Sunday, September 30, 2012

My cold, calculating Libertarian mind

Matt Ridley from WSJ on a study of how Libertarians differ cognitively and psychologically from Liberals and Conservatives:
The study collated the results of 16 personality surveys and experiments completed by nearly 12,000 self-identified libertarians who visited The researchers compared the libertarians to tens of thousands of self-identified liberals and conservatives. It was hardly surprising that the team found that libertarians strongly value liberty, especially the "negative liberty" of freedom from interference by others. Given the philosophy of their heroes, from John Locke and John Stuart Mill to Ayn Rand and Ron Paul, it also comes as no surprise that libertarians are also individualistic, stressing the right and the need for people to stand on their own two feet, rather than the duty of others, or government, to care for people. 
Perhaps more intriguingly, when libertarians reacted to moral dilemmas and in other tests, they displayed less emotion, less empathy and less disgust than either conservatives or liberals. They appeared to use "cold" calculation to reach utilitarian conclusions about whether (for instance) to save lives by sacrificing fewer lives. They reached correct, rather than intuitive, answers to math and logic problems, and they enjoyed "effortful and thoughtful cognitive tasks" more than others do. 
The researchers found that libertarians had the most "masculine" psychological profile, while liberals had the most feminine, and these results held up even when they examined each gender separately, which "may explain why libertarianism appeals to men more than women." 
All Americans value liberty, but libertarians seem to value it more. For social conservatives, liberty is often a means to the end of rolling back the welfare state, with its lax morals and redistributive taxation, so liberty can be infringed in the bedroom. For liberals, liberty is a way to extend rights to groups perceived to be oppressed, so liberty can be infringed in the boardroom. But for libertarians, liberty is an end in itself, trumping all other moral values.
I don't think I buy liberty as "trumping all other moral values," but I suspect I place it much, much higher than most of my friends of other persuasions (Dana Garrett might accuse me of having a "fetish" for liberty--he likes that term and it might be applicable here).

On the other hand, I spend a great deal of time harnessing those "cold" calculations to serve the ends of children with special needs being shortchanged by the public education system because their situations and their stories rip my heart out.

So go figure.


Unknown said...

Carl Jung would say that people self-select into groupings of similar psychological processing. We find this in group analysis everywhere. The Meyers Briggs Survey differentiates these processes into 16 categories of possible human perception. Though there are probably a more infinite variety, the 16 seem to sum things up enough to effectively evaluate, and even predict group behavior. There are no good or bad labels in these groups, only a desire to process the world through different filters. Some are introverted, some extroverted; some thinkers, some focused on feelings.

So it comes as no surprise to me that those attracted to grouping of politically diverse organizations may value traits consistent with those philosophies. Some individuals come to devote themselves so completely to one of these groups that their identity is nearly indistinguishable from the operating philosophy of this group. Should it differ, extraordinary efforts ensue to close this gap. Because of this devotion, these individuals then expect others to commit in similar ways. If enough true-believes develop we get something crudely called group-think. Conformity and barriers to entry and exit can become quite cumbersome. These groups close ranks and develop an inside/outside mentality which tends to regulate creativity.

Now you may be thinking right now that, "This sounds a lot like the Xxxxx's and the Yyyyy's but not my group/party. If you find yourself having this reaction, are you certain that there is room for outside thinking and creativity in your group or is it a feeling of belonging and security that reinforce these differences.

The really interesting thing to me is that, as humans, we seem predisposed to be this way. It's kind of like tribalism. But contrary to what we may think, in our unconscious desire to be safe and wanted, is that disparate groups of unlike personalities perform much better, are more creative, and report being happier in the longer term.

This then seems to be our evolutionary challenge as a species. Can we find a way to be open and welcoming to other points of view? Can we find away to bridge our differences and create a better world to live in for everyone, together. Or do we devolve to tribalism and war and kill each other over our differences. I have no easy answer to any of this but I know a few things that are necessary for thing to get started.
First, people must be free to express themselves without reservation or fear of reprisal. Second, violence must be rejected as any possible option when dealing with conversant conflicts. Third, we are all, always better off, better fed, better educated, more creative and happier when we are not fighting. A young carpenter 2000 years ago had a lot to say about this. Others have spoke of this lesson throughout the world in different languages for thousands of years.

Why do you think we continue to ignore it? Why do we continue to vote for people and institutions that violate it? We are the many, they are the few. Why should they prevail?

The change starts, inside you.

tom said...

on Myers-Briggs libertarians cluster heavily in the xNTx guadrant, w/ F vs P more or less normally distributed, and a bit of a bias toward I over E.

we're angry nerds...

Unknown said...

@Tom wrote: on Myers-Briggs libertarians cluster heavily in the xNTx guadrant, w/ F vs P more or less normally distributed, and a bit of a bias toward I over E.

I can't confirm your assertions, but it sounds truthy.

Normal Distribution of MBTI scores in America:

70% Extrovert, 30% Introvert
70% Sensing, 30% Intuition
50% Feeling, 50% Thinking **
60% Judging, 40% Perceptive

** there are the expected gender differences here.

Perhaps this is why our ranks are so small with really creative people!

delacrat said...

"Tests like the Myers-Briggs test (and there are many!) aren’t even consistent when they’re taken by the same individual over time. They’re overly sensitive to mood, self-image, and consistency effects. They’re about as useful an indicator of personality as a horoscope."

Unknown said...

The MBTI is not a test, rather a survey. What you put in , is reflected back. Various life situations can cause fluctuations in the feedback. If these fluctuations persist it is called "undifferentiated", on that axis. If there are wild fluctuations there are other processes at work and the MBTI is of limited value. It has been validated by scores of research projects and has very Google internal consistency. That some reject it out of hand can be due to poor administration or other interpersonal factors.

My experience with horoscopes is that they depend on your birthday and someone charting the stars and planets. A small difference for some, but meaningful.

tom said...

I agree, Andrew.

I've actually studied Astrology, Tarot, and Qabalah as a reality check on "modern scientific" personality assessment testing methods, and i've gone so far as to track down 3 of 7 people born in the same hospital as me w/i 10 minutes of my birth.

Science hasn't held up well in general, although i do like MBTI and use it regularly in constructing one-on-one discussions/arguments w/ people that i know well.