Category: Psychology of Ideology

Global Warming, the Tea Party, and Unwavering Certainty

By Chris Mooney | September 9, 2011 9:16 am

With such an amazing guest post on Wednesday, I didn’t get to post my own DeSmogBlog piece (which is actually related to, but far less consequential than, Andrea Kuszewski’s). So I thought I would do it now.

Basically, the piece looks at new data showing that Tea Partiers are considerably worse than mainline Republicans in their rejection of global warming. What I find most disturbing about this is the level of certainty among Tea Party members that they’re right–e.g., the people who are most wrong are most sure of themselves.

Once again, reminds me of Yeats:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Yeats thought this state of affairs signaled the Second Coming was at hand. Unfortunately, I think it’s part of human nature and will be with us as long as we’re on this rock.

Anyway, more specifically with regard to Tea Partiers’ certainty:

“Tea Party members are much more likely to say that they are ‘very well informed’ about global warming than the other groups,” according to the Yale study. “Likewise, they are also much more likely to say they ‘do not need any more information’ about global warming to make up their mind.”

What do we make of this? Why would this be? Here’s my attempt to answer:

Well, the study also shows that Tea Partiers are more likely than other Republicans to be “born again” Christians and to doubt evolution, and highly individualistic and anti-egalitarian in their moral values.

In short, what we appear to be seeing in them is a kind of merger of right wing free market views on the one hand, and the unwavering certainty associated with certain forms of fundamentalist religion on the other.

They know they’re right, they know that liberals and scientists—and most of all, President Obama—are wrong, and there is no swaying them in that. (There is also some reason to think that Tea Party members are authoritarian in their outlook, wanting to impose various types of Christian views in government.)

When you merge this with previous data on white male conservatives and climate change, it becomes apparent that the person least likely to change his mind on this issue and accept the science is a 1) white 2) male 3) conservative 4) Tea Party American.

You can read the full DeSmogBlog item here.

Your Brain on Politics: The Cognitive Neuroscience of Liberals and Conservatives

By Chris Mooney | September 7, 2011 10:10 am

This is an invited guest post by Andrea Kuszewski, a Behavior Therapist and Consultant for children on the autism spectrum based in Florida, and a researcher and manager with VORTEX: Integrative Science Improving Societies, based in Bogotá, Colombia. She blogs at The Rogue Neuron and tweets as  @AndreaKuszewski.

Can neuroscience provide evidence for a liberal and conservative thinking style?

It may seem like a stretch to say that one could predict whether you lean left or right by looking at a brain scan—no questions asked, no opinions voiced—purely based on your neuroanatomy. However, this might not be too far from reality—at least insofar as predicting thinking style, which has been shown to be somewhat distinct based on party association.

Does brain structure determine your beliefs, or do your beliefs change your brain structure? What about those who switch parties at some point? How do they fit in to this model? We’ll be discussing all of this. It’s a complicated issue with lots of variables in play, so we’re going to take a pretty deep look into this topic from all angles, so we can draw the most accurate conclusions.

Please keep in mind from the beginning that this is not an endorsement of any one political party. This is science—we’ll just be discussing the data. Ready?

Let’s begin…

Recent converging studies are showing that liberals tend to have a larger and/or more active anterior cingulate cortex, or ACC—useful in detecting and judging conflict and error—and conservatives are more likely to have an enlarged amygdala, where the development and storage of emotional memories takes place.  More than one study has shown these same results, which is why I felt it was worth investigating. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Psychology of Ideology

Questioning the Candidates on Dominionism

By The Intersection | August 25, 2011 1:20 pm

By Jon Winsor

Questions about Dominionism and national politics are now moving out of the muckraking exposés and the religion pages and into elite journalism. Yesterday, NPR’s Fresh Air devoted most of its air time to journalist Rachel Tabachnick on the topic of Dominionism. Now, NY Times Chief Editor Bill Keller is going there as well:

This year’s Republican primary season offers us an important opportunity to confront our scruples about the privacy of faith in public life — and to get over them. We have an unusually large number of candidates, including putative front-runners, who belong to churches that are mysterious or suspect to many Americans. Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are Mormons, a faith that many conservative Christians have been taught is a “cult” and that many others think is just weird. (Huntsman says he is not “overly religious.”) Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum are all affiliated with fervid subsets of evangelical Christianity, which has raised concerns about their respect for the separation of church and state, not to mention the separation of fact and fiction.

I honestly don’t care if Mitt Romney wears Mormon undergarments beneath his Gap skinny jeans, or if he believes that the stories of ancient American prophets were engraved on gold tablets and buried in upstate New York… Every faith has its baggage, and every faith holds beliefs that will seem bizarre to outsiders. I grew up believing that a priest could turn a bread wafer into the actual flesh of Christ…

In the last presidential campaign, Candidate Obama was pressed to distance himself from his pastor, who carried racial bitterness to extremes… I don’t see why Perry and Bachmann should be exempt from similar questioning…

To get things rolling, I sent the aforementioned candidates a little questionnaire.

