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Wednesday
Jul262017

How age and political outlooks *interact* in formation of policy positions

So what’s going on here?

The answer isn’t that older people are more conservative than younger ones. Graphically, that would look something like this:

This is a well established pattern. Scholars have advanced two explanations for it. The “personality theory” (PT) holds that various psychological influences cause people to become more conservative as they age (e.g., Cornelis et al. 2009).

The “cohort theory” (CT), in contrast, holds that people tend to form political outlooks that reflect the ideological climate that existed when they were coming of age (late teens to early 20s, basically), & stick with those outlooks over the remainder of their lives (e.g., Ghitza & Gelman 2014; Desilver 2014).   

On the CT account, today’s older conservatives, many of whom became “political grownups” in the Reagan years, are no less conservative than they were when they were younger. At some point, too, we should expect to see an association between age and liberalism as a result of the maturing  of today’s younger liberals, many of whom formed their political outlooks during the Clinton era.

I generally find CT more convincing.

Get your raw data here! But in any event, the patterns featured in the first graphic above don’t convey information about how political outlooks differ in relation to age. Rather they reflect how much more likely older people are than younger ones to form a political-outlook-consistent position on various policies conditional on a shared political outlook.

Thus, a 65 yr. old “conservative Republican” (a “4” and a “6”, respectively, on the five-point ideology measure and seven-point party-identification measure that were combined to form the political-outlook scale) is 13 percentage points (± 8 pct points, LC = 0.95) more likely to oppose “universal healthcare” than a 25 yr. old “conservative Republican.”  The former is also 15 percentage points more likely than the latter (± 9 pct points) to be against use of carbon-emission limits to combat global warming.

What’s more, the same sort of intensification of outlook-consistent preferences shows up for liberals on at least some policies.   E.g., a 65 yr. old “liberal Democrat” (“2” and “2” on the outlook scale’s component items) is 11 percentage points (± 6) to support stricter gun control laws.

So the question is, Why are older citizens either more conservative or more liberal in the intensity of their outlook-consistent policy positions than are younger ones?

Maybe someone has already observed this pattern and presented evidence to support his or her answer to the question I’m asking.  Please let me know if you are familiar with such work!

Meanwhile, here are a couple of conjectures:

1.  Cultural identity vs.  policy. Normally we think that labels like “conservative” and “liberal,” as well as identification with one or the other of the two major political parties, imply a set of policy positions. But maybe that assumption is less supportable for recent generations. Maybe younger people view these sorts of designations as the ones that cohere best with their cultural style, even if their policy positions aren’t completely orthodox in relation to them. 

2.  Measurement drift.  Scales like the one I constructed are supposed to be using observable indicators—here, how people characterize themselves in political terms—to indirectly measure an unobserved, unobservable characteristic—here, their political predispositions.  Such a strategy, however, assumes that the indicators have the same relationship to the unobserved characteristic across the entire population whose dispositions one is trying to measure.  Maybe the labels “conservative” and “liberal,” “Republican” and “Democrat,” don’t mean what they used to and thus supply less reliable guidance on what younger people’s policy positions are.

 Frankly, I don’t find either of these explanations very convincing.

So I’m again asking the 14 billion readers of this blog to share the benefit of their insight and intelligence, in this case by weighing in with their own explanations—and also with ways to carry out empirical tests that would give us reason to view one hypothesis as more likely to be true than some alternative one.

Well? What do you think?

References

Cornelis, I., Van Hiel, A., Roets, A. & Kossowska, M. Age Differences in Conservatism: Evidence on the Mediating Effects of Personality and Cognitive Style. Journal of Personality 77, 51-88 (2009).

Desilver, D., The politics of American generations: How age affects attitudes and voting behavior. Pew Research Center (2014), available at http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/07/09/the-politics-of-american-generations-how-age-affects-attitudes-and-voting-behavior/. 

 Ghitza, Y. & Gelman, A. The great society, Reagan’s revolution, and generations of presidential voting. Working paper  (2014), available at http://graphics8.nytimes.com/newsgraphics/2014/07/06/generations2/assets/cohort_voting_20140707.pdf. 

