Calendars, Country Music and Cleaning Supplies

Do you have any of those items somewhere near (or on) your computer? Then you’re more likely a conservative. At least that’s what this article says.

I think that’s really silly. I can either see or put my hand on any of the above from where I’m sitting, and I’m no conservative. Well, at least I think I’m not. Although the article also says

“A study of twins, for instance, has shown that a conservative or progressive orientation can be inherited, while a decades-long study has found that personality traits associated with liberalism or conservatism later in life show up in preschoolers…”

and I’m pretty sure that when I was a preschooler I exhibited all the character traits of conservatism. As a small child I was obsessively neat, fond of order, highly motivated and mistrustful of people I didn’t know. (I distinctly recall hating the idea of Santa Claus. I didn’t want any fat stranger wandering around our house in the middle of the night, and lobbied strongly to have him leave the gifts in the barn where we could go and safely collect them in the morning.)

The article is really worth reading. Take a minute and skim it so we can all talk about it. Go ahead…I’ll be here when you get back.

The article’s packed full of interesting (albeit “conventional wisdom”) tidbits like this:

Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia, said…[he] was more inclined to see a person’s moral framework as a source of difference between liberals and conservatives. Most liberals, he said, think about morality in terms of two categories: how someone’s welfare is affected, and whether it is fair. Conservatives, by contrast, broaden that definition to include loyalty, respect for authority, and purity or sanctity. Conservatives have a richer, more elaborate moral horizon than liberals, Mr. Haidt said, because there is a “whole dimension to human experience best described as divinity or sacredness that conservatives are more attuned to.”

But apart from the generally accepted stuff, this article also reflects a certain self-critical approach that makes it unusual and fascinating. The writer feels there is an innate bias in not only the research itself but also the reporting of findings, since both the science and the journalism tend to be done by people with liberal leanings:

As for the present research, John Zaller, a political scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, said: “I am personally embarrassed by some of the leading work by psychologists on personality and conservatism. I take the data to be valid, but I feel the manner of describing it too often sets up conservatives to look bad.” Mr. Haidt, who agrees liberals and conservatives have distinct dispositions, still thinks bias is a problem: “Our own biases as researchers—because we are almost all liberal — make it difficult for us to understand the psychology of conservatives.”

Words really do matter. It makes a big difference, for instance, whether a researcher describes conservatives as “obsessive and fearful”…or “methodical and cautious.” Liberals can be either “lazy and careless” or “laid-back and happy-go-lucky,”…but the mildly pejorative terms in this kind of research really are, it seems, more likely to be applied to conservatives.

I don’t know how useful it is to apply labels like this to differing political views at all, though I am always fascinated by the issue of personality and politics, and whether political leanings are the result of nature or nurture. (I’m eagerly waiting for Monotreme to look at this in detail one day when he has time.)

One thing I do take issue with is the conventional wisdom that people tend to become more conservative as they age…or the old saying that “a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged by reality.” It is my observation and experience that people become more liberal as they age…because they evolve from the youthful approach of seeing the world in black-and-white. When I was young, my friends and I knew everything and were pretty adamant in our positions on abortion, capital punishment, welfare, gay marriage, the rights of biological parents, and other difficult societal issues. Now we are all wishy-washy and contradictory and see our world in shades of grey. Any political discussion eventually comes to down to somebody saying, “But then, on the other hand…”

After you’ve had enough life experience, all these abstract issues sooner or later become real-life problems, and the solutions veer more toward situational ethics than moral absolutes. And that, I believe, is a quintessentially liberal position.

About filistro

Filistro is a Canadian writer and prairie dog who maintains burrows on both sides of the 49th parallel. Like all prairie dogs, she is keenly interested in politics and language. (Prairie dogs have been known to build organized towns the size of Maryland, and are the only furry mammal with a documented language.)
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66 Responses to Calendars, Country Music and Cleaning Supplies

  1. drfunguy says:

    I tell you what I find really silly about this sort of article: they never define what is meant by liberal or conservative.
    Are they self-identified? Or is it being measured somehow independant of that. Famously, more Americans identify themselves as conservative while majorities favor liberal political positions. Writing an article for the NYT without mentioning how the social scientists decide who is what is… I’m struggling to come up with a strong enough word for irrelevant, pitiful and useless… maybe contemptible or perhaps loathsome.
    I can’t even bring myself to seriously look at the ideas of this piece since the author has failed to start by defining terms. It is so essential to do so when dealing with such hot-button words as conservative and liberal.

  2. filistro says:

    @doc… I believe they mostly considered “liberal or ocnservative” to be based on voting history:

    Mr. Jost did his own research on the red-blue divide. Using the Internet he and his collaborators gave personality tests to hundreds of thousands of Americans. He found states with people who scored high on “openness” were significantly more likely to have voted for the Democratic candidate in the past three elections, even after adjustments were made for income, ethnicity and population density. States that scored high on “conscientiousness” went Republican in the past three elections.

  3. shortchain says:

    There’s a reason why psychology is referred to as a “soft” science.

