportive of restraints on the speech of racists. In contrast, Hispanics seem definitely much more skeptical of free speech. Finally, being more religious and more conservative also tends to result in more support for censorship. Note that this is the case even in the situation where the very religious and conservative are more likely to support the outlined deviant position, militarism.

On a deep philosophical level what this is asking is whether the community has the right to restrain the speech of individuals. Historically, and to a great extent internationally, the answer is yes. Particular universal ideals of individual liberty which have expanded in scope since the 18th century have started to challenge this assumption, but even within Western societies there are substantial minorities who hew with the older ways.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Data Analysis
MORE ABOUT: GSS, Speech
  • Karl Zimmerman

    In general, I’ve found people become angry in debate when they don’t have a good retort – when the other person references factual data, for example, or catches them in a logical inconsistency. Thus, I wonder how much of the hostility of stupid people to free speech is because they understand, on some level, they are more unable to debate those whom they find morally repulsive and win? Essentially, they want the feds to step in and stop the argument before it makes their brain hurt.

    In contrast, the smart understand that words cannot hurt them, or at least, they are smart enough that they have well-developed ideological frameworks which can diffuse “bad speech” before it causes a brain meltdown.

    One interesting way to check this would be to look at similar breakdowns in other nations. My expectation would be that in virtually all nations, tolerance of free speech will be higher among the smarter, although the overall tolerance may vary from culture to culture.

  • http://www.gwern.net/ gwern

    I don’t have anything substantive to say (aside from wondering how I can learn to use the GSS myself, which is something I should figure out for myself), but the results don’t surprise me. I read a book back in the early ’00s which argued at length using data like opinion surveys that standard positions like strong support for free speech were heavily elite-supported, and that the masses were profoundly anti-democratic.

    (Does this description ring any bells for anyone? All I can seem to remember besides that summary is that I read it about the same time as I read Rausch’s _Demosclerosis_.)

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #2, i think you mean illiberal.

  • Riordan

    Would it be possible to add air quotes to the “stupid” and “intelligent” classifications of the Wordsum result categories ? It is highly correlated to IQ, but does not mean ipso facto directly implicate a person’s general cognitive abilities.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    correlated with stupid then. no, not going to air quote. that is associated with the idea that stupidity is a social construction, blah, blah.

  • Patrick Wyman

    In this same vein, the 2012 Texas GOP platform states, “We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

    There’s debate in education circles as to whether you can actually teach critical thinking skills – different studies have pointed in different directions on the question – but that’s clearly not the impulse behind the inclusion of this plank. Although this doesn’t speak directly to support of free speech, it fits pretty neatly with the correlations between religiosity, conservatism, and support of censorship.

    http://takingnote.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/29/no-comment-necessary-texas-gops-2012-platform-opposes-teaching-critical-thinking-skills/

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #6 i don’t know if you can teach critical thinking, but it is often good to be made explicitly aware of common cognitive biases

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases#Decision-making.2C_belief_and_behavioral_biases

  • RedZenGenoist

    One interesting data point not investigated is “Allow Holocaust denier to speak”. I would expect responses far stronger than “Allow Muslim to preach hatred of America”.

    I once had a girlfriend, otherwise quite libertarian, who had participated in a violent censorship action with an “antifascist” group, to violently stop a German professor from speaking on the subject, and violently strike down upon the attendants. Their group was literally called “antifascism”, quite funny.

  • Prasad Rao

    “people with more education or a higher intelligence are more supportive of free speech. These are the people who run” x “society”
    “less intelligent and educated” x “are much more skeptical of allowing social deviants to speak”
    I would wager that you can replace america with india (or almost any country) and these statements would hold true !
    There is no GSS to mine in India but, perhaps, a proxy could be resistance that censorship requests receive from the judiciary and legislature .. ?

  • ackbark

    “Allow Muslim to preach hatred of America” is notably the least popular category.

    I think this is because such speakers generally conflate hatred of America with religion and conflate religion with ethnicity, and try to hide behind liberal Western standards where they can say they are doubly, or triply, protected in a transparent and rather infantile ploy to undermine the West, and which apparently a couple hundred million Muslims think is terrifically clever.

    Try to argue against one of these people and you’re immediately confronted by some dingbat who wants to tell you you’re impugning his humanity or something.

