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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Why red states are Republican

Harvard Psychology Professor Steven Pinker explains academic theories about the difference between right and left political views:
Conservative thinkers like the economist Thomas Sowell and the Times columnist David Brooks have noted that the political right has a Tragic Vision of human nature, in which people are permanently limited in morality, knowledge and reason. Human beings are perennially tempted by aggression, which can be prevented only by the deterrence of a strong military, of citizens resolved to defend themselves and of the prospect of harsh criminal punishment. No central planner is wise or knowledgeable enough to manage an entire economy, which is better left to the invisible hand of the market, in which intelligence is distributed across a network of hundreds of millions of individuals implicitly transmitting information about scarcity and abundance through the prices they negotiate. Humanity is always in danger of backsliding into barbarism, so we should respect customs in sexuality, religion and public propriety, even if no one can articulate their rationale, because they are time-tested workarounds for our innate shortcomings. The left, in contrast, has a Utopian Vision, which emphasizes the malleability of human nature, puts customs under the microscope, articulates rational plans for a better society and seeks to implement them through public institutions.

Cognitive scientists have recently enriched this theory with details of how the right-left divide is implemented in people’s cognitive and moral intuitions. The linguist George Lakoff suggests that the political right conceives of society as a family ruled by a strict father, whereas the left thinks of it as a family guided by a nurturant parent. The metaphors may be corollaries of the tragic and utopian visions, since different parenting practices are called for depending on whether you think of children as noble savages or as nasty, brutish and short. The psychologist Jonathan Haidt notes that rightists and leftists invest their moral intuitions in different sets of concerns: conservatives place a premium on deference to authority, conformity to norms and the purity and sanctity of the body; liberals restrict theirs to fairness, the provision of care and the avoidance of harm. Once again, the difference may flow from the clashing conceptions of human nature. If individuals are inherently flawed, their behavior must be restrained by custom, authority and sacred values. If they are capable of wisdom and reason, they can determine for themselves what is fair, harmful or hurtful.
Pinker misstates Haidt, as both right and left wingers favor fairness, but have different opinions of what fairness means. He goes on to try to explain why the USA breaks down geographically into red and blue states, but he is refuted by Steve Sailer. Pinker is a leftist, of course, and that colors his views. He goes on:
But then why, once stable government did arrive, did it not lay claim to the monopoly on violence that is the very definition of government? The historian Pieter Spierenburg has suggested that “democracy came too soon to America,” namely, before the government had disarmed its citizens. Since American governance was more or less democratic from the start, the people could choose not to cede to it the safeguarding of their personal safety but to keep it as their prerogative.
So the red states are Republican because they are descended from rugged individualists who refused to give up their liberties. That's his theory, anyway.

Update: Pinker is also refuted by Gelman, who gives data to show that the left-right divide is not how Pinker describes.

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