    I do notice that not one shred of statistics (significance levels, that sort of thing) is mentioned in this piece of pseudo-scientific baloney.

    I shudder to think of what they’d make of my work area.

  4. filistro says:

    You scientists are a tough crowd!

    Don’t we have any nice, gentle, tolerant liberal-arts types around here?

  5. Mr. Universe says:

    What am I? Chopped liver?

  6. filistro says:

    @Mr. U… What am I? Chopped liver?

    You’re a law unto yourself.

    A musician who teaches… a wordsmith who hikes thousands of miles… a poet who does his thesis on climate science…. genrally impossible to classify. NOT “liberal arts,” though.

    (I think you’re also the guy on the left front row in the first related post automatically generated for this article…. ;-)

  7. fopplssiegeparty says:

    Thank you, Shortchain!

    Psychology, political science & economics while not worthless, can hardly be called science.

  8. Mr. Universe says:

    I think you’re also the guy on the left front row in the first related post automatically generated for this article….

    I should point out that I’m not gay. :-p

  9. Monotreme says:

    “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

    I’m at top left in this picture.

    http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3001/2295161023_f2f88c3cb5.jpg?v=0

  10. Mr. Universe says:

    I should point out that I’m not a poet. I don’t even understand poets though I recognize them when I read them. I am a lyricist and songwriter. That’s a distinction I draw a line in the sand on. Poets are a lot smarter than me. I couldn’t even pretend to be in a league with a Chaucer, Tennyson, Keats, or Wordsworth. Hell, I’m barely in a league of lyricists with myself. I do sing a mean harmony.

    I should also point out that my thesis isn’t on climate science, per se. It’s on third party emmissions as a function of sustainability in supply chain management. Not to put too fine a point on things.

  11. dcpetterson says:

    I need to go read the article. What I have noticed about modern political positions is that current conservatism seems to be more concerned with how much money I can keep for myself, whereas liberalism tends to concentrate on who needs help and who is most able to provide it.

    Conservatives seem to be afraid that someone “undeserving” (by which they mean, lazy and, therefore, poor) will get some of my hard-earned (even if inherited) money. Liberals don’t want anyone to be hurt.

    I think the objection that conservatives have to paying taxes has nothing to do with giving money to the “government” — because, after all, the “government” doesn’t keep the money anyway. They object because that money then goes to people who need it. And conservatives are convinced those people need it because they’re too shiftless to go out and get a job.

    What this says about the inherent personality traits, I don’t know.

  12. Bart DePalma says:

    Fili:

    Fine post. I second your doubts about trying to pigeon-hole people by claiming that broad categories like “conservative” and “liberal” share hardwired personality. You and shortchain may be “liberals,” but your personalities are hardly the same.

    Then again, given that all of the academics engaged in this exercise are “liberals,” maybe pigeon-holing people is a “liberal” personality trait?

    ;^)

  13. Mainer says:

    Wow here I sit in front of my two monitors with one of them on Bassmasters after having listened to some Clint Black music. Already checked to see if there are any more changes with Richard Petty and his operation and seeing how the standings are after yesterdays football games and the standings in Hockey East…..I have two calendars within arm reach and a day planner plus all the reminders on my Blackberry and oh, oh, oh what is this computer screen cleaner, oh and white board cleaner and Y E S my ever present bottle of Windex. Damn I’m a conservative….who knew?

    Bart you were doing pretty good there until you went over the edge trying to make this another progressive fault. I see far less of pigeon holing of people from the progressive side than I do from your “You are not real Americans” because you are………..just fill in the blank to cover what Luntz has told you to say for the day.

    I agree that this is not science nor was it ever meant to be. Most of what we know about how people function stands on pretty weak ground but we know so much more about people than we ever did before in our history that I have a hard time chucking all of it for the simple lack of numbers. Give this time some one will do a more quantitive study and then we will argue over that too.

    In the mean time I am going to take my sorry progressive ass and go work on a pickup next door. Then because the snow is gone I may go over and burn a few rounds in the pit, but then I think I will come home and bake some bread or make a quiche for spite or maybe I’ll just repot some flowers in my office, because real men do any good gawd damned thing we want and couldn’t care less about phoney baloney pigeon holes because after all we all know that hose holes are full of pigeon crap……and besides my dear wife likes my rather eclectic character. Now where is that BassPro sale flyer so I can finish my Christmas shopping already pretty much gone as far as I can go with Harbor Freight but you should see the tool box I got for my daughter in law……..lets see my son top that?

  14. dcpetterson says:

    Then again, given that all of the academics engaged in this exercise are “liberals,” maybe pigeon-holing people is a “liberal” personality trait?

    Bart must be liberal then, eh?

    There are two kinds of people in the world — those who divide people into two kinds, and those who don’t.

  15. Bart DePalma says:

    Mainer:

    Relax, it was a joke. See the winking smiley?

  16. GROG says:

    @DC post from 4:26:

    I disagree with your analysis. I think liberals think that wealth is a zero sum game. There is a fixed amount of wealth in the world and in order to obtain more wealth, you have to take it from someone else.

