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The Insidious Bias Permeating Western Civilization That Nobody Talks About

The following comment was made in response to the blog post Weekly Roundup of Heterodoxy—January 12, 2018 Edition. Below it is the comment I wrote in return. The image of the elephant in the fictional Heterodox Academy (HxA) meeting room is partly tongue in cheek but also partly true. The links in my comment below are added here for convenience but were not included in my posting of it on HxA’s blog because of character limits.  


J on January 12, 2018 at 12:29 pm

Always interesting how many of the HA weekly round ups stories are just attacks on right wing thought. There’s a good handful of them here.

I’m frankly sick of being attacked. I teach a STEM course, so I read the syllabus piece earlier this week with a thought of, well in my class there are right and wrong answers and viewpoints and feelings don’t count. But the day is coming when I’ll have to give points for programs that don’t compile because the student “felt” their program was good….

I know my political beliefs will not be accepted at the university and I will eventually be purged because of it….


The Independent Whig on January 13, 2018 at 2:54 pm

Agree. There’s something insidious – well-intentioned but ultimately harmful – about all of this for conservatives. There’s an elephant in the room that nobody’s talking about.

A premise of viewpoint diversity upon which Heterodox Academy rests seems to be that left and right are equally insightful/blind in their perception and comprehension of the social world, but just in different ways.

But the premise is false. A fair and honest reading of the social science – summarized, for example, in The Righteous Mind – reveals that conservatives understand liberals and human nature better than liberals understand conservatives and human nature. Conservatives “get it” better than do liberals. The presumption of symmetry between them is false.

Look, I get it, we’re all hypocrites. We’re all susceptible to a slew of biases because intuition rules and reason is its press secretary; reason evolved to help us win arguments rather than to help us find truth; morality binds and blinds; we throw reason and evidence under the bus when our moral intuitions and/or “Grand Narratives” are threatened. Got it.

But intuitions and narratives are not created equal. By virtue of using all of the moral foundations conservative intuitions yield a mostly accurate intuitive grasp of the realities of human behavior. But by virtue of using about half of the moral foundations liberal intuitions are more akin to a conspiracy theory. This is the central finding of Haidt’s Three Stories About Capitalism and for that matter of The Righteous Mind .

When half of the evolved psychological mechanisms of social perception, comprehension, and imagination are for all practical purposes unavailable to one’s social cognition one is left with no cognitive alternative BUT to conclude that there’s something wrong with conservatives.

Because of liberal dominance in education, media, and entertainment this perspective permeates literally everything; every question that’s asked, every hypothesis that’s proposed, every study that’s designed, every conclusion that’s drawn.


2 thoughts on “The Insidious Bias Permeating Western Civilization That Nobody Talks About

  1. Your approach still leaves you with a glaring problem. Just because conservatives understand liberals better than the reverse, doesn’t make conservativism better than liberalism. Even if the perception of symmetry is completely false, that still doesn’t make conservatism correct, it just means that conservatism is slightly less wrong than liberalism.

    Since, as you state quite correctly, “we’re all hypocrites” and “we’re all susceptible to a slew of biases”, wouldn’t a successful approach to political and economic decision making include a control mechanism for bias, error and hypocrisy?

    You continue to lean heavily on Jonathan Haidt, even though he rejects ALL of your conclusions. This is an example of the hypocrisy you deride.

    The Closing of the American Mind and The Open Society discuss this bias at great length and recommend a return to critical, not ideological thinking, as does Haidt. This is the great inheritance of Western Civilization. Two wrongs do not now, nor have they ever, made a right.


    Posted by tomrossman2017 | January 13, 2018, 4:52 pm
    • Your argument that having a superior grasp of human nature doesn’t make conservatism better than liberalism is nonsensical. By your logic having a superior grasp of automobiles does not make one a better auto mechanic, or having a superior grasp of medicine and biology does not make one a better doctor. Do you take your car to a fly-by-night mechanic who clearly doesn’t know what he’s doing? Do you go to a doctor who barely graduated from a third rate school? If not then why in the world would you put your trust in in a group of people who don’t “get it” and who have a terrible track record in comparison to conservatives?

      Your argument exposes the hypocrisy of the typical leftist appeal to authority and “experts.” Apparently, experts are important and valuable whey they support leftist views but count for little when it proves conservatism is, psychologically, factually, and empirically better than liberalism.

      I rely on Haidt because he offers an accessible to the layman, easy to digest, summary of the state of the art of social science research from a multitude of sources. An open minded, intellectually honest, fair, (i.e., critical thinking), reading of The Righteous Mind proves my position. For example, R. R. Reno concluded his review of the book with:

      Thus the profound problem we face. Liberalism is blind in one eye yet it insists on the superiority of its vision and its supreme right to rule. It cannot see half the things a governing philosophy must see, and claims that those who see both halves are thereby unqualified to govern.

      As for the rack record of the liberal righteous mind, here’s Haidt:

      The