System Justification

Two months ago a study was published in the APA’s Psychological Bulletin called “Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition.” It took a set of scientific studies from the last 50 years and attempted to parse out some of the motivating traits of a “conservative” worldview. Although the shorthand descriptions of conservative traits are definitely unflattering, it didn’t really make any outrageous claims (conservatives tend to be intolerant of ambiguity. Yeah, that’s a stretch.) And when it was published, nobody outside academia seemed to care much.

Until last week when Berkeley Media Relations put out an inflammatory press release, one sentence of which directly linked Hitler, Mussolini, and Reagan — something the study doesn’t actually do. They put the press release on the web and sent it far and wide, and that finally got some attention.

But only for the press release. Which is now described as the study itself on a wide array of conservative websites. There’s reposting of the full press release even though it’s already online. There’s tedious line by line insulting of the press release. There’s Rush Limbaugh ranting and flapping about the press release. There’s cosmic pronouncements about the fallen nature of Man and how this differs from the press release. And in almost all the responses there are torrents of gibbering, howling, frothing hatred of Berkeley, who put out the press release… even though the lead author of the study is at the Stanford.Business School and has a PhD from our “president’s” alma mater, Yale.

The full study itself is online at Stanford [1.7 MB PDF]. And since it was published in a reputable academic journal, there’s a response to problems in the study, with a counter response by the authors [also online, 1.7MB PDF].

The commie swine at Berkeley Media Relations didn’t provide a link to their cross-town rival, so it’s a pity that conservative bloggers couldn’t figure our how to Google any faster. Cause the paper itself includes a handy graph so you can attempt to understand the inner machinations of conservatives in the wild:

[full image – 84k]

Glenn Reynolds almost made one insightful point about all this:

What’s most amazing to me is that the Berkeley PR office thought that trumpeting this study to the nationwide media would be a good idea, and that doing so would somehow enhance the school’s reputation.

The study itself is actually, well, conservative. What’s amazing is that Berkeley decided to put out a press release that was clearly intended to piss off every conservative they possibly could. Why? Becasue there’s no such thing as bad press? Or – being deceptive Marxist scum – is it something more… sinister?

William Kristol recently hypothesized that Bush ordered his subordinates to deliberately screw up their explanation of his State of the Union misspokenings and thereby drive the liberal media into a tail-chasing frenzy. I assumed that this suggestion was either a ham-handed rhetorical device, or (more likely) just batshit crazy. But then again… maybe it’s just batshit crazy enough to work.

Maybe Berkeley has done the same thing with conservatives — putting out a “sexed-up” press release! Now we have Rush Limbaugh attacking a single sentence while the study itself gets lots of attention but remains basically unassailed. (How clever you are, Kathleen Maclay. “Media Relations” — is that a title they gave you in Havana?)

Not only that, conservative bloggers are now providing a fascinating source of annecdotal evidence for the study itself. Especially Dr John Ray at Dissecting Leftism. Here he is exhibiting what might be described as the existential motive of self-esteem:

But perhaps the best indication of how “motivated” their own cognitions are is the fact that they cite only two of the more than one hundred articles I have had published on the subject. I am clearly one of the major authors (if not THE major author in terms of number of articles in print) in the field that they purport to survey, but they ignore 98% of what I have to say.

Unfortunately Dr Ray is apparently the only blogger who seems to have even attempted to read the study itself (although he’s still mostly worked up about the press release). Not coincidentally, he’s the self-proclaimed number one worldwide expert on conservative psychology — namely that it doesn’t exist. And even if it did, then there’s no way in hell that liberal academic so-called scientists would be able so say anything meaningful about it.

Oh but liberal psychology? You can be damn sure that exists. And John Ray will TELL you all about the DANGERS of LEFTISM. For example this piece in David Horowitz’ Front Page Magazine:

As the quotations already given show, Hitler shared with other Leftists a love of constant change and excitement — and what could offer more of that than war?

So, um… all “Leftists” are pro-war? Like Hitler?
Cause they love excitement?

And Tony Blair was inspired by Mussolini ?

And this guy is the only person trained in psychology who responded negatively to the study itself?


So if a group of psychologists spend years looking at scientific surveys and publish a peer-reviewed paper suggesting there’s a relationship between certain personal traits and a politically “conservative” worldview, then that is a scandalous example of junk science.

And if a single lapsed psychologist simply feels in his heart that “Leftism” is universally tied to various poisonous beliefs, then… he starts a blog. And Glenn Reynolds cites him as a reliable authority. And lots of other conservative bloggers attack a press release.

I think we’ve all learned something today.