    Conservatives feel an individual can create his own wealth independant of anyone else’s wealth. In fact, when one person becomes wealthier, others become wealthier also. When the rich get richer the poor get richer, too. Compare poverty today with poverty 150 years ago. As the rich got richer, all of American society got richer.

    It seems that liberals feel it is unfair for one person to hold more wealth than another and it’s the federal government’s role to redistribute wealth in a manner they (the government) feel appropriate.

    Conservatives seem to be afraid that someone “undeserving” (by which they mean, lazy and, therefore, poor) will get some of my hard-earned (even if inherited) money. Liberals don’t want anyone to be hurt.

    Not true at all. Last week I linked to an article citing a study that found conservatives give more to charity than liberals:

    “Although liberal families’ incomes average 6 percent higher than those of conservative families, conservative-headed households give, on average, 30 percent more to charity than the average liberal-headed household ($1,600 per year vs. $1,227). ”

    Conservatives very much want to give to those less fortunate. They don’t, however, want to give it government and let them to decide how to redistribute it.

    I’m a middle class American. I’m far from rich. But I have no animosity towards someone who is rich, nor do I want anything from someone who is rich. They don’t owe me anything. Whatever I get, I want to get on my own. Maybe that’s what makes me a conservative.

  17. filistro says:

    @Bart… Then again, given that all of the academics engaged in this exercise are “liberals,” maybe pigeon-holing people is a “liberal” personality trait?

    Jeez, Bart… I HATE when you do that. Just when I’m so mad at you that I’m going to be able to comfortably ignore you for months, you go and say something human and funny, and I start to smile in spite of myself.

    I will give you the central point, that studies like these are conducted, interpreted and reported on by liberals, so conservatives tend to take an unfair beating. So, do you agree with my final point… (something I actually just realized ;-)… that a major difference between the conservative and liberal mindsets is the issue of moral absolutes vs. situational ethics?

  18. mclever says:

    @ fopplssiegeparty
    Psychology, political science & economics while not worthless, can hardly be called science.

    I wouldn’t say that these fields can’t be called science. They are sciences, but on the beginning part of the curve of understanding. There’s plenty of very good science going on in the fields of psychology, political science, economics, etc. It’s just that there’s also a fair bit of faux science, which often produces the sexy results that unfortunately grab headlines. Few people other than extreme experts have sufficient knowledge to actually call them on their faux findings.

    There’s plenty of faux science going on in medicine, too. But I’d definitely consider medicine to be a science. It’s just practiced with a lot of art…
    ;-)

  19. GROG,

    Not true at all. Last week I linked to an article citing a study that found conservatives give more to charity than liberals:

    “Although liberal families’ incomes average 6 percent higher than those of conservative families, conservative-headed households give, on average, 30 percent more to charity than the average liberal-headed household ($1,600 per year vs. $1,227). ”

    I think there’s an important element of data missing in that analysis. How much of that charity money is given to a church as tithings? Given that conservatives are far more likely to be staunchly religious, and given the all-but-compulsory nature of tithings within more conservative religious denominations, it may turn out that, absent that compulsion, the numbers would be comparable for both groups.

    I think liberals think that wealth is a zero sum game. There is a fixed amount of wealth in the world and in order to obtain more wealth, you have to take it from someone else.

    You may think that, but it’s certainly not true for this liberal. I look at it from the perspective of monetary eddies. The economy needs money to move in order to be active and grow. At the top end of the scale, money tends to stagnate, for a whole host of reasons. That stagnation is the equivalent of pulling the money out of the economy altogether, something conservatives (demonstrably wrongly) keep insisting taxes do. The upshot is less economic activity.

  20. filistro says:

    Mainer, I’ve studied your post carefully… cleaning supplies, country music, buying a tool box for the d-i-l, potting flowers, making quiche, working on the pickup..

    After considerable thought I’ve decided you aren’t liberal and you aren’t conservative… you’re Canadian :-)

  21. filistro says:

    So all you lofty hard-science types… d’you think the term “social sciences” is a misnomer, or an oxymoron, or what?

  22. mclever says:

    @ filistro

    RE: Your idea that a major difference between the conservative and liberal mindsets is the issue of moral absolutes vs. situational ethics…

    I think you may be on to something here, but it’s not as simple as that. (Geez, I sound like a liberal!) Extremists of any stripe tend to engage in absolutist thinking, so there will be those far-lefties who also see things in perfect black-and-white. (Meat is murder! It’s a sin against life! etc.)

    However, given the fundamentalist nature of many of the current Republican core constituencies, we shouldn’t be surprised to find more absolutism on that side of the fence. So, perhaps the difference is more that on the scale of potential extremes, the average “liberal” in this country is more moderate than the average “conservative”?

    Which of course makes sense when you consider that “liberal” was originally supposed to refer to those moderate, open-minded thinkers who reject absolutes… Consider that in our current political environment, conservatives drive the dialog, and in their absolutist viewpoint, anyone to the left of Olympia Snowe is a commie pinko socialist fascist liberal!

  23. GROG says:

    MW,

    How much of that charity money is given to a church as tithings?