    I have been unsuccessful trying to figure out an obvious origin of the Western liberal’s weird love of Islam. I think it’s that it must originate in some confluence of Soviet Propaganda, gilded trustafarians getting stoned in North Africa, and sublimated antisemitism.

    It seems particularly virulent among Green Party and back to nature types.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #10, philo-islamic tendencies have old roots in the west. you can see it in some protestants who want to argue against the idolatry of the catholics as far back as the reformation. it reemerged in a different form during the enlightenment, and again in the 19th and early 20th century among intellectuals skeptical of resurgent european christianity. it’s not a love of islam as such, but a lot of an alternative model to that that they were attacking (the last is how the myth of tolerant islam vs. intolerant christendom got popular). also, you seem something similar with the sinophilia which was common from leibniz down to voltaire in western europe.

  • ackbark

    Something about the noble savage and ‘authenticness of the folk’ going on as well.

  • Matunos

    The “Allow Muslim to preach hatred of America” seems like a different question than the others and not directly comparable. For instance, I suspect that “Allow an atheist to preach hatred of religion” would get lower numbers than the more general “Allow an atheist to speak” (which I presume should be interpreted as ‘Allow an atheist to speak about atheism’).

  • Grey

    “I was trying to make a point that anger and even violence in reaction to actions which offend are actually comprehensible as the modal human response.”

    Ironically, shown by the reaction to making the point.

  • Ultan Gannon

    I thought it was generally accepted as a fact by historians that the Muslims in Moorish Spain were very tolerant of other faiths, like christianity and Judaism, going so far as to share holy space with them?
    Man we could do with some of that attitude from all the Abrahamics nowadays!

  • Walter

    I thought I might as well share this from a quite intelligent writer, as an example of anti-free speech intelligent men.

    “When we need to limit freedom – to preserve other values, we shouldn’t act hypocritically, allegedly on behalf of “true freedom”. With a clear conscience, we can resort to illiberal means, because freedom is not the supreme value.”

    You can read a few translated aphorisms more here
    http://don-colacho.blogspot.com.ar/2010/01/liberty-liberties.html

    The writer (a dead guy) is a colombian writer of aphorisms, Nicolás Gómez Dávila, he was a reactionary Catholic and he has become rather popular among german philosophers since the mid 80s.

  • Ben

    History shows as various religious societies adapted religion for its today needs.The last examples are: the nordic aryan Christ of nazies and Jewdenrein Palestine of the Muslims who forget about Koran`s declarations of the Jewish Palestine.We must not blame the ancient religions for their inhuman twists by the modern people,Islamists for example.

  • reader from Germany

    @15
    I’m by no means an expert on this, but your view of al-Andalus as a paradise of tolerance is only applicable to certain periods (like the 10th century), if at all, as far as I know (and even for that period Islamic tolerance is probably exaggerated by modern interpreters looking for a counterpoint to Catholic intolerance in an idealised past). The Almoravids and Almohads in the 12th and 13th centuries were quite intolerant by contrast. It’s also notable that Christianity didn’t survive in North Africa which had been one of its centres in late antiquity (just think of Christian luminaries like Tertullian, Cyprian, Augustine etc.); its end is (to my knowledge at least, I’d be grateful if anyone who knows more about this could point out relevant literature to me) mostly dated to the 12th century. This rather exceptional fact (when compared to the survial of Christian minorities in other Islamic countries until the 20th century or even today) hardly indicates an attitude tolerant of other faiths on the part of the Almoravids/Almohads.

  • Anthony

    #8 and #13 have an interesting point to make. I think that including the militarism question does show that there’s a strong tendency towards support of free speech that’s independent of whose ox is being gored, but there may be other prior information affecting how people respond, for example, the potential for any particular speaker to incite violence.

    Of interest is that the dumb are as accepting of racists as of militarists and communists, while the smart are much less accepting of racists. I would imagine that among the smart/more educated, there’s a belief that racist speech is more likely to cause bad results – riots, other crime, or even just a corrosion of the current societal racial settlement, which could have bad effects down the road.