 

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Reader Comments (46)

I'm confused by the y-axis of fig 1. The caption says 3 of the 6 categories were collapsed into "support" and an ordered logistic regression was conducted. That seems, then, like you have 4 ordered categories. But probability of support seems like it refers to a binary variable, i.e., support is yes/no and you've plotted the probability of endorsing it (as assessed by a binary logistic regression?).

What am I missing here? [am typing this pre-coffee -- a dangerous thing!]

July 26, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDr Evil

Dan,

Do you think that the ideological climate is becoming more conservative or more liberal? If you believe it is becoming more conservative, while also believing the cohort theory, then wouldn't you expect to see younger conservatives be more conservative than older ones? Even if you just thought that the ideological climate was diverging (increasing liberal conservative divide), wouldn't you expect (under the cohort theory) to see younger people more divergent in their beliefs than older people?

July 26, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

@Evil -- there was a 6-point oppose/support outcome variable. One can use the ordered logistic regression model to determine the probaility of a response of 4, 5, or 6 at any level of age. Used a monte carlo simulation to get the 0.95 CIs. Don Braman in this post explained how & why to do this rather than collapsing the categories to form a dichotomous value . If you like I can send you the Stata code.

July 26, 2017 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

@Jonathan-- to me it feels like we are sinking into Mussolini-style fascism.

But take a look at Ghitza & Gelman to see how they determine the political climate for different cohorts. It involves who was president & his job approval ratings.

You are suggesting, I think, that these data are inconsistent w/ CT? I haven't thought enough about implications for CT & PT, but what you say sounds persuasive

July 26, 2017 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Dan,

Ghitza & Gelman is about presidential voting habits, not about issue preference. As we've seen, the two don't track each other as well as one would expect. Also, Ghitza & Gelman are using the mean voting habits of each generational cohort, not the variances - so they probably can't speak to issue divergence at all. But I've only skimmed that article so far...

July 26, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

In re Twitter block you want to start over with a confirmed account - I posted a reply to someone at your Twitter thread to that effect. That means an account followed by a check mark - all this talk of Mussolini etc probably got you hacked.

July 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEcoute Sauvage

@Ecoute-- Squarespace as surrounded my site with a barrier as secure as the Maginot Line. Even the Russians can't hack the CCP site; it's impregnable

July 27, 2017 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Dan - and exactly like the Maginot line, it can be bypassed (see Schlieffen plan). Then it involved Belgium and Luxembourg, in your case it's Twitter. Twitter is overrun by hackers and bots - though I'm fairly certain most of them have no connection to any Russians.

So I say again: see if your hosting website can get a "secured" Twitter ID as in, eg, > the real Donald Trump <, meaning the same name in use now followed by a check mark. Some extra authentication protocols are involved but it seems to me they would solve the problem.

July 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEcoute Sauvage

PS to Dan: see link I posted on Twitter - and unless someone else has a better idea, I hereby claim the T-shirt, $1K, etc.

https://twitter.com/Ecoute_Sauvage

July 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEcoute Sauvage

@Ecoute--

thanks for investigating & for proposing a way forward. It turns out, though, that the site was unblocked by Twitter several days ago, as mentioned in follow up to my post. I think they succumbed to enraged public opinion

July 28, 2017 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

No T-shirt - had looked forward to it :)

July 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEcoute Sauvage

@Ecoute-- you've certainly earned a shirt.

July 29, 2017 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Something I noticed when I was MAPKIA'ing a few months ago was that age is the single best and strongest predictor of partisanship. Let me find my R file and see what I saw again...

model_base2 <- lm(abs(conservrepub) ~ age+educ+Weakling:gender+Revise)

That's the last model call I have using the osi dataset you provided a while ago for the MAPKIA.

The most important factors in partisanship, I think, are age, education, machismo, and the willingness to change your mind.

July 29, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterdypoon

@Dypoon--take look at this. As you likely know, the semipartial coefficients reflect independent contribution of variables to model R^2. Affect your thinking at all? IN any case, plan to post something on age, curiosity & political outlooks "tomorrow"™

July 29, 2017 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Actually, I was never taught about semipartial correlations. Thank you. I'll look them up...

First reaction: I didn't expect being white to matter, and I didn't think to look for it. That age and whiteness both matter in a model containing them both certainly suggests that the forces that drive partisanship are culture- and media-driven and directed at a white mainstream, and that prolonged exposure makes the effects more apparent.