    Do you feel tithings are not considered charity? (serious question)

  24. dcpetterson says:

    @GROG

    I disagree with your analysis. I think liberals think that wealth is a zero sum game. There is a fixed amount of wealth in the world and in order to obtain more wealth, you have to take it from someone else.

    I can’t speak for all liberals, but I know for myself, this isn’t true. I don’t feel this way at all, and I don’t know anyone who does. Merely anecdotal, of course, but batting zero among liberals I know.

    It seems that liberals feel it is unfair for one person to hold more wealth than another and it’s the federal government’s role to redistribute wealth in a manner they (the government) feel appropriate.

    Again, I don’t know a single person who feels this way. There is nothing “unfair” about some people having more than others. In fact, there’s really no way to avoid that. However, merely “having more” should not be accompanied by free license to abuse power. Further, “having more” puts one in a position to help those less fortunate. And (speaking for myself) there is a moral obligation to help others, if one has the capacity and resources do to so. Perhaps liberals simply have a higher developed sense of morals?

    Not true at all. Last week I linked to an article citing a study that found conservatives give more to charity than liberals:

    I’d have to see which charities were involved. Do political action committees count as charities? Do churches count? Are you counting contributions that are not claimed on one’s taxes? Are you considering this as absolute dollars, percent of income, percent of net wealth, percent of discretionary income? There isn’t enough information to form any opinion on what that means.

    Conservatives very much want to give to those less fortunate. They don’t, however, want to give it government and let them to decide how to redistribute it.

    We are the government. If you don’t like how the government distributes it, then vote. Personally, I’m tired of paying for aircraft carriers and subsidizing religious organizations. But the cost of living in an actual nation is that sometimes it does some things you don’t like. Because it’s not all about you.

  25. fopplssiegeparty says:

    @mclever – I guess I’ll have to repeat an old joke that my father told me.

    A physicist, an engineer and an economist are stranded on a desert island. One day, a crate of canned goods washes up on the shore.

    The physicist says, “If we drop a can from that cliff, it should have sufficient velocity to rupture the can.”

    The engineer says, “We have a magnifying glass, we may be able to heat the can with the sun’s rays to melt the solder that holds the can together.”

    The economist says “Assume we have a can opener!”

    Rimshot.

  26. Bart DePalma says:

    Fili: So, do you agree with my final point… (something I actually just realized … that a major difference between the conservative and liberal mindsets is the issue of moral absolutes vs. situational ethics?

    I have never seen a study I would accept as methodologically sound which proves what I have always thought of as a cliche.

    It has been my personal experience that there are black and white folks like myself on all along the libertarian to authoritarian continuum.

    My experience as a trial attorney is that folks who set and follow rules (managers, military, church going, bureaucrats) tend to be black and white types regardless of their political beliefs and tend to be pro prosecution.

    Something else to keep in mind is that libertarian black and white personalities like myself tend to hold themselves to a far higher lifestyle standards than they hold others, so you get into a personal vs. world ideological differential.

  27. filistro says:

    Bart… you really believe in a black-and-white world? That some things are ALWAYS right, and some things are ALWAYS wrong?

    That’s fascinating to me. You know, I can’t even imagine living inside a mindset like that. No wonder we find it difficult to communicate across such a void. What’s amazing is that we can ever communicate at all.

  28. GROG,

    Do you feel tithings are not considered charity? (serious question)

    Sure they are. But your point wasn’t the charity nature. Rather, it was the voluntary nature of the giving. I don’t think of tithings as truly voluntary.

  29. dcpetterson says:

    @filistro
    “So all you lofty hard-science types… d’you think the term “social sciences” is a misnomer, or an oxymoron, or what?”

    (On my lunch hour)…

    I’m a hard science type. Well, sorta. Does software count? (I used to be a devout student of physics…)

    “Social science” is really actual science, IMO. We just don’t yet have the tools to do it right. Science is very poor at studying the human mind and the things it creates. But then, if our minds were simple enough for us to understand them, our thinking would probably be so simple that we couldn’t.

    The problem with the “hard sciences” is that they haven’t found a way to deal with or to quantify the single most basic and central aspect of human existence — consciousness. The “social sciences” study what happens when a bunch of human minds interact. Since we can’t even understand the actions of a single mind, it’s really hard to infer rules about the actions of millions of minds.

    But then, quantum physics also has this problem. We can’t predict the actions of an individual subatomic particle. But we can create statistical laws (like rates of radioactive decay) that describe the actions of trillions of particles in tandem. As long as we view “social sciences” as probablistic rather than deterministic, we can say some meaningful things.

    By the way, as far as I know, the first person to realize this was Isaac Asimov, way back in the early 1940s when he wrote his Foundation Trilogy, with his ideas about what he called “psychohistory”. Once more, science fiction leads the way…

  30. filistro says:

    @DC… <But then, if our minds were simple enough for us to understand them, our thinking would probably be so simple that we couldn’t.

    It’s statements like that one that make DC worth his weight in gigabytes :-) :-) :-)

  31. GROG says:

    @MW,

    Why are tithings not truly voluntary? No one is forcing anyone to give anything to their church.