    Was a similar question asked about anti-semitic or Nazi speakers in the GSS? Is there a question about banning concerts or other events when there’s a strong possibility/track record of riots? Both of those questions, if asked, would shed some light.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    I thought it was generally accepted as a fact by historians that the Muslims in Moorish Spain were very tolerant of other faiths, like christianity and Judaism, going so far as to share holy space with them?

    very tolerant is on a curve. they would be extremely intolerant by the standards of even the 19 century. a lot of the praise of al-andalus is ideological-rhetorical.

    its end is (to my knowledge at least, I’d be grateful if anyone who knows more about this could point out relevant literature to me) mostly dated to the 12th century.

    no, it’s earlier. there’s little mention after 1000. christianity probably had shallow roots outside of the latin-speaking urban areas in north africa, explaining why it withered much more quickly. unlike in egypt, a native berber christianity probably was never vital.

  • reader from Germany

    @20

    Yes, most of North African Christianity had probably already dissappeared before 1000, but there still were some remnants in the 11th and early 12th centuries. Pope Gregory VII wrote some letters to the bishop of Carthage in the 1070s as did some later popes in the late 11th/early 12th century (don’t know from memory which ones, sorry). Admittedly the North African church was already in quite a bad state at that time (it’s clear from the letters I mentioned that there were only three of four other bishops apart from the bishop of Carthage). If I recall correctly, the last evidence for North African Christianity comes from the 1120s/1130s; after that it’s silence (at least some historians have, to my knowledge, explained this final disappearance of North African Christianity with increased conflict between Norman Sicily and Islamic North Africa which led to increased intolerance on the Islamic side and a desire to get rid of potential fifth-columnists among the Christian population).
    If anyone can point me to literature outlining the decline and disappearance of North African Christianity, that would be cool though.

  • Grey

    “I thought it was generally accepted as a fact by historians that the Muslims in Moorish Spain were very tolerant”

    You need to bear numbers in mind. A small conquering elite have to choose between being very tolerant or very massacre-orientated which as well as killing off productive peasants will spark greater resistance. As the balance of numbers shifts over time through elite emulation the need for tolerance gradually decreases and pressure to conform to the elite’s religion can be increased.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #22, exactly. islamic dhimmitude may have had models in how the late byzantines treated jews and samaritans. if christianity arose AFTER islam, into an islamic substrate, it would have likely had to create the same arrangements that muslims had to promulgate.

    #21, good points. i would say

    - christianity was nearly extinct by 1000, in part because of its lack of robustness in the hinterlands

    - the death blows to the last remaining urban redoubts were dealt by the berber revivalist regimes

  • Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    this is asking is whether the community has the right to restrain the speech of individuals.

    ~ 60 nations ceded that right 1948, including many where demonstrations to curtail free expression are now are taking place:

    “Article 19.

    Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

    Freedom of opinion and expression “through any media” is of course not exactly the same as free speech, and especially there are religious exceptions elsewhere, but it is likely covered by the statistics above.

    Apparently the Pakistani ambassador has noted that a problem in the context is that many states control media, hence US free speech points are seen as supported by the US states.

    An interesting question IMO is if free speech is useful, as violence is a bad outcome for everyone involved. Statistics shows that democracy a factor correlated with well being societies, and free speech (and in this context freedom of religion, eg also criticism) is part of that package. So it is not an inherently bad thing to challenge “older ways” here.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    and free speech (and in this context freedom of religion, eg also criticism) is part of that package.

    free speech is part of liberalism, not necessarily democracy. the two are connected today, but they don’t need to be.

  • Onur

    You need to bear numbers in mind. A small conquering elite have to choose between being very tolerant or very massacre-orientated which as well as killing off productive peasants will spark greater resistance. As the balance of numbers shifts over time through elite emulation the need for tolerance gradually decreases and pressure to conform to the elite’s religion can be increased.

    To confirm what you say; during the Rum Seljuqid times (12th-13th centuries), Muslim rulers of Anatolia were generally relatively tolerant towards their Christian subjects due to the fact that Christians were then the great majority of the population even in the Muslim-ruled parts of Anatolia; but by the times of the Ottoman consolidation in Anatolia (15th century), Muslim rulers of Anatolia were generally less tolerant towards their Christian subjects, as by then Muslims were the great majority of the population of Anatolia.

  • Grey

    “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

    The thing about that though is free speech in practical terms is proportional to access to mass media. If ten people in a room nominally have free speech but one guy has a megaphone and the rest don’t is that really free speech in practical terms?

    I know a lot of people think attitudes in the middle east are solely to do with foreign policy – and no doubt a lot of it is – but i think it’s equally to do with “Will and Grace” and MTV and the American media having such a disproportionately sized megaphone.

