Conservative study reveals academic bias

Posted: Jul 30, 2003 12:00 AM

A massive new study from Berkeley scientists at has found that political liberals have the following qualities in abundance:

- Cowardice and appeasement

- Comfort with confusion and ignorance

- Recklessness

- Indecisiveness and similar cognitive defects

- Terror mismanagement

In short, after an exhaustive research effort, the scientists concluded that the typical liberal is very much like Renfield, that sniveling, nasty, bug-eating sidekick to Dracula. This is why liberals always say, "Yethhh, master" to bullies and tyrants like Josef Stalin, Fidel Castro or Saddam Hussein: They are dim-witted, cowardly, nasty creatures who can never make up their minds. It's not me, science says so.

OK, I'm making this up. There is no such study scientifically "proving" that liberals are feckless crapweasels.

But there is a Berkeley study that purports to prove that conservatives are hard-wired in the brain to be closed-minded bullies. The study by a team of psychiatrists claims to show that conservatives are defined by five qualities: "Fear and aggression," "dogmatism and intolerance of ambiguity," "uncertainty avoidance," the "need for cognitive closure" and "terror management."

According to the media summary put out by Berkeley's crack press office (and later pulled from its Web site), all "conservatives" share the same basic psychological wiring. They give four examples of four conservatives who share these attributes: Hitler, Mussolini, Rush Limbaugh and Ronald Reagan.

Now, this whole thing is what I like to call a pinata of asininity - bash it from any angle and from any distance and you will get some reward. But let me pick a few points.

First of all, Hitler and Mussolini weren't conservatives. Or at least, the idea that Mussolini and Hitler were "conservative" as we understand the term in the United States and Britain is very, very much in dispute among political scientists and intellectual historians.

For example, Hitler always claimed he was improving upon Marxism and socialism ("Nazi" does stand for National Socialism, you know). Mussolini was born into a socialist family, was a leading socialist journalist and thinker and was admired by Lenin. When Mussolini broke with the Socialist Party about WWI, he declared, "You think you can turn me out, but you will find I shall come back again. I am and shall remain a socialist and my convictions will never change! They are bred into my very bones."

I wanted to get that out of the way in part because I'm writing a book that covers much of this territory, but also because I have a low tolerance for anyone, let alone scientists, lumping American conservatives with socialist German mass-murderers. Call me thin-skinned, if you must.

Anyway, Jack Glaser, one of the lead authors of the Berkeley study, acknowledged in a media release that a study focused solely on why right wingers aren't right in the head might seem "partisan." But, he explained, there is a "host" of information available about conservatism and comparatively little about liberalism.

But why, exactly, haven't they studied why people are liberal? Perhaps it's because the profession thinks it's "abnormal" to be a conservative in the first place.

After all, psychiatrists study why people murder or why some people believe they're Napoleon or why they think Carrot Top is funny. But they don't study people who take showers. Why? Because taking a shower is normal, and therefore uninteresting. Perhaps it says something interesting about a profession that sees conservatism as so abnormal so as to be worth studying.

If you go back and look at the list of characteristics that define conservatism, you'll discover that it applies to liberals, too. Fear of ambiguity, a desire of cognitive closure, etc: These are human traits, not conservative ones.

Plenty of liberals refuse to accept that a factory closing can be a good thing or that something other than racism is to blame for the problems blacks face. There are liberals who will tear your eyes out if you say that the 1964 Voting Rights Act had problems or that it's not clear Head Start is worth the money.

These scientists went off to find negative traits, and when they found what they were looking for they stuck in a pin and said, "Here's a conservative." This is the equivalent of only looking for your car keys where the light is good. In short, they started from a position of cognitive closure. So I guess they were conservatives after all.