    @DC,
    Do churches count?

    Again, why would churches not count? I’m confused by this.

  32. GROG,

    Why are tithings not truly voluntary?

    Heavy social and religious pressure. That pressure goes up as the church becomes more structured.

  33. filistro says:

    GROG… tithing is not “charity” because it doesn’t really help anybody in need. It just keeps the church running… pays the pastor, supports the building fund, keeps the lights on, etc… and most churches are really nothing more than community social clubs for the people who attend them. Very, very few dollars (often none at all) actually leave the church and go to the community’s poor.

    So the money people give to their church is no more “charity” than what they give to the gym, their local dance club, neighborhood association, or whatever they do for a social life. But it is invariably counted as charity in all these “conservatives are more charitable” statistics.

  34. dcpetterson says:

    GROG,
    “Again, why would churches not count? I’m confused by this.”

    It depends. Does a church contribution go toward building a cathedral, or providing food for the hungry? Does it pay for the televangelist’s Rolls Royce, or for flood relief? You and I might disagree on the meaning of “charity” in some of these instances. That’s perfectly fine, of course — Diversity Is Good, and there is no reason we can’t disagree. But it may mean that the points we make may not seem as convincing to each other as they do to ourselves.

  35. dcpetterson says:

    @Michael
    Heavy social and religious pressure. That pressure goes up as the church becomes more structured.

    I agree. Tithing is no more (or less) voluntary than taxes. Both carry penalties, and if you are okay with accepting the penalties, then you don’t do them.

  36. GROG says:

    @fili,

    GROG… tithing is not “charity” because it doesn’t really help anybody in need.

    I can tell you that I my church that is absolutely not true. My church gives generously, in terms of dollars and time, to numerous charities locally and worldwide. Our church groups this year alone have traveled to Mexico to help the poor with construction projects and we still send groups to help with Katrina cleanup. We volunteer in our little town to help the elderly with yard/housework that they cannot do themselves. We give to the food pantry. We give to Heifer International. We give to Against Malaria Foundation.

    And my church is not unique. I don’t think you have any idea of the amount of good things churches do in this country.

    It just keeps the church running… pays the pastor, supports the building fund, keeps the lights on, etc…,/i>

    How is that different from paying taxes to keep government running? Or paying overhead for any charitable organization?

  37. GROG says:

    @MW
    Heavy social and religious pressure.

    Is there not social pressure on anyone who gives to charity? People give because they think it’s their moral responsibility. That seems like a lot of pressure to me.

    As DC said above:

    Perhaps liberals simply have a higher developed sense of morals?

  38. GROG,

    Is there not social pressure on anyone who gives to charity?

    It’s different. Most non-religious charity donations are made in private. Tithing is done in front of everyone. That produces a pressure to conform that is absent in other charitable donations.

  39. mclever says:

    @ dcpetterson

    RE: social sciences as real science

    Thank you for saying what I was trying to say, only saying it so much better!
    :-)

  40. shortchain says:

    According to GROG’s last comment, he apparently would agree with the proposition that “taxes should count as charitable donations”.

    In that case, the statistics on who gives more would be reversed, I suspect.

    Oh, and GROG, there are damn few liberals who would agree that “wealth is a zero sum game”. They tend to think of the game more as a cooperative game, however, like tug-of-war, rather than “monopoly” like conservatives do.

    It’s conservatives who truly act as if it’s a zero sum game — like if they have to pay a tiny bit more in taxes, the money will go to giving other people an unfair advantage, rather than creating a better economy for everyone.

    Notice I didn’t opine on what conservatives “think”. For one thing, nobody can really say what another person is thinking. For another, on the basis of my observations, I strongly suspect there’s not a lot of “thought” going on in those heads. It’s mostly “feeling” and “reaction”.

  41. filistro says:

    GROG… the charity initiatives you outline that are undertaken by your church, though certainly commendable, probably use no more than 10% of the total tithes and donations received by the church. The rest goes to church operations. I’m not saying any of that is bad or wrong. It isn’t. I’m just saying the 90% that is not used to help the needy cannot be legitimately counted as “charitable giving.”

    2005 statistics showed that Americans gave about $260 billion to charity that year. Of that, $93 billion was “religious” giving. The rest was giving to various social and charitable organizations, and personal giving directly to individuals.

    You can see how heavy church attendance among conservatives would skew the statistics and make it look like conservatives are “more charitable.” This is not the case. They just give more to churches. I’m sure Joel Osteen and all the tearful, fluffy-haired televangelists are very grateful for this “charity.”

  42. dcpetterson says:

    @GROG

    How is that different from paying taxes to keep government running? Or paying overhead for any charitable organization?

    Here’s the difference:

    Any organization needs some overhead. Take that as given.

    When a church does charity work, then, IMO, it’s charity work. When it provides flood assistance or operates a food shelf, that’s Good Stuff. (Unless then also hand out sermons with the soup, then it’s just advertising.)

    We can perhaps agree that the overhead costs, in either government or churches, should be minimized. Perhaps it should be subtracted out of the total, and the remainder — the part that actually helps people — could be considered the actual humanitarian part of the contribution.