SO's reaction: What's SCS? Science curiosity scale? and why does it seem to act entirely via race? That's disturbing as heck...I initially thought I was looking at some composite socialeconomic status thing and then SO said "SCS"...

Does science curiosity only really counteract partisanship inside the white mainstream? What about political polarization generally? *Swear words*

July 29, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterdypoon

Dypoon -


The most important factors in partisanship, I think, are age, education, machismo, and the willingness to change your mind.


How about supporting the death penalty as a predictor of partisanship?

If you know someone's social class and income, then you might think it's easy to guess how they voted in the UK's referendum on the European Union - but what you really need to know, says Alex Burton of BBC Radio 4's The Briefing Room, is their view on capital punishment.

https://www.google.com/amp/www.bbc.co.uk/news/amp/36803544

July 29, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Dan -

I'm somewhat dubious about how effectively one could control for and identify a generalizable attribute of "empathy," (I have a similar skepticism about controlling for and identifying a generalizable attribute item of "curiosity"), but have you ever looked at any associations between "emparthy" and ideological polarization?

July 29, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

We also demonstrate that partisanship partially mediates the relationship between empathy and policy preferences. Second, we replicate our first findings using a behavioural or revealed measure of empathy. We also recover distributive preferences using an incentive compatible
task. Here, we find that partisanship again mediates the relationship between empathy and basic political preferences.

As a believer in symmetry, I am reflexively dubious about that "demontration."

Perhaps to the contrary (or perhaps just independently of whether their assertion is true) my guess is that empathy moderates the relationship between ideology and ideological partisanship.

https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=https://www.princeton.edu/csdp/events/Loewen03162017/Empathy-and-Political-Preferences-Jan-2017.pdf&ved=0ahUKEwiulvWNlK_VAhWOQD4KHdTSDioQFggdMAA&usg=AFQjCNF-j64ko4MLZBTcZJv3F6nIxMLurg

July 29, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

dypoon -

On further reflection, obviously there's a difference between predicting partisanship (as you mentioned in your comment) and predicting brand of partisan belief (as referenced in that article I linked about Brexit).

Although...there might be an association with views on the death penalty and traits such as "empathy," which might in turn might moderate associations between ideology and ideological partisanship.

But I could also see how "empathy" might predict either support pr disagreement with the death penalty... or maybe there's no generalizable relationship at all...

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0735648X.2005.9721205

or

http://scholarcommons.usf.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=7149&context=etd

Sheece. As a believer in symmetry.....it looks complicated.

July 29, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Joshua,

You might like this:

The ‘‘chicken-and-egg’’ development of political opinions
The roles of genes, social status, ideology, and information:
https://doi.org/10.1017/pls.2017.1

July 29, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Jonathan -

Looks interesting. I have long wondered about the chicken/egg question vis-à-vis claims made about differences in brain architecture and physiology in association with ideological orientation. I once asked such questions (unanswered, btw) to Chris Mooney in a blog comment section in a post of his about the "Republican brain."

July 29, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

BTW, FWIW -

...or do social and informational environments do most of the heavy lifting, with genetic evidence the spurious artifact of outdated methodology?

That gets my vote (as if I had one) - purely unscientifically determined, of course..

....although I'd make an addition...."either the spurious artifact of outdated methodology or a spurious association that just ain't actually causal" Methinks there is much about neurological mechanisms that are not all that well understood.

July 29, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Joshua,

I think there are two separable hypotheses. The first is that genetics has some causal impact on political preferences. A second stronger hypothesis is that genetics has specific causal impacts on political preference mediated and thus explainable through (somewhat vaguely) understood traits like empathy and curiosity, or the Big 5 traits, or some other quasi-political traits like RWA and SDO. Is your issue only with the second, or is it with the first?

July 29, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Jonathan -

Good thing you only ask easy questions...

Need to think about what you wrote before answering...

July 29, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"Genetic" is like "renewable" - depends on how far back you want to go. Here is an update on chimps, baboons, other relatives, even the ubiquitous Yanomamis:

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/chimp-guy-knocks-baboon-guys-upbeat-view-of-human-war/

".............[Sapolsky] ends Behave--which is as nuanced as Demonic Males is cartoonishly crude, and which I highly recommend--by summing up his central message: “It’s complicated.”