Read More

New Data: Tea Party is Authoritarian, Not Libertarian

By Chris Mooney | August 17, 2011 12:26 pm

The New York Times just ran an oped by social scientists Robert Putnam and David Campbell, reporting on polling results about the Tea Party. This dovetails very closely with a discussion we’ve been having here, and provides additional evidence suggesting that this movement is not libertarian:

So what do Tea Partiers have in common? They are overwhelmingly white, but even compared to other white Republicans, they had a low regard for immigrants and blacks long before Barack Obama was president, and they still do.

More important, they were disproportionately social conservatives in 2006 – opposing abortion, for example – and still are today. Next to being a Republican, the strongest predictor of being a Tea Party supporter today was a desire, back in 2006, to see religion play a prominent role in politics. And Tea Partiers continue to hold these views: they seek “deeply religious” elected officials, approve of religious leaders’ engaging in politics and want religion brought into political debates. The Tea Party’s generals may say their overriding concern is a smaller government, but not their rank and file, who are more concerned about putting God in government.

Libertarians, if they stand for anything, stand for less government interference in people’s lives–e.g., they are civil libertarians. So imposing religion on others is absolute anathema to them.

But authoritarians? Is that what they believe? Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Psychology of Ideology

Can You "Fight Back" Against Climate Deniers with the Same Unity and Intensity?

By Chris Mooney | August 17, 2011 11:04 am

William Butler Yeats famously wrote, in “The Second Coming,” that

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Is this a proxy for the climate fight?

Recently, David Roberts proposed that “climate hawks” have to stop coddling conservative white male climate deniers and just “beat” them politically, by rallying the same intensity in the liberal/environmental base.

But as I reply here, this may not actually be possible. It may be a contradiction in terms:

…how do you make liberals into the true and non-oxymoronic “climate hawks” that Roberts wants to see? It’s incredibly hard. Just look at the spats that erupt constantly on the center and left over climate policy, and how everybody is balkanized and in a completely different camp from those who are only half a political degree away from them on a 360 degree spectrum.

Look at the repeated internecine fights we’ve had over the “End of Environmentalism,” over framing, and over whether messaging should focus on talking about clean energy or about the science of climate.

Or, just count how many different environmental groups there are.

Or, just watch the Monty Python bit about the People’s Front of Judea versus the Judean People’s Front.

You get the point, I think.

My full response to Roberts is here.

Rick Perry: Curiously Similar to Michele Bachmann on Science

By The Intersection | August 11, 2011 6:30 pm

By Jon Winsor

Rick Perry, who is supposed to announce his presidential candidacy this weekend, is presently only two points behind Mitt Romney, according to a recent CNN poll. So where does he stand on science?

Rick Perry joins Bachmann in advocating for intelligent design, recently commenting:

“There are clear indications from our people who have amazing intellectual capability that this didn’t happen by accident and a creator put this in place,” Perry said.

“Now, what was his time frame and how did he create the earth that we know? I’m not going to tell you that I’ve got the answers to that,” Perry said. “I believe that we were created by this all-powerful supreme being and how we got to today versus what we look like thousands of years ago, I think there’s enough holes in the theory of evolution to, you know, say there are some holes in that theory.”

Teaching the controversy“– the Discovery Institute would love that. Perry is also solidly in the climate change denialist camp, saying back in 2007 (when many of his fellow GOP governors were acknowledging the scientific consensus):

“Virtually every day another scientist leaves the global warming bandwagon. … But you won’t read about that in the press because they have already invested in one side of the story. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be good stewards of our environment. We should. I am just saying when politics hijack science, it quells true scientific debate and can have dire consequences for our future.”

…Asked for elaboration on the scientists who Perry said are abandoning the “global warming bandwagon,” his office listed two dozen recent articles, almost none about scientists. They range from calls for Gore to lose his Academy Award to a posting from the Tehran Times (“Iran’s leading international daily”) stating that Gore doesn’t deserve the Nobel Peace Prize because as a senator he voted to authorize the first Gulf War.

TalkingPointsMemo DC did an informal poll at the recent Heartland Institute International Convention on Climate Change and found Perry to be a strong presidential favorite among conference goers (with Michele Bachmann running second).

Like Bachmann, Perry bills himself as a libertarian.  Read More

MORE ABOUT: rick perry

Bachmann Anti-Enlightenment? You're Surprised?

By Chris Mooney | August 11, 2011 3:07 pm

There is much dissecting of the New Yorker profile of Michele Bachmann, and much amazement that, hey, she digs conservative Christian thinkers who come from a different galaxy than secular liberals. So here’s the L.A. Times blog Culture Monster, discussing two of Bachmann’s intellectual influences, Nancy Pearcey and Francis Schaeffer:

Pearcey’s book lauds Schaeffer’s empathy for artists who are “caught in the trap of false and harmful worldviews” — specifically, those that have trickled down from wicked Renaissance humanism. “As the medieval period merged into the Renaissance (beginning roughly in the 1300s),” she wrote, “a drumbeat began to sound for the complete emancipation of reason from revelation — a crescendo that burst into full force in the Enlightenment (beginning in the 1700s).”