    However, conservatives tend to object even to the work of government that assists people. They appear to believe that money they pay in taxes just winds up under the government’s mattress — except the money that goes to defense contractors or to pay the interest on kickback to the wealthy (ex: Bush’s over 250K tax cuts) — that’s not corporate welfare, it’s, well, jobs-producing.

    Admittedly, non-churchgoers tend to think that money given to churches also goes primarily to overhead or to indoctrination, and not so much to actually helping anyone. But since churches don’t have to reveal their expenditures, we’ll never really know.

    To simplify — Overhead is overhead. Actual help is actual help. Let’s acknowledge both.

  43. GROG says:

    Tithing is done in front of everyone.

    Not in my church. Even the pastor doesn’t know how much each member gives. Only the few members on the finance commitee.

    I’m still not sure why all that matters anyway.

  44. GROG says:

    @DC,

    So you think the money I give to my church would be better spent if I donate it to the government?

    (ex: Bush’s over 250K tax cuts)

    (Different disucussion, but keeping someone’s taxes at the SAME rate as they have been for a decade, is not a tax cut.)

  45. mclever says:

    @GROG

    How is that different from paying taxes to keep government running?

    I’ve yet to hear anyone argue that paying taxes amounts to charity…

    While churches (including my own) often engage in significant charitable work in the community, the “overhead” for a church is astronomically greater than for a soup kitchen or other direct-service charitable organization. Typical overhead for an average charity is ~15%. Are you saying that your church gives away to charity 85% of what it collects as tithes and donations? Have you looked at a church budget? I have. I highly doubt any church is capable of that level of charitable giving after operating costs, unless all of the members are millionaires who tithe their 10%…

    As filistro mentioned, many social clubs and fraternities also engage in charitable activities, but the membership dues for those groups do not count as “charitable giving” because the dues go mostly to meeting space and group organization. The fraction left over for charity is small in comparison.

    If we could separate the portion of one’s tithing that goes to the maintenance and production of worship activities from the portion that goes directly to charitable activities and the organization of those charitable activities, then we may be able to do a meaningful comparison of “charitable” giving between church-goers and non-church-goers. As it stands, lumping all giving to a church in the same bucket as “charity” is misleading.

  46. shortchain says:

    As for the “social sciences” — when all you have are a lot of weak correlations, which barely pass the statistically significant threshold, and which change over time in ways that the “scientists” themselves cannot predict, it’s hard to categorize the field as “science”.

    There are some truly scientific results beginning to come out of some of these studies, such as the beginning of understanding of mirror neurons and the foundations of morality. There are even some results that are useful in the field of education, such as that learning is enhanced by stress, and that creativity is enhanced by humor (which, BTW, is one reason liberals will dominate the fields of both humor and creativity — conservatives, as we see by the jokes they make, are sadly deficient in both areas).

    But studies like the one reported on, probably because they are too ambitious (distinguishing between “liberal” and “conservative” is likely to be a hard problem, not least because people themselves can’t reliably say which they are, although that won’t stop them from claiming to be one or the other), are likely doomed to be worthless.

    The report on the study was even worse, leaving out any indication of just how significant the statistics were, although I noted some weasel-words indicating a very weak correlation. I concluded that the report was written with the purpose not to inform, but to stimulate, the readership.

  47. mclever says:

    GROG is right regarding tithing in front of everyone:

    Not in my church. Even the pastor doesn’t know how much each member gives. Only the few members on the finance committee.

    Not in my church, either. Sure, some churches do the annual “pledge cards”, but no one outside of the finance committee sees those, and they’re just used to establish a baseline budget, not to see how much so-n-so is giving. (I once belonged to one church that paid inordinate attention to the details of each member’s giving. Perhaps needless to say, I found that intrusive and invasive into my personal relationship with my deity, and I found a new church that did not pry into my private finances.)

    The church’s accountant might know the estimated giving of those members who choose to record their donations for tax purposes. Records of how much is given are kept, only so that the church can provide an annual “receipt” for tax filing purposes. No one checks to see if it’s really 10% of your income or not. For people who give as I do–anonymously–then no one ever knows how much I give, nor does anyone hound me about it.

  48. mclever says:

    I’ll add that some of you may be aghast at the tax hit I take by failing to deduct my church donations, but I have decided that is a price I’m willing to pay to maintain my privacy in a matter that I feel is VERY private. How much I give is no one’s business but mine and God’s. Anyone who challenges me on that is likely to get a sermon straight out of Matthew, Galatians and Corinthians…
    :-)

  49. mclever says:

    @ shortchain–

    I share your criticism of the article in question, and I agree that a lot of what gets publicity in the social sciences is the fluff stuff that seems almost designed to grab headlines.

    But there is serious, real science going on in these fields. It just doesn’t get much attention except with the APSA, AJPS, or the SSCW… In other words, other eggheads in the field…

  50. GROG says:

    @mclever,

    I agree with your point regarding a church’s high percentage of overhead v. charitable contribution, but churches provide more than charity. They provide things like spiritual and emotional assistance. They welcome in the needy. They are accepting to people who want to turn their lives around for the good. Things of that nature that you cannot put a monetary value on.