He adds: “Nothing seems to cause anything; instead everything just modulates something else… Fixing one thing often messes up ten more, as the law of unintended consequences reigns… Eventually it can seem hopeless that you can actually fix something, can make things better. But we have no choice but to try. And if you are reading this, you are probably ideally suited to do so.”............."

July 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEcoute Sauvage

I'll clarify: I meant "genetic differences between contemporaneous human persons correlate with differences in their political preferences".

July 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

link drop:
https://theconversation.com/who-are-you-calling-anti-science-how-science-serves-social-and-political-agendas-74755

July 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

".............Darpa just wants to know what stuff science is really sure about, and how it knows it. And how it knows it knows it.

You can imagine why Darpa and the DoD might want to shore up the social sciences. They want to understand how collective identity works, or why some groups (and nations) are stable and some fall apart. The military would like to get a better handle on how humans team up with machines before the machines get smarter and more get deployed. How does radicalization work, especially online? Why do people cooperate sometimes and compete at others? All these questions have two things in common: They are super-important to national security, and no one knows the answer......"

https://www.wired.com/story/darpa-bs-detector-science/

July 31, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEcoute Sauvage

Ecoute,

That's a comforting change from the days of "The Men Who Stare at Goats".

July 31, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Jonathan -

Haven't had the time to figure out your questions and come up with an answer....in the meantime, you might find this interesting...

http://nautil.us/issue/49/the-absurd/why-your-brain-hates-other-people

July 31, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

It is remarkable that the immediately preceding post, obsessively posing a monomaniacal question on alleged hatred of "the other", completely misses the answer - given by the same author, in the same book, and linked right here only a few posts above - which I am repeating in hopes of curing the questioner of his tiresome obsession:
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

".............[Sapolsky] ends Behave--which is as nuanced as Demonic Males is cartoonishly crude, and which I highly recommend--by summing up his central message: “It’s complicated.”

He adds: “Nothing seems to cause anything; instead everything just modulates something else… Fixing one thing often messes up ten more, as the law of unintended consequences reigns… Eventually it can seem hopeless that you can actually fix something, can make things better. But we have no choice but to try. And if you are reading this, you are probably ideally suited to do so.”............."
<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

Ah, yes, but we also have to read!

August 1, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEcoute Sauvage

Jonathan - those pitiful goats were saved from mistreatment by PETA, which filed a complaint against US Army training methods. It is my understanding they have been replaced by internet-connected lifelike male and female sex dolls - yes, honestly, look it up - for verisimilitude.

Further on climate change issues an excellent article by John Cochrane (a giant in financial economics). Synopsis here:
http://johnhcochrane.blogspot.com/2017/07/on-climate-change.html

If I can be assured that no copyright is breached I can post here the full article - paywalled by WSJ for 30 days.

August 1, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEcoute Sauvage

PS the US Army only buys the cheaper lifelike dolls >
https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/apr/27/race-to-build-world-first-sex-robot
> for training purposes, not the ones with internet connections.

August 1, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEcoute Sauvage

jonathan -

I think there are two separable hypotheses. The first is that genetics has some causal impact on political preferences. A second stronger hypothesis is that genetics has specific causal impacts on political preference mediated and thus explainable through (somewhat vaguely) understood traits like empathy and curiosity, or the Big 5 traits, or some other quasi-political traits like RWA and SDO. Is your issue only with the second, or is it with the first?

So I finally sat down to try to figure out your question and answer...

But I'm confused by this:...

A second stronger hypothesis is that genetics has specific causal impacts on political preference mediated and thus explainable through (somewhat vaguely) understood traits like empathy and curiosity, or the Big 5 traits, or some other quasi-political traits like RWA and SDO.

because it seems circular to me? In other words, how could the relationship between genetics and political preference be mediated by traits...without an understanding of whether those traits are genetic? If empathy and curiosity are genetic, then it seems that you'd be saying that the relationship between genetics and political preference are mediated by genetic traits??

As for RWA and SDO... I am not convinced that labels such as those aren't also, in a sense, circular...

As near as I can tell, authoritarianism and preference for social dominance are not likely distributed in association with ideology...but will vary across context, in differing degrees, not so much because of uniform principles or values or morality, but because of people's sense of their identity.

