Communicator (communicator) wrote,
Communicator
communicator

Well, hooray for us

You may have seen the big debate about the latest daft psychological test which seeks to abstract up from the behaviour of a couple of dozen American psychology undergraduates to a generalisation about the entire human species. Ah, but this one is true, you see, because it accords with my prejudices intuitive grasp of the human mind.

Briefly, students sitting at keyboards in front of screens had to click if they saw an 'M' and not click if they saw a 'W'. The undergrads who self-identified as conservatives kept stubbornly clicking regardless of input - getting a bunch of false positives. The 'liberals' varied their response according to stimulus. Humorously therefore, the conservatives stubbornly kept voting for 'W' in the face of all evidence. Oh the humanity.

Some brain-scan stuff too.

Analyzing the data, Sulloway said liberals were 4.9 times as likely as conservatives to show activity in the brain circuits that deal with conflicts, and 2.2 times as likely to score in the top half of the distribution for accuracy.


I know we have to be particularly alert to the temptation to believe that our thinking is actually qualitatively better than that of our opponents. The conservative mindset is attuned (IMHO) to social hierarchy and pattern-recognition. Thus when we approach a question such as 'Is Evolution true?' we approach it in different ways - in one case prioritising the evidence - in the other case prioritising the social implications of the issue, and in particular its implications for social hierarchy and power-relations.

When I read right wing folks online I get a feeling of bad faith - that is, people fiercely espousing beliefs that they do not in fact hold. I think this is because we are each operating to a different theory of truth. In philosophical terms these are the correspondence and the coherence theories of truth. The correspondence theory (arbitrarily here called 'liberal' or 'modern') evaluates the truth of an assertion in respect of its correspondence to an hypothesised reality existing independent of mind and language. Another mind-set (arbitrarily called 'conservative' or 'post-modern') evaluates truth in respect of its consistency with a pre-existing set of assertions - and specifically in this case its correspondence to assertions of socially powerful individuals, and the preservation of existing social relationships.

I am reminded of Lord Denning's notorious judgement in the case of the innocent Birmingham Six. Refusing their right to appeal he said:

If they won (the appeal against conviction), it would mean that the police were guilty of perjury; that they were guilty of violence and threats; that the confessions were involuntary and improperly admitted in evidence; and that the convictions were erroneous. That would mean that the Home Secretary would have either to recommend that they be pardoned or to remit the case to the Court of Appeal. That was such an appalling vista that every sensible person would say, 'It cannot be right that these actions should go any further'.


This is the conservative theory of coherence in a nutshell: prioritising the impact of an assertion and thus its coherence with existing sets of assertions, and with existing power structures, over its actual correspondence with events. The fact that this judgement was made, in public, in the expectation that it would be acceptable, I think reveals that for the conservative the underlying values of truth are utterly different - and what we perceive as good and bad faith are for them utterly reversed.
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