    Several months ago a homeless man wondered upon our town. He went to the local McDonalds where the manager gave him a free meal. The man was cold and in need of a shower. The manager gave the homeless man the number to our church. Our pastor picked him up, provided him a place to shower and a bed to sleep for a few nights, and gave him a few bucks for a fresh start.

  51. GROG says:

    Those kind of things happen at local churches every day in this country.

  52. @GROG,

    I’m still not sure why all that matters anyway.

    Because if it’s socially compulsory, then it’s not really voluntary. If it’s not voluntary, then it isn’t a good means by which to compare liberals and conservatives. That’s all.

  53. mclever says:

    Michael,

    While I agree with your general premise that not all “charitable” giving is created equal, and that giving to a church as opposed to directly to an organization whose sole charter is charity are distinctly different in terms of both the reason it is given and the efficacy of those dollars in helping people in need, I disagree somewhat with your parsing it in terms of social pressure. (Shocking, I know! I usually agree with you!)

    Hypothetically, shouldn’t all good, moral citizens feel compelled to give of their time, effort, and money to the betterment of their communities and the world around them? Therefore, the social pressure to give to a church just directs that charitable instinct away from direct giving and towards a particular organization who will engage in some charitable activities on behalf of the organization’s membership.

    If all we’re interested in is assessing charitable giving, then the problem I see is in equating giving to an organization with 80-90% overhead with one that has only 10-15% overhead. Furthermore, giving to neither of those equates well to the small acts of kindness and generosity that the truly giving person performs every day, and which will never make it on anyone’s tax return.

  54. Bart DePalma says:

    filistro says: Bart… you really believe in a black-and-white world? That some things are ALWAYS right, and some things are ALWAYS wrong?

    Yes. Difficult questions are rare. Most problems arise because of difficult to accept results in lesser of two evils situations.

    BTW, in my Myers Briggs testing, I live in the bottom left corner of the ESTJ block.

    http://www.teamtechnology.co.uk/myers-briggs/estj.htm

    That ought to keep you busy for awhile doing my psych eval.

  55. Max aka Birdpilot says:

    I believe in the 1st Amendment, and the 2nd, and the 3rd(although mostly irrelevant), the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th. And the 11th through 27th Amendments.

    That ALL THREE branches of the Federal Government are co-equal.

    That Federal budgets SHOULD be balanced every year, as we should be willing to pay for what we get. I allow that there are exceptions for war and Keynesian solutions to economic disasters, but in the case of war there should be a concurrent surtax to help pay so ALL Americans have a dog in the fight, and in the case of economics AS SOON as the GDP begins a rebound beyond a certain point a similar surcharge would begin.
    Those surcharges would continue until the debt was repaid.

    I believe in a progressive income tax, and that created legal entities ARE NOT people and don’t have the rights of people but those rights may be limited by the same legislative action that CREATES those legal entities.

    I believe a woman has the right to control her body, BUT in the case of abortion (except in the matter of rape or incest) should the father object AND PAYS UP FRONT for ALL medical expenses for the pregnancy (bonded?) AND takes FULL parental rights for the child with the woman forsaking those same rights, the fetus should be brought to term. (It took two to tango!)

    I do NOT believe the law should discriminate in civil matters for ANY reason in matters concerning citizens, particularly as per contracts between two adults.

    I believe some people are beyond redemption and in certain cases capital punishment is justified. I believe ANY agent of the State, police or prosecutor, who violates the civil or criminal procedure in any manner that causes an innocent person to be incarcerated or harmed, be punished by a like penalty, time served or capital, once that violation is determined. It is the duty of an agent of the State to see that ONLY the guilty are properly punished, NOT to see how many convictions may be obtained.

    All this among other things.

    Now, am I conservative or liberal?

  56. mclever,
    To be clear, there is certainly charitable giving to churches out of pure altruism. But many churches push toward a more compulsory model, particularly if they are more conservative denominations.

    It’s hardly universal, but it’s enough to cause significant noise in GROG’s hypothesis that charitable donation numbers show that conservatives care more about others than do liberals.

  57. dcpetterson says:

    @GROG

    So you think the money I give to my church would be better spent if I donate it to the government?

    That depends on what your priorities are. The government, of course, engages in more activities than a) assistance for the poor and b) baubles for clergymen. What do you think of aircraft carriers?

    (Different disucussion, but keeping someone’s taxes at the SAME rate as they have been for a decade, is not a tax cut.)

    Arguing semantics is both stupid and useless. Just tell me this: after the current provisions of the tax law expire and the tax rates return to what they were under Clinton, do you want to alter that tax structure? If so, in what way(s)?

  58. drfunguy says:

    ” Most problems arise because of difficult to accept results in lesser of two evils situations.”
    How simple. Simple-minded. Yet idiotic.
    The problem with the death penalty is that sometimes innocent people are killed. Apparently, since the Bartster is a death penalty proponent, that is a lesser evil than allowing some guilty parties to merely spend life in prison.