There seem to me to be many examples, but my go-to is the individual insurance mandate which for Republicans was a basic principle of personal responsibility until it became a primary indicator of Obama's tyranny. There are countless examples on the other side of the political fence, and we can see these kinds of shifts in views about authority and social dominance along many axes of ideological orientation, not just the standard left/right, Republican/Democrat, liberal/conservative axis.

My working conceptualization is that the manifestation of underlying beliefs about authoritarianism and dominance, or "traits" (which I'm not actually are convinced are traits) like empathy and curiosity, as well as manifestations of reasoning such as cultural cognition or confirmation bias, are largely context specific, and perhaps sometimes mediated (not moderated) by underlying core tenants but when those tenants are stressed or challenged by context, identity - be it one's identity within a group or a more independent sense of how one views oneself - becomes the operative mediator.

I'm not trying to duck your question...but I wasn't sure how to answer it. Maybe you could describe better, the separable hypotheses so I could better understand them?

August 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Joshua,

Sorry - I wasn't at all intending the question to be difficult. I was just trying to decipher your take on political essentialism. You seem to espouse some variety of political anti-essentialism, but I can't quite figure out what variety. So I decided to start at the beginning - genetics. I do understand that you have certain issues with categorizations of behaviors ("traits") - as you have confirmed. I was wondering whether this was due to a hard anti-essential stance, which for instance might say that political preferences are similar to language. Humans (with very few exceptions) have the same linguistic mechanism (if you believe Chomsky - and if you don't, just suspend disbelief long enough for this metaphor to work) which gathers input from the environment and produces fluency in whatever language(s) is present. It could be that you think humans (again, with very few exceptions) have an analogous sociopolitical mechanism - gathering input from the environment to produce political skills and preferences within one's social setting. On this view, sociopolitical traits are outputs from this mechanism, or at least output-inputs (feedbacks) that (almost) all are born equally capable of producing. In which case, I can understand your issue with trying to pin down traits that might somehow be "prior" to political preferences.

Alternatively, you might have a soft anti-essential stance - more along the lines that perhaps there are differences among humans' sociopolitical mechanisms, but that these differences are unlikely to be manifest as (fairly) easily discernible traits, and so unlikely to provide us much useful footing for understanding the basis of political preferences. This would be like what (perhaps) Ecoute is suggesting with the "It's complicated" Sapolsky quote.

August 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Jonathan - your parallel with Chomsky's language acquisition is mathematically impeccable.

The only time I attended a seminar given by Chomsky (open to all students at Tech) it was on the topic of AI, or how to explain our language to computers. I only remember a few things from it but they may be relevant: he started by asking what other languages are spoken by attendees, and after he wrote them all out on a blackboard (I only remember now German, French, and Japanese, but I think there were more) he said, OK, now translate into these other languages the phrase "He sat wondering".

It's not evident at all - you can wonder while standing. His point was that if we can't translate that without some loss of meaning to someone who thinks like us (this was before affirmative action, so the class was assumed to be uniform) then massive problems arise in translating to a machine, which by definition does not think like us at all.

Two more things I remember: he said what about finding a word that all educated people spell incorrectly? Silence ensued. A machine would know, however, that the word is incorrectly - we mentally add quotation marks where there aren't any. Finally, and this is the problem with machine learning even now, machines need massive amounts of power to operate, while our brains work at many orders of magnitude lower electricity requirements.

And since cultural transmission does seem to be the cause, finding the answer to these questions would also solve the problem of allegedly malfunctioning bots. See example from today here:
http://news.sky.com/story/chinese-chatbot-vanishes-after-spurning-communist-party-10970890

But what if.... those bots were in fact operating perfectly in their acclimatization to the ambient culture? I personally believe that to be the case, both for the Chinese bot that didn't like the communist party and for the Microsoft bot that became politically incorrect. The censors obviously thought otherwise.

