Rumors of Conservatives’ Low Intelligence Not Exaggerated

Among the material realities one does not require academic verification of in order to find credible are the rise of the sun in the eastern sky, water running downhill and that conservatism relies upon a constituency of dunderheads for its relative success and survival. Nevertheless, studies and research continue to affirm what eyeballs and eardrums daily are assaulted with, which is evidence of easy acceptance and repetition of that which is variously improbable, irrational, made-up, untrue, banal and preposterous, though consensus gospel in the conservative biosphere.

In the tradition of the hucksterism with which conservatives associate themselves (all things business, entrepreneurial, corporate and hard sell), manipulators are not lacking in cunning themselves, though their cynical exploitation of those intellectually and educationally less fortunate surely qualifies as malfeasance of the moral kind.

What the latest study, produced by researchers Gordon Hodson and Michael Buserri, and published in the journal Psychological Science suggests, is not so much that dumb people are innately prejudiced or inherently conservative, but that persons with lower cognitive abilities are susceptible to reactionary fear and prejudice- based ideologies, to rigidity and authority.  The study concludes that conservative ideology is “the critical pathway” from low intelligence to prejudice, that dimmer bulbs are attracted to “rightwing ideologies that promote coherence and order” and “emphasize the maintenance of the status quo”.

This kind of research is highly useful in explaining what baffles many a reasonably intelligent, reasonably informed modern individual of moderate or progressive inclinations, which is how anyone could believe, for instance:

President Obama was born in Kenya, and that his mother long ago planted the conspiratorial seeds for him to become president; the scientific body of information and research validating human produced climate change does not exist, but rather a conspiracy among scientists and political malefactors to wantonly convince humanity it is causing the world to warm; those traditionally possessing the least amount of power, poor people and minorities are the paramount threat to the well-being of fellow citizens, not the wealthy and powerful and business elites whose influence and power are obvious and manifest; Darwinian evolution is an atheistic plot, and in fact merely theory because of course apes don’t give birth to little baby humans before our eyes; the Founders’ thinking and intentions synch perfectly with the Republican Party platform, as well as the verities of Austrian School  and supply-side economics; broader national goals and priorities must be subjugated to the wants and needs of the wealthy and powerful who must exist as all but feudal lords, because they may ascend to the heights of feudalistic lords themselves someday.

Research also helpfully illuminates why stereotyping, fear-mongering and demonization are so critical to the modus operandi of reactionary politics, the not too swift innately susceptible to being terrified by all sorts of things, low cognitive abilities making them vulnerable to prejudicial appeals and alarm at the other, at created boogey men, their reasoning inadequate for making realistic, rational assessments of the genuine threats or lack thereof. If you picture your average political consultant of a Republican bent reading such an assessment and first licking his lips like a coyote before a feast, then announcing, “another Republican voter is born,” you’re seeing clearly

Naturally, your garden variety Republican propagandist or bombastic purveyor of dumb ideological porn on television and radio has a field day with this confederacy of dunces. It could be extremely funny and nothing more were it not that the duping of such Americans (the prevailing euphemism is “low information voters,” which stands in for the blunter assessment of those who take the conservative bait: people who don’t know shit) is largely responsible for the sustained hegemony of a powerful few, and their abiding capacity, along with the invaluable toadying of elected Republican sock puppets to take the rest of us to the proverbial cleaners.

For the interested or curious here are several excepts from the actual study:

“We propose that right-wing ideologies, which are socially conservative and authoritarian (see Jost et al., 2003; Van Hiel et al., 2010), represent a mechanism through which cognitive ability is linked with prejudice. According to contemporary theoretical approaches, such ideologies are characterized by resistance to change and the promotion of intergroup inequalities (Jost et al., 2003).1 A recent comprehensive meta-analysis confirmed a reliable negative relation between cognitive ability and right-wing ideologies (Van Hiel et al., 2010). For example, research has revealed that individuals who more strongly endorse social conservatism have greater cognitive rigidity (Rokeach, 1948), less cognitive flexibility (Sidanius, 1985), and lower integrative complexity (Jost et al., 2003). Socially conservative individuals also perform less well than liberals on standardized ability tests (Stankov, 2009). Right-wing authoritarianism (Altemeyer, 1996), a strong correlate of social conservatism (Jost et al., 2003; Van Hiel et al., 2010), is also negatively associated with g (McCourt, Bouchard, Lykken, Tellegen, & Keyes, 1999).

