Until 2016, Jordin B. Peterson was a relatively obscure, middle-aged professor of psychology at a Canadian university. He had created a self-help program called Self-Authoring. He had also written a tome called Maps of Meaning about the psychological significance of “archetypal stories” from the Bible and mythology. And he regularly posted his university lectures on YouTube, for which he had developed a respectable following. He was accomplished, but he was certainly not famous.
It’s becoming an academic fad to study the culture, psychology and neurology of the most mysterious animal of all: The Republican. Since there are hardly any Republicans teaching psychology or brain science in American universities, the curiosity is understandable. Who are these people who think so differently than we do, they seem to ask, and why are they so wrong?
In one recent paper, researchers from three schools (University of Nebraska, University of California, Merced and University of Arizona) published the results of an experiment to see how voters would respond to Republican and Democratic candidates with non-stereotypical policy positions. What the results suggest is that Republicans may find it easier (than Democrats do) to disagree with their party.
The researchers asked the participants to identify themselves on the political spectrum from “very liberal” to “very conservative.” The participants were then hooked to functional MRI machines to monitor brain activity. All wired up, they were presented with four fictional political candidates (two Republicans and two Democrats) and a series of policy positions for each candidate. The participants were instructed to quickly respond to each of these policy positions as either “good” or “bad,” and the researchers timed how long it took them to respond.
About one third of the policy positions taken by these fictional candidates were non-stereotypical for their party affiliation. For example, a Republican candidate might say he does not support the death penalty or a Democrat might say he doesn’t support limitations on gun ownership. The researchers were most interested in how the participants would respond to these non-stereotypical positions. Would they say they were bad? How long would it take them to respond? And how much cognitive conflict would they have to go through before responding? The results were surprising.
The more conservative the participant, the less difference there was in the response time between agreeing and disagreeing with stereotypically of a candidate of their own party. In other words, conservatives were less reflexive in their agreement with Republican candidates in general, and they had less trouble disagreeing with them when those candidates crossed the party line. But, you may ask, doesn’t that just show that Republicans are doctrinaire and hold their candidates to the party platform?
That would be a reasonable conclusion except that conservatives were also quicker to agree with non-stereotypical positions from candidates of their own party. In fact, conservatives were even quicker (than liberals in a similar position) to agree with the stereotypical positions of Democratic candidates, such as legalizing prostitution or restricting the death penalty. This all suggests that the conservatives in the study experienced less internal conflict than liberals when straying from the party line.
The results seem to have baffled the researchers because political psychologists have concluded in recent years that political conservatives are less openminded that liberals. So, how could they be acting so independently?
I think the researchers of this study are conflating two distinct attributes: closedmindedness and clannishness. They seem to assume that people who are less openminded should be more likely to either (1) adhere to the party line or (2) demonstrate more reflexive agreement with candidates of their own party. But why? Isn’t it just as likely that the lauded open-mindedness of liberals makes them more likely to change their own views to match the platform of the Democratic Party – or the views of whatever Democratic candidate may be on offer?
While Democratic voters may be more heterogeneous in superficial ways like sexuality and race, Republican voters are more ideologically diverse. The modern Republican party was built on a Cold War alliance of religious conservatives, free-marketeers and anti-communists. It now also includes a substantial contingent of libertarians, war-on-terror partisans, and working-class whites sick of being cast as the villains in a social-justice melodrama. It’s a big, lumpy, factional party, and almost everybody in it calls himself a conservative. Because the Republican Party has more ideological diversity, its voters take for granted that they will regularly disagree with a GOP candidate or the party itself.
Those infamously closedminded GOP voters may not be open to persuasion from the progressive left. But neither are they taking marching orders from the GOP or other Republicans. They know what they believe and they don’t fret very much over who agrees with them. I guess you could call that “closedminded.” But you might also call it “principled.”
Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson led a protest march on Saturday, November 25.
If you are anything like me, you just rolled your eyes. What was it about? The habitat of the banana slug? Equal pay for rich actresses? Kindergarten sex-ed? To my surprise, she and her fellow protesters were demanding something very respectable: the freedom of an innocent human being.
This year is the twentieth anniversary of the debut of Disney’s Broadway musical, The Lion King. The show is significant for its use of puppetry, movement, and beautiful costumes designed by visionary director Julie Taymor. To celebrate the occasion on November 5, the show’s composer, Elton John, treated the audience to a curtain-call performance. That sort of fanfare makes sense for a show that holds an all-time earnings record for Broadway: $7.9 billion in worldwide box-office receipts.
Leonardo da Vinci is hot right now. CBS News recently did a special report on him. Another Leonardo (DiCaprio) is planning to produce a bio pic about him. And Walter Isaacson (biographer of Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein) just published an epic new biography, Leonardo da Vinci, which creates a portrait of the great Florentine master that focuses less on his final product and more on his process. Isaacson certainly pays homage to masterpieces like The Last Supper and The Mona Lisa, but the book centers on Leonardo’s notebooks, which allows us to peer behind the curtain and steal a glance at how this incomparable genius did it all. The theme that runs through this constantly fascinating book is Leonardo’s endless store of curiosity.
This Halloween is the 500th birthday of the modern world. On October 31, 1517, a scholarly monk named Martin Luther posted 95 theses on the church door in Wittenberg, a town in modern-day Germany. He hoped that the large theological community in the city would be interested in debating the Catholic Church’s practice of selling indulgences, which were then advertised by the Church as a way the faithful could literally buy their way into Heaven. But Luther’s modest invitation for discussion quickly got out of his control.
Harvey Weinstein, producer of film masterpieces like Pulp Fiction, Good Will Hunting, and Shakespeare in Love, was recently ousted from his own company after The New York Times reported that multiple women had accused him of sexual harassment or assault. And more accusers have spoken up since. This is just the latest in a slate of high-profile cases in which powerful men have been accused of treating female employees and co-workers like sexual prey.
Bullets rained down on a country music concert in Las Vegas this weekend, murdering 59 people and wounding over 500 more. Before the cops had counted all the corpses, Hayley Geftman-Gold, senior corporate attorney for CBS, wrote on her personal Facebook page that she was “actually not even sympathetic” to the victims of the Las Vegas attack because “country music fans often are [R]epublican gun toters.” When her comments went viral, CBS fired her.
Before the 2016 football season even started, Colin Kaepernick had been demoted. He had once been a star quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. But after suffering injuries to his shoulder, hand, and knee, his performance was declining, so the 49ers benched him. As he nursed his wounded pride on the sidelines before a preseason match-up with the Green Bay Packers, the national anthem played. He did not stand or place his hand over his heart. He sulked on the bench.
Unless otherwise stated, these are the opinions of RT Vaden.