August 3, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEcoute Sauvage

Jonathan again - one final thought (going on vacation tomorrow!) I also think that Sapolsky in his quote gets the mathematical modeling part perfectly. But as is generally the case if science hits a roadblock, try the arts, and here is a wonderful passage from a 1937 little-read masterpiece on genetics vs. culture:

"......Here you come to
the real secret of class distinctions in the West--the real reason why a
European of bourgeois upbringing, even when he calls himself a Communist,
cannot without a hard effort think of a working man as his equal. It is
summed up in four frightful words which people nowadays are chary of
uttering, but which were bandied about quite freely in my childhood. The
words were: The lower classes smell.

That was what we were taught--the lower classes smell. And here,
obviously, you are at an impassable barrier. For no feeling of like or
dislike is quite so fundamental as a physical feeling. Race-hatred,
religious hatred, differences of education, of temperament, of intellect,
even differences of moral code, can be got over; but physical repulsion
can-not........."

http://www.george-orwell.org/The_Road_to_Wigan_Pier/7.html

August 3, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEcoute Sauvage

Jonathan -

Sorry - I wasn't at all intending the question to be difficult.

Of course not! I would never draw such a conclusion. I think it is merely a matter of you underestimating the size of the gap between your own facility and level of understanding with these issues, and mine. As such, it is easy for you to express ideas that seem relatively straightforward to you, but highly dense and complex to me.

and f I was just trying to decipher your take on political essentialism.

As am I. My ideas here are not fully formed. There is little closure. So if you ask me complex questions, what you're most likely to get is a meandering comment in which I use writing as a way to explore my incomplete thoughts.

You seem to espouse some variety of political anti-essentialism, but I can't quite figure out what variety.

As per above, I'm not sure which variety either. I'm not sure that I espouse anti-essentialism, so much as a lack of conviction about essentialism.

So I decided to start at the beginning - genetics. I do understand that you have certain issues with categorizations of behaviors ("traits") - as you have confirmed. I was wondering whether this was due to a hard anti-essential stance, which for instance might say that political preferences are similar to language. Humans (with very few exceptions) have the same linguistic mechanism (if you believe Chomsky - and if you don't, just suspend disbelief long enough for this metaphor to work)

I'm inclined to go with much of Chomsky (what I know of his work, and btw, when it comes to politics as well), so suspension of disbelief is not necessary...although I'm also a fan of Vygotsky....in that I find it fits with my experience to see a bit of a bidirectional flow between language and development...and I'm also a fan of Piaget...which problematizes belief in both Chomsky and Vygotsky....

which gathers input from the environment and produces fluency in whatever language(s) is present. It could be that you think humans (again, with very few exceptions) have an analogous sociopolitical mechanism - gathering input from the environment to produce political skills and preferences within one's social setting.

That seems like a pretty good characterization of my view.

On this view, sociopolitical traits are outputs from this mechanism, or at least output-inputs (feedbacks) that (almost) all are born equally capable of producing. In which case, I can understand your issue with trying to pin down traits that might somehow be "prior" to political preferences.

Yes, well said. As an educator, I am solidly in the Constructivism (or maybe even a radical Constructivism) camp.

Alternatively, you might have a soft anti-essential stance - more along the lines that perhaps there are differences among humans' sociopolitical mechanisms, but that these differences are unlikely to be manifest as (fairly) easily discernible traits, and so unlikely to provide us much useful footing for understanding the basis of political preferences.

So this is where the lack of closure comes in. As if I read your description of the hard anti-essentialist stance, I kind of go "yup," that seems to fit...but if I read your description of soft anti-essentialism, I have a similar response (If it helps, I consider nature vs. nurture to be a false dichotomy).

I guess the clearest thing I could say is that I don't particularly believe in hard-essentialism (to coin a phrase?)...mostly because I question our ability to perceive "essence," although I don't question that essentialism is a natural and instinctive inclination in how we approach the world. I like to hope that we can examine our innate essentialism.

Thanks for asking (what I perceive to be) tough questions. I learn from that. Of course, that might be kind of boring for you...but hopefully you get something out of it.

August 3, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Jonathan -

One more thought...

which gathers input from the environment and produces fluency in whatever language(s) is present. It could be that you think humans (again, with very few exceptions) have an analogous sociopolitical mechanism - gathering input from the environment to produce political skills and preferences within one's social setting.

I've worked with a lot of folks for whom English is not their first language, and many American students who are "non-traditional" (across a few different axes) within given contexts.

