Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Does a low IQ make you right-wing? That depends on how you define left and right

Michael Hanlon makes some interesting points below but overlooks the obvious:  People with high IQs are very much advantaged in the educational system and tend to stay in that system longer.  And particularly in the later years of education, the Leftist propaganda gets all but overwhelming.  So all that the research really shows is that an exposure to overwhelming Leftist propaganda does influence some people's thinking.  They adopt Leftist attitudes where they otherwise might not

So right-wingers are stupid – it’s official. Psychologists in Canada have compared IQ scores of several thousand British children, who were born in 1958 and 1970, with their stated views as adults on things such as treatment of criminals and openness to working with or living near to people of other races. They also looked at some US data which compared IQ scores with homophobic attitudes.

The conclusion: your intelligence as a child correlates strongly with socially liberal views. People with low IQs tend to be more in favour of harsh punishments, more homophobic and more likely to be racist. Interestingly, as these were IQ scores measured when young this does seem to be a measure of something innate, not merely exposure to ‘liberal’ views through education.

The inference is that what we call conservatism is a symptom of limited intellectual ability, signified by fear of the new and of outsiders, a retreat into tradition and tribal loyalty, and an unsophisticated disgust at sexual mores that deviate even slightly from the norm. Put bluntly stupidity correlates with insecurity, hatred, pessimism and fear, intelligence with confidence, optimism and trust.

Cue howls of outrage and not just from the right. In fact, left-wingers, liberals, call them what you will (and as I will argue these terms are far from interchangeable) have maintained something of an embarrassed silence about this. Liberals tend to dislike talk of innate intelligence and are distrustful of IQ tests and any hints of biological determinism. It might suit them politically to say their opponents are dim, but (they like to think) they are too polite to say so.

So what is going on here? Are conservatives really, statistically and meaningfully, less intelligent than socialists? Or is the story more subtle?

In fact there is nothing new in pointing to a link between social attitudes and intelligence. In 2010 the evolutionary psychologist Satochi Kanazawa, who works at the London School of Economics, analysed data from 20,000 young Americans and found that average IQ increased steadily from those who described themselves as ‘very conservative’ to those who describe themselves as ‘very liberal’. A study looking at British children, carried out by Ian Deary, reached a conclusion neatly summarised by the title of the paper: 'Bright Children become Enlightened Adults'. Other studies have found correlations between strong religiosity (a traditional marker of conservatism) and low intelligence.

Are socialists really more intelligent than conservatives? That depends how you define your terms

So case closed? Not really. The problem here is how we define ‘left’ and ‘right’ thinking, what this means socially and politically. A moment’s thought shows that the faultlines are not only blurred but they are legion, cris-crossing across traditional political strata and have changed through time.

As Steven Pinker points out in The Better Angels of our Nature, his marvellous book about the history of violence, social liberalism does not equate necessarily with economic socialism. He points to a study by the economist Bryan Caplan, an economist at George Mason University in Virginia, who found that smart people tend to think like economists, being in favour of free trade, globalisation and free markets and against protectionism and state intervention in industry. This matches other findings that show that IQ correlates not with left-wing thinking as such, but with classic Enlightenment liberalism.

So a smart person (all else being equal) will probably be in favour of capitalism generally, and free-trade in particular. He or she will distrust state intervention in the markets, probably be suspicious of welfarism and deeply dislike protectionism, union closed-shops and tariffs. The smart person will believe that the have-nots should be encouraged to become haves by dint of their own labours and by the levelling of economic playing fields, NOT by taking money off the haves and giving it to them. In other words, Thatcherism. Hardly something we equate with the left.

