Not doubt the idea that a conservative world view often equates with lower “intelligence” is going to court controversy.
Calling climate change deniers, creationists and birthers “idiots” is not going to advance the debate.
Coming via George Monbiot’s blog we have a recent study that shows a correlation between “lower” intelligence and conservatism.
“…drawing on a sample size of several thousand, correcting for both education and socioeconomic status, the new study looks embarrassingly robust. Importantly, it shows that prejudice tends not to arise directly from low intelligence, but from the conservative ideologies to which people of low intelligence are drawn. Conservative ideology is the “critical pathway” from low intelligence to racism. Those with low cognitive abilities are attracted to “right-wing ideologies that promote coherence and order” and “emphasize the maintenance of the status quo”(5). Even for someone not yet renowned for liberal reticence, this feels hard to write.
This is not to suggest that all conservatives are stupid. There are some very clever people in government, advising politicians, running think-tank’s, writing for newspapers, who have acquired power and influence by promoting rightwing ideologies.”
The end result is the creation of a counter-factual reality where the world is 5000 years old, evolution is a lie and climate change a conspiracy:
“….Don ‘t take my word for it. Listen to what two former Republican ideologues, David Frum and Mike Lofgren, have been saying. Frum warns that “conservatives have built a whole alternative knowledge system, with its own facts, its own history, its own laws of economics.”(6) The result is a “shift to ever more extreme, ever more fantasy-based ideology” which has “ominous real-world consequences for American society.”
Lofgren complains that “the crackpot outliers of two decades ago have become the vital center today”(7). The Republican party, with its “prevailing anti-intellectualism and hostility to science” is appealing to what he calls the “low-information voter” or the “misinformation voter.” While most office holders probably don’t believe the “reactionary and paranoid claptrap” they peddle, “they cynically feed the worst instincts of their fearful and angry low-information political base”.
I do believe there is truth to the last assertion. Most of the material produced by the think tanks and deniers is propaganda cynically designed to deceive and to appeal to the prejudices of a conservative audience.
The original paper can be found here, titled “Bright minds and dark attitudes“.
It does note that there are many factors producing a conservative worldview:
“…Of course, prejudice cannot be explained solely by intelligence, ideology, or intergroup contact. Prejudice has complex origins, including personal factors, such as ignorance and a lack of empathy (Pettigrew & Tropp, 2008), and social factors, such as resource competition and intergroup hierarchies (Sidanius & Pratto, 1999).
Simply perusing the reader’s comments on Andrew Bolt’s blog tends to support the view that prejudice and a lack of empathy are characteristics Bolt and his readers…
The authors conclude:
“….our investigation establishes that cognitive ability is a reliable predictor of prejudice. Understanding the causes of intergroup bias is the first step toward ultimately addressing social inequalities and negativity toward outgroups. Exposing right-wing conservative ideology and intergroup contact as mechanisms through which personal intelligence may influence prejudice represents a fundamental advance in developing such an understanding.”
However, Monbiot is perhaps more scathing of “liberals” for being, well… too nice:
“…But when I survey this wreckage I wonder who the real idiots are. Confronted with mass discontent, the once-progressive major parties, as Thomas Frank laments in his latest book Pity the Billionaire, triangulate and accommodate, hesitate and prevaricate, muzzled by what he calls “terminal niceness”(9). They fail to produce a coherent analysis of what has gone wrong and why, or to make an uncluttered case for social justice, redistribution and regulation. The conceptual stupidities of conservatism are matched by the strategic stupidities of liberalism.”
Intelligence by no means equates with political effectiveness, or with being “right”.
Sure, I’m comfortable calling out the idea that climate change is a socialist conspiracy as a ridiculous, far-fetched fantasy.
However I think idiocy is a universal trait that transcends politics.