“Given that cognitive abilities are critical in forming individuated impressions of other people and in being open-minded (Scarr & Weinberg, 1981) and trusting of other people (Sturgis et al., 2010), individuals with lower cognitive abilities may gravitate toward more socially conservative right-wing ideologies that maintain the status quo and provide psychological stability and a sense of order (Jost et al., 2003). This rationale is consistent with findings that less intelligent children come to endorse more socially conservative ideologies as adults (Deary et al., 2008; Schoon et al., 2010).

“Furthermore, compared with liberals, individuals who endorse right-wing ideologies are more fearful and anxious that out-groups will cause the disintegration of societal moral standards and traditions (Altemeyer, 1996; Jost et al., 2003; Sibley & Duckitt, 2008). Consistent with this apprehension is the well-established relation between right-wing ideologies and attitudes toward out-groups, whereby both conservatism (Van Hiel et al., 2004) and authoritarianism (Altemeyer, 1996; Hodson & Costello, 2007; Sibley & Duckitt, 2008) are associated with heightened prejudice. Recent meta-analyses have confirmed that there are strong positive correlations between right-wing ideologies and prejudice (see Sibley & Duckitt, 2008). However, the endorsement of right-wing ideologies is not synonymous with prejudice against out-groups (Sniderman & Tetlock, 1986). According to social-dominance theory, the positive association between right-wing ideologies and negative evaluations of out-groups reflects the fact that both constructs share the core psychological element of a desire for hierarchies among groups (Sidanius, Pratto, & Bobo, 1996). Socially conservative ideologies have therefore been conceptualized as “legitimizing myths”: Although they are often rooted in socially acceptable values and traditions, such ideologies nonetheless facilitate negative attitudes toward out-groups (Sidanius & Pratto, 1999; see also Jost et al., 2003; Sidanius et al., 1996; Van Hiel et al., 2010).

“In both the NCDS and the BCS, socially conservative ideology was assessed in terms of respect for and submission to authority (7 items in the NCDS and 10 items in the BCS; e.g., “Give law breakers stiffer sentences” and “Schools should teach children to obey authority”) and support for conventional (i.e., unequal) sex roles (6 items in both studies; e.g., “Family life suffers if mum is working full-time”); scale reliabilities ranged from .63 to .68 (Deary et al., 2008; Schoon et al., 2010). These measures tap socially conservative values, including desire for law and order, punitive reactions toward wrongdoers, adherence to social conventions or traditions, and social control. Without reference to racial out-groups, these items reflect ideological orientations rooted in resistance to change and a desire to maintain existing social stratifications, making them ideal for our purposes.

“Together, the well-established theoretical and empirical links between lower cognitive abilities and greater right-wing ideology and between greater right-wing ideology and heightened prejudice suggest a mediating mechanism (Baron & Kenny, 1986) by which lower cognitive abilities may be associated with greater prejudice.

One response

  1. The logic here is surely seowmhat flawed. You hold that social conservatism is about the ability of people to choose the institutions which shape their lives. Yet hasn’t social conservatism largely been about *preventing* choice civil unions, abortions, even marijuana? To the extent that these issues can be regarded as parts of unique institutionalized belief systems, their operation has been continually blocked by social conservatives. And it still stands deeply opposed to the government, hermetically sealed from the richness that personal beliefs give, taking over the major institutions of our social lives. Yet social conservatives have been happy for the government to keep control of the institution of marriage

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