Darn that Enlightenment! Next thing you know it will be birthing truly dangerous ideas, like secular democracy.

I used to write commentary like this. I don’t any more.

The reason is that I’m no longer at all surprised to hear that the Enlightenment is what actually divides us. This reality is written all over every single aspect of American politics, after all.

If you are someone who craves “total truth” (the title of Pearcey’s book), and wants uncertainty completely vanquished, you aren’t going to opt for fricken modern science, after all. Religion is going to be a heck of a lot more consoling, and especially its most fundamentalist versions.

What we have to recognize is, despite Enlightenment achievements in knowledge and in politics, people didn’t change. They’re still the same as they always were. The irony is how the people who grok Enlightenment still manage to remain so un-Enlightened about the people who don’t.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Psychology of Ideology

Reason and the Mind of Michele Bachmann

By The Intersection | August 10, 2011 11:01 am

By Jon Winsor

A couple weeks ago, when Chris described the Tea Party as authoritarian, I had to stop and think–how could that be? The Tea Party bills itself as libertarian. How could it be simultaneously authoritarian? How would that work?

Ryan Lizza’s great profile of Michele Bachmann in The New Yorker shows us. I’d encourage people to read the whole thing, but a couple key paragraphs jumped out at me. The first is Lizza’s description of Bachmann’s religious influences: theologian Francis Schaeffer (a very important theologian for modern evangelical activism), and a leading proponent of Schaffer’s, Nancy Pearcey:

[Pearcey taught] readers how to implement Schaeffer’s idea that a Biblical world view should suffuse every aspect of one’s life. She tells her readers to be extremely cautious with ideas from non-Christians. There may “be occasions when Christians are mistaken on some point while nonbelievers get it right,” she writes in “Total Truth.” “Nevertheless, the overall systems of thought constructed by nonbelievers will be false—for if the system is not built on Biblical truth, then it will be built on some other ultimate principle. Even individual truths will be seen through the distorting lens of a false world view.

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Psychology of Ideology

Dear Tea Party: Didn't We Warn You Not to Mess With the Markets?

By Chris Mooney | August 8, 2011 8:18 pm

The Dow closed at 10,809 today. On July 21, it was closer to 12,700. That’s nearly a 2,000 point drop.

I know much of this has to do with Europe. But let’s face it: Much of it has to do with the debt ceiling brinksmanship and its fallout, including the recent U.S. credit downgrade, by an institution that may not deserve its influence but nonetheless seems to have much of it–S&P.

I hate to say that rational people have been, uh, vindicated by this–but as usual, they have. It was insane and pointless to have the debt ceiling fight, and the economic consequences to people’s wealth and well being now probably measure in the trillions.

Hopefully this loss is only temporary and the market will come to its senses–because really, not very much has changed. But it just goes to show that economic stability is very hard to attain, and all too easy to lose. Rational people know this, too.

Not that I expect any introspection–after all, Tea Partiers will just say this is President Obama’s fault. One of our commenters even blamed him today for the 2008 financial collapse, which happened before Obama was even elected–although, rather impressively, this person actually backed down upon being corrected.

That’s rare these days.

And so the polarization continues, despite the cost and the damage to every last one of us.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Economy, Psychology of Ideology

Drew Westen on The Psychology of Obama's Failure

By Chris Mooney | August 8, 2011 6:17 am

President Obama is, unfortunately, shaping up to be yet another liberal leader who suffers from Enlightenment syndrome–the idea that if you just offer enough facts and reason, everyone will come to see things your way and you’ll solve problems. It doesn’t work this way–and psychologist Drew Westen, in The New York Times yesterday, explains why.

Elected at a critical time, Obama didn’t tell a compelling story about how he was going to rescue the country, Westen explains. Nor did he realize what he was up against, and how to face it:

The president is fond of referring to “the arc of history,” paraphrasing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous statement that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” But with his deep-seated aversion to conflict and his profound failure to understand bully dynamics — in which conciliation is always the wrong course of action, because bullies perceive it as weakness and just punch harder the next time — he has broken that arc and has likely bent it backward for at least a generation….

THE real conundrum is why the president seems so compelled to take both sides of every issue, encouraging voters to project whatever they want on him, and hoping they won’t realize which hand is holding the rabbit. That a large section of the country views him as a socialist while many in his own party are concluding that he does not share their values speaks volumes — but not the volumes his advisers are selling: that if you make both the right and left mad, you must be doing something right.

You should read Westen’s full assessment–the author of The Political Brain is, unfortunately, harshly accurate. Perhaps, heeding the stunning chorus of critics right now, Obama will finally recognize that he has to stop being indecisive, stop trying to compromise, and lead.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Psychology of Ideology
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