In memory of Christie Davies: defender of the right to joke

ChristieDavies

As we approach the end of 2017, I remember this year’s sad passing of Christie Davies. Davies was a rare academic beast: a classical liberal sociologist. Despite representing a minority perspective in his discipline, he was able to thrive and leave a mark that will continue to influence scholars for generations.

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The Lowest Levels of Love (with apologies to Dr Amburgey)

Different Types of Love scale

The Different Types of Love scale is a 40-item measure of loving feelings toward four different groups. Participants indicate agreement with statements concerning friends […], family […], generic others […], and their romantic partner […]

Results.

Table 4 shows that libertarians showed the lowest levels of loving feelings toward others, across all four categories (although the difference with conservatives on love for friends was not significant).

Interpretation.

Consistent with the results on the Identification with All of Humanity scale, the libertarian independence from others is associated with weaker loving feelings toward friends, family, romantic partners, and generic others. It is noteworthy that differences between liberals and conservatives were generally small (except toward generic others). Libertarians were the outliers.

You’ll always be my bro, though. These results come from a paper by a bunch of moral psychologists, including Jonathan Haidt. I’ve blogged about the paper before, in regards to intelligence. (Libertarians are smarter than conservatives and liberals, remember? It turns out that we are bigger jerks, too.)

My intuition tells me that this is an incomplete analysis, though (the paper’s authors say as much, up front, in the paper itself). It’s not that libertarians are less loving than conservatives and liberals, it’s simply that we show our love in a different way, most likely in a way that isn’t represented in the sampling process. Libertarians could not, for example, be the ardent internationalists that we are without some measure of “love” for humanity.

Here is an example of what I mean. Suppose I am walking down the street and I see a bum with a cardboard sign and a tip jar (a paper cup from Carl’s Jr). The bum is drunk, and a little stoned. I say to myself, “Damn, that guy is in a crappy situation.” I reach into my pockets to see if I’ve got some change or, better yet, a couple of cigarettes. I am comfortable in claiming that most libertarians – sans those raised on the Atlantic coast of the US – go through the same thought process. If I put myself in that guy’s shoes, anything more than what I spare for him becomes a nuisance to me. Does this make sense? So if I’m panhandling, and somebody tries to do more than give me their change or spare me a couple of smokes, they become a pain in my ass. Why would I want to be a pain in our hypothetical bum’s ass?

This same thought process can be attributed to family, friends, and romantic partners. We’re not being jerks, we’re respecting your autonomy. I know for a fact that this can be a shallow admission of truth for some to hear, but it’s the truth nonetheless.

The libertarian’s outlier-ness in regards to conceptions about love may explain why we have such a tough time politically. (Our superior cognitive skills, which prompts us to be more open to getting at the truth of some matter, also goes some way toward explaining why we fail politically, as politics is emphatically about avoiding the truth.)

Morality (“love”) is simply one of a number of different spheres of conception about how the world works (including, say, economics, history, or sociology). However, morality is often the only sphere that people can afford to use to make judgments about this or that policy or social puzzle. This is because the training that is required to understand more complex topics like economics or sociology is expensive (“time”) and hard to come by. So, for example, there are a number of explanations for why foreign aid to Somalia is bad. You can use historical explanations or sociological ones or economic arguments, but the first – and often only – line of reasoning used by most people is moral in nature. Thus:

Giving money to poor countries is morally wrong.

Not exactly a game-winner, right? Look at what a jerk you are. Should we, as libertarians, be spending more time explaining to others why we think the way we do?

Are libertarians more intelligent than conservatives and liberals?

The short answer is “yes.”

Jonathan Haidt, a moral psychologist at NYU’s Stern School of Business, published a paper in 2012 with three colleagues exploring libertarian morality. Dr Haidt is well-known for his work on studying morality among conservatives and liberals in the US, but has become increasingly interested in libertarians (or, at least, he can no longer ignore us).

Among the factors that Haidt and his colleagues explore and compare with liberals and conservatives is intelligence, or at least one common measure of it:

The Cognitive Reflection Task is a set of 3 logic questions that have correct and intuitive answers. Correct answers on these questions is said not just to measure intelligence, but also to measure a person’s ability to suppress an intuitive response in service of the cognitive reasoning required to solve these problems.

[…]

Results.

Table 3 shows that libertarians find the correct answers to these questions at a slightly higher rate than liberals and moderately higher rate compared to conservatives (also see Figure 4).

Interpretation.

The cognitive reflection task provides a behavioral validation of the hypothesis that libertarians have a more reasoned cognitive style. In our dataset, this measure inter-correlates with both Need for Cognition […] and Baron-Cohen Systemizer […] scores, with libertarians scoring higher than both liberals and conservatives on all three measures. Taken together, a convergent picture of the rational cognitive style of libertarians emerges.

Although the Cognitive Reflection Task is just one test among many that attempts to measure intelligence, and although I am not a big believer that intelligence tests are any good at detecting intelligence (they are, however, great for analyzing structural issues within a society or across different societies), it’s hard to argue with the results: Libertarians score higher on intelligence tests than either liberals or conservatives. Here is the paper. I’d be very interested in reading through more literature that deals with this, but libertarians are new to a lot of scholars (which is why Haidt’s “common-sense” approach is being considered groundbreaking for including libertarians).

You don’t really need to read the paper though. Dr Amburgey, the house liberal of this blog, explains well why liberals tend to score slightly lower on intelligence tests than libertarians. Here, for example, is Dr Amburgey trying to tell me that the CIA is not really arming rebels in Syria if it goes through proxies like Qatar and Saudi Arabia. It’s an intelligent response, to be sure, but a libertarian – slightly more superior in his cognitive abilities, according to science – knows better.

Notes  On Liberty‘s house conservative*, Dr Delacroix, amply demonstrates why conservatives are not in the same league as liberals or libertarians.

With the fact that libertarians are more intelligent than liberals and conservatives in mind, I’d like to take a moment to a) bask in the glory of it all, and b) go back to Rick’s question about the One Big Change that I’d like to make.

I think that there is a way to incorporate open borders into a One Big Change-style reform while also leaving room for other improvements such as financial competition in the markets (rather than between governments) and competing tax regimes. I’d dig deeper and go a little more structural. I’d federate the entire world, and I wouldn’t make the federation out of the current agglomeration of nation-states, either. I would destroy the states currently in place and federate the administrative units that currently operate underneath the nation-state.

This, I think, would do a great job of incorporating open borders (everyone is part of the same federal union now), financial competition (no more national banks), tax regimes (you can more easily vote with your feet), and a common legal system that protects individual rights such as private property and freedom of religion.

*Dr Delacroix is, of course, a libertarian. He just calls himself a conservative out of spite for liberals, and because he mistakenly thinks of himself as a paternalistic defender of the common man from Leftist condescension and aggression.