  59. Mainer says:

    After considerable thought I’ve decided you aren’t liberal and you aren’t conservative… you’re Canadian

    Strange you should say that fili. If my wife had her way we already would be. She is kind of holding out for PEI while I would like to be in the Canadian banana belt of Ontario. Either way she has family there. Ontario would be better because thay have better fishing for the things I like to fish for.

    Bart I did not see the smiley. I make so many typos I just assume every one does.

  60. shortchain says:

    It’s nice that GROG’s church helped a homeless person once. There are about 300,000 churches in America, and there are somewhere around 3,000,000 homeless people (a lot of them children). So unless that church is helping, on a permanent basis, about 10 homeless people, then they’re engaging in retail charity when what’s needed by the homeless is wholesale help.

    That’s what government is for, of course, because, to help 10 homeless people would be a burden for a small church.

    And of course, this is just in America. Worldwide, the problem is orders of magnitude greater, beyond the capacity of all the churches, even if a lot of them are more interested in picketing funerals or equivalently unhelpful activities (like producing DVD’s in opposition to gay marriage).

  61. shortchain says:

    “if a lot of them” should be “even though a lot of them”.

    Oh, for a preview/edit function…

    And just for the record: on the Myers-Briggs chart I’m in the opposite corner from Bart (INTP). FWIW.

  62. dcpetterson says:

    shortchain, thanks for adding numbers to the conversation.

  63. mclever says:

    Hmm, Myers-Briggs.

    Depending on my frame of mind when I take it, I’m either INTP or INFP, because I can operate comfortably in either a “thinking” frame or the “feeling” frame.

    Hi, shortchain! :-)

  64. dr_funguy says:

    Myers-Briggs – I seem to recall that INTP (myself too, hi Shortchain, McIver) is a rare type and many scientists fall into this group. Its that analytical thing…

  65. Jean says:

    fili,

    Something to consider: Study finds left-wing brain, right-wing brain.

    Even in humdrum nonpolitical decisions, liberals and conservatives literally think differently, researchers show.

    By Denise Gellene

    Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
    September 10, 2007

    Exploring the neurobiology of politics, scientists have found that liberals tolerate ambiguity and conflict better than conservatives because of how their brains work.

    In a simple experiment reported today in the journal Nature Neuroscience, scientists at New York University and UCLA show that political orientation is related to differences in how the brain processes information.

    Previous psychological studies have found that conservatives tend to be more structured and persistent in their judgments whereas liberals are more open to new experiences. The latest study found those traits are not confined to political situations but also influence everyday decisions.

    The results show “there are two cognitive styles — a liberal style and a conservative style,” said UCLA neurologist Dr. Marco Iacoboni, who was not connected to the latest research.

    Participants were college students whose politics ranged from “very liberal” to “very conservative.” They were instructed to tap a keyboard when an M appeared on a computer monitor and to refrain from tapping when they saw a W.

    M appeared four times more frequently than W, conditioning participants to press a key in knee-jerk fashion whenever they saw a letter.

    Each participant was wired to an electroencephalograph that recorded activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, the part of the brain that detects conflicts between a habitual tendency (pressing a key) and a more appropriate response (not pressing the key). Liberals had more brain activity and made fewer mistakes than conservatives when they saw a W, researchers said. Liberals and conservatives were equally accurate in recognizing M.

    Researchers got the same results when they repeated the experiment in reverse, asking another set of participants to tap when a W appeared.

    Frank J. Sulloway, a researcher at UC Berkeley’s Institute of Personality and Social Research who was not connected to the study, said the results “provided an elegant demonstration that individual differences on a conservative-liberal dimension are strongly related to brain activity.”

    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.

    Sulloway said the results could explain why President Bush demonstrated a single-minded commitment to the Iraq war and why some people perceived Sen. John F. Kerry, the liberal Massachusetts Democrat who opposed Bush in the 2004 presidential race, as a “flip-flopper” for changing his mind about the conflict.

    Based on the results, he said, liberals could be expected to more readily accept new social, scientific or religious ideas.

    “There is ample data from the history of science showing that social and political liberals indeed do tend to support major revolutions in science,” said Sulloway, who has written about the history of science and has studied behavioral differences between conservatives and liberals.

    Lead author David Amodio, an assistant professor of psychology at New York University, cautioned that the study looked at a narrow range of human behavior and that it would be a mistake to conclude that one political orientation was better. The tendency of conservatives to block distracting information could be a good thing depending on the situation, he said.

    Political orientation, he noted, occurs along a spectrum, and positions on specific issues, such as taxes, are influenced by many factors, including education and wealth. Some liberals oppose higher taxes and some conservatives favor abortion rights.

    Still, he acknowledged that a meeting of the minds between conservatives and liberals looked difficult given the study results.

    “Does this mean liberals and conservatives are never going to agree?” Amodio asked. “Maybe it suggests one reason why they tend not to get along.”

  66. dcpetterson says:

    Fascinating study, Jean. It may also point to something about perception of reality, and acting on reflex vs thought. This may mean conservatives tend to be better at martial arts (think Chuck Norris). Fascinating.

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