As such, I have found that identity , and flexibility in approaching identity and identity-challenges, has a great deal of influence on the development of language, how people express their beliefs and reasoning, and indeed, how people approach reasoning tasks. (Second language teachers refer to something called "2nd language identity").

The dividing line between what might be sociopolitical (or cultural) influence, and the influence of external environmental factors, and what I see as more internal environmental factors (i.e., individual psychology and individual "traits" such as ability to perceive subtle differences in sounds or patterns in tone and other speech patterns), is quite murky and mutable in my experience.

Not sure if that seems related or if it makes sense to you...but again, it helps me to reason through articulation, and I can just hope that it makes sense and/or seems related to others.

August 3, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Yeah - the dividing line between the hard and soft anti-essentialist hypotheses I drew up is pretty tenuous.

It's quite feasible, after all, that a weak "personality thesis" (which we all must be quite startled to observe Dan consider upstairs in this blog) can be completely agnostic about essentialism, and instead concentrate entirely on correlates.

I had been seriously considering an essentialist hypothesis analogous to sexuality/gender - where there would be some strong essential inputs (although, in the sociopolitical space, not yet discovered) producing a field of traits with more than one population peak. But, there may be no need for any essential input to produce such a multi-peaked field - it might, for instance, merely be due to something like a large scale Nash (or maybe just correlated) equilibrium playing out, where political preferences group into stable relatively-least-costly strategies, and we (almost) all start out equally able to play any strategy. Whatever breaks the symmetry.

And it does appear to me that something is breaking the symmetry. I guess that makes me a soft asymmetricist.

August 4, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Jonathan -

For all the scientific publications that interrogate asymmetry theses, you know what really shakes my belief in the symmetry the most?

Reading the comment threads in articles like these:

http://www.breitbart.com/immigration/2017/08/04/cutting-immigration-in-half-would-make-americans-wealthier/

It's really a challenge to read something like that and hold to a belief that we're all the same at our core.

But then again, when i read smart people claiming that the rightwing objection to immigration is actually an objection to illegal immigration, it reinforces my belief that motivated reasoning is a powerful force that could be masking the underlying symmetry with superficial asymmetries.

August 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Joshua,

I've mentioned the behavioral immune system before - have you read anything about it? It's certainly a big factor in my thinking about essentialism, at least in regard to differing opinions about immigration, racism, etc.. Started after reading various things from Haidt and others about how conservatives moralize purity/disgust to a greater extent than liberals.

August 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Joshua,

Two good reads on the behavioral immune system - the first a summary, the second about immigration specifically:

http://www2.psych.ubc.ca/~schaller/MurraySchaller2016.pdf

http://pure.au.dk/portal/files/107202306/The_Behavioral_Immune_System_Shapes_Political_Intuitions
_Aar_e_Petersen_Arceneaux_APSR.pdf

If you manage to maintain a non-essentialist stance after these, I have others!

August 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Jonathan -

I haven't read anything about it before. Thanks for the links. I'm sure I will find them interesting.

Yeah, Haidt is a problem for me. I have to acknowledge that my predisposition toward symmetry is a bias based mostly on anecdote and a desired view of the world, and not evidence-derived. Haidt's work is problematic in that regard. Of course,

I find it a lot easier to accept his talk of asymmetry when it comes in the context of his discussion of Trump supporters and authoritarianism :-) And I really do find myself concerned about that linkage and the troubling political developments that it portends.

I catch myself trying to use what I see as something that is basically silly about Haidt's work - his arguments that a massive cultural shift towards a culture of victimhood is centered in the safe-space and microgression phenomena on college campuses - to stand in for a lack of directly relevant evidence to weaken his arguments that lay out asymmetries.

IMO, the weakness of his arguments in that regard can be explained by his predisposition to carve out a middle space where he can extricate himself from ideological bias...but I can''t really fool myself that way., as he could easily be wrong in the one area but have compelling evidence in the other.

It's disconcerting, because I don't have an evidence-based refutation...but I feel that I know in a very fundamental way that there must be something wrong about his analysis.

There might be a phrase to describe such a reasoning mechanism... :-)

August 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Joshua,

I agree that Haidt is on less secure ground with his arguments about the campus wars. I think he is acting here more as an advocate (in line with his Heterodox Academy position) than a researcher - which is OK, as long as he acknowledges it.