    @26
    Exactly. Practical reasons. I expect there’d be a lot of similar examples in European colonial empires as well.

  • omar

    While different cultures DO have different taboos, one thing to note here is that post-enlightenment Western values are so dominant (and in many cases, so much more efficiently associated with capitalist productivity) and the opposition to them is so incoherent and self-contradictory that any policy of “to each his own” is practically hopeless. The “Muslim world” wants to keep certain taboos. But its elites also want many many other things. Those other things drag taboo-breaking technologies and ideas in with them. People can explode and riot all they want. blasphemy is here to stay.

    A lot of “secular” struggles are of course part of why America gets abused in particular (Israel, Iraq etc) but even if the USA did not support Israeli occupation of Arab lands and did not launch invasions under false pretences, blasphemy would still happen. And American embassies would still be targeted because some of the blasphemy will invariably come from the largest advanced country in the world.

    This is a convoluted point, and I wish I could explain it better and in greater detail, but let me sum up with an example: If there was no US invasion force, Afghanistan and Pakistan would see Jihadi violence and extreme steps (including drone attacks, whether flown by China or Russia or India) against them in any case. Even if there was no Pakistan that would happen. There are certain ideological trends that are fundamentally incompatible with the modern world. Islamism of the type that maintains such strict taboos on the faintest public expressions of doubt about orthodox Islamic norms is one of them. Certain notions of Jihadist supremacy are another…not because they are unimaginable but because they are practically bound to cause conflict AND to fail.
    Something like that.

  • abb3w

    The basic results don’t seem all that surprising; cf. the results on high-RWA (“authoritarian follower”) personalities mentioned in Robert Altemeyer’s “The Authoritarians”.

  • Eurologist

    Many western countries do have something akin blasphemy laws – but the target usually is public safety and thus avoiding large-scale emotional unrest – not protecting specific religious expressions.

    The interview of the Egyptian PM is a good example of how Muslim countries are struggling with the free speech concept: to save face in his own country, he seems to be suggesting advances in the dialogue with western countries that will never happen:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-19613768

    (the above video at my listening contained stronger language not reflected in the transcription below:)

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-19611072

  • AG

    Intelligence challenged people want simple answer. Freedom of speech only confused them. They want simple brain-wash message, not figuring out your own information.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    Is the teaching of critical thinking supposed to be similar to “learning how to learn”? A technical term used for that is “transfer of learning” which Bryan Caplan often references in preparation for his education book.

  • Karl Zimmerman

    32 -

    From my social sciences background in undergrad, “critical thinking” is mainly about being able to identify the perspective of an arguer, as well as identifying any logical flaws in arguments themselves. This also includes self-criticism. I do think it is a learned skill (as human instinct is to trust authority and to not have a logically coherent world view), but I don’t think that every individual has an equal capacity to learn it.

  • AG

    Here is entertaining piece about failure of Obama

    http://www.nsfwcorp.com/dispatch/war-nerd-obamas-wars

    To make simple people happy is not about doing right thing.

  • Douglas Knight

    For age the values are straightforward. Older people have higher values. There isn’t a strong trend. Similarly with socieconomic index. The magnitudes for the beta are not high because intelligence and education probably is what is really driving the socioeconomic differences.

    It appears to me that there is a strong trend for age, though I may be wrong about the meaning of these numbers or this may be quibbling over words.

    Are these regression coefficients standardized? I couldn’t find the answer in the documentation, but recoding them seems to show that they are not standardized in the default settings. (If it is possible to switch to standardized coefficients, please tell me how.)

    I think it is misleading to say “the magnitudes for the beta are not high,” or otherwise draw attention to the magnitudes of raw coefficients. (Also, “beta” usually means standardized.) The displayed raw coefficient for age is small because the units are logit/year. For most of the categories a sex change is worth an age change of 25 years, excepting homosexuals, where it is only worth 10 years.

    As a proxy for strength of these coefficients, we could use statistical significance. In the case of communists, the T-statistic and p-value for age are strong, though not as strong as for degree and wordsum. But in the case of homosexuals, age is stronger than degree, though weaker than wordsum.

    You are right to say that degree and wordsum are the most important, but I think you are wrong to discount age. Maybe I’m misunderstanding how much you discount it, but still I think you are wrong to draw attention to the magnitude of coefficients and to call them “beta.”

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #35, i think you’re right and i’m wrong.

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This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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