But there is another side to what the Smarts believe. They are pro-immigration (immigration being a form of free trade, in this case in human labour). They are impeccably socially liberal. They do not care what consenting adults get up to in bed and would legalise gay marriage without a thought. They are as near as is possible to be colour blind and strongly favour sexual equality. They are internationalist and despise petty nationalism. And they are suspicious of the war on drugs and in fact of wars in general and do not believe the public should in general be allowed to own firearms. These are the social views, then, of the British metropolitan Left. So what is it then? Are dim people right or left? Here we meet the problem of defining liberalism and left-wingery.

A belief in economic redistribution of wealth does not correlate with social liberalism. The nations of the Cold War Communist bloc were ferociously ‘Left Wing’ in terms of a belief in statism, nationalised industries, basic equality and so forth but socially and in other ways they were far, far to the ‘right’ of any mainstream European or American party. The Soviet education system was brutally elitist – no wishy-washy mixed-ability nonsense there. Militarism and conscription were the norm. Communist states had and had an attachment to capital punishment, repression of homosexuals and paid only lipservice to sexual equality (Russian women were free to work, but they had to go back and do the cleaning and cooking when they had finished).

In today’s world the most ‘right wing’ attitudes are to be found not in the American Bible Belt but in sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean and parts of Asia as well as Russia. Across most of Africa the majority has an eye-wateringly brutal view of homosexuality (gays face long terms of imprisonment or worse in many southern and eastern African states). If you want to see robust attitudes to crime, sexuality, feminism, immigration and religious freedom go to somewhere like Sudan or Mauritania, Uganda or even Kenya and Jamaica.

The paradox is that the political discourse in nations such as these has been dominated by a leftish post-colonialism. The epitome of this paradox is, or was (attitudes have relaxed) Communist Cuba where attitudes to gays, criminals, and people of non-European descent would have softened the heart of a Mississippi Klansman.

Historical context: Homosexuality was illegal under Clement Attlee's 'left-wing' Labour government, but not under Margaret Thatcher's 'right-wing' Conservative administration

Paradox: In terms of social attitudes, Fidel Castro's communist Cuba was more 'right-wing' than Margaret Thatcher's Conservative administration

The correlation between left-wing views, liberal social attitudes and intelligence probably has a political significance only in advanced industrial societies where the values of the liberal enlightenment (a belief in freedom, fairness, reason, science, free trade, the rule of law, property rights and gentle commerce) govern society. It is probably true to say that in Britain, France, the US, Canada and so forth there is a correlation, and an interesting one, between intelligence and sexual liberalism and openness to people from a different culture and/or race. But these views can be held by some pretty stupid people as well (the politically correct anti-christmas, coffee-with-milk, crazy-islamist-welcoming brigade).

We probably need some new words. ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ have become so tarnished by a century of propaganda and ill-advised alliances that they have become almost meaningless. We have a notionally ‘right of centre’ government in the UK and yet in its historical and geographical context the Cameron administration must be one of the most ‘left-wing’ administrations in the history of humanity – a consequence of modernity as much as anything else (under Clement Attlee gays were imprisoned, under Thatcher they were not). Increasingly, traditional right-wing views (blatant racism, sexism and homophobia) are simply seen as beyond the pale. In the US the current crop of Republican candidates mostly come across as a bunch of swivel-eyed fruitcakes to us, but none of them, from Mitt Romney downwards, would express the view that ‘the only good Indian is a dead Indian’ which is what the historically revered future ‘liberal’ president, Theodore Roosevelt wrote in 1886.

Liberalism is a function then not only of intelligence but of modernity. Illiberal, ‘stupid’ states such as Mauritania and Saudi Arabia are, quite literally, stuck in the past (even if their citizens are not individually stupid). Plenty of bright people hold illiberal views (attitudes to violent crime do not fall into convenient left-right camps) and a few dim people are impeccably enlightened. Increasingly, clever people hold a series of views that may be construed as ‘right’ or ‘left’ simultaneously. The challenge for the political parties is to find a way of reflecting this and representing this voice on the national level. And that will require some very clever thinking indeed.


Note:  I have a more extensive comment on the research concerned here