I also had a non-essentialist bias prior to my foray into this field, formed on a combo of education (taught the old blank-slate theory) and preferred more-similar-than-different liberal outlook. Reading Haidt, I kept trying to fend off his idea about the 3 "binding" moral foundations (loyalty, authority, purity - all where cons outscore libs) being vital to stability of large societies. But am now accepting that, and considering a theory why, if being low on these 3 binding moral foundations is so "anti-social", libs like me aren't just some tiny minority. That would likely imply some evolutionary importance to have individuals absent the binding foundations. Which was another reason for my metaphor about sociopolitical mechanism being like sex/gender: quite possibly cons and libs need to exist in some balance, else things don't work out well for either. Yet, for some reason, we also can't all just be moderates. It looks to me like it needs to be a multi-peaked (at least two) mix. Almost like we're evolving roles similar to ants.

August 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

"Two good reads on the behavioral immune system - the first a summary, the second about immigration specifically"

I just had a quick look at the second of those - I've not read it in detail, but it didn't seem to me like very strong evidence.

Looking at the results in table 2, the r^2 is around 20-30%, implying that all the factors listed only explained 20-30% of the variance in the results. And there are a number of these besides disgust. For sample M1 education and income are on a par with disgust, and ideology is a three times stronger effect. Likewise in M4 education ideology, openness, and conscientiousness are also linked. So the pathogen disgust link is one of three or four factors explaining less than a third of the variance.

There's statistically significant evidence of a correlation, but to explain maybe only 5-10% of the effect. I don't think it can be counted as an "explanation" of opposition to immigration. It could just as well be because opposition to immigration is more common in rural areas where pathogens are more of a daily experience than the rather more antiseptic cities - just to create only one possible "just so" story of many.

But the main problem with the study was that it was a "confirming the consequent", "correlation implies causation" sort of study. They expound at length on their hypothesis about skin colour being misinterpreted as pathogen risk, predict that people with high sensitivity to pathogen risk will be more opposed to immigration, and finding a correlation.

The problems for the hypothesis are that there are plenty of morphological differences between people of similar magnitude that don't trigger the same response (like fat people commonly evoke disgust, but nobody I know of is opposing the immigration of fat people), and that with the modern American phenomenon the most prominent opponents of illegal immigration are very visibly supportive of legal immigration. President Trump - widely seen as a 'leader' in this movement - is the son of two immigrants, is currently married to an immigrant, and even his ex-wife was an immigrant!

The trouble is that the reasons for anti-immigration sentiment are already well-known. The argument from conservatives is about opposition to rapid cultural and moral changes in society, the argument from socialists is about economic protectionism.

In order to live in dense communities, humans instinctively generate agreed moral systems to reduce friction and conflict between neighbours, and induce cooperation. Part of the mechanism that produces them is an "immune system" function that excludes or punishes deviations from the shared cultural morality. Yes, it's a sort of evolved defence against pathogens - but it's about foreign memes, not foreign bugs. Legal immigration is not seen as a problem, because the immigrants are required in the main to adopt the essential elements of the host culture, and the level of immigration is controlled to prevent the host culture getting overwhelmed. Certain foreign cultures are still misogynist, homophobic, intolerant, authoritarian, and violent. Many parts of our present-day culture are uncomfortable with all that.

The cultural behavioural immune system evolved in humans as a modification to the pathogen behavioural immune system, which is why there are similarities in their methods and mechanisms, but it is for an entirely different purpose, against a different threat.

The economic protectionism argument is generated by the belief that there are a limited number of unskilled jobs available, and that unskilled labour coming in from abroad all willing to work for less prevents local people from getting jobs, and/or depresses their wages, making them poorer. It's exactly the same economic fallacy used to justify the labour union closed shop - the nation is being treated as a union, and immigrants are "scabs" crossing the picket lines. (That word itself being another interesting example of evolutionary cross-over from a pathogen disgust mechanism to a new problem.) There's a related argument with immigrants coming and claiming welfare. It's all about the territorial instinct, seeking monopolistic control of economic resources.

Yes, there's a connection, because one mechanism evolved from the other, but no, it's not directly about pathogen disgust. Humans have many such instincts; this is one of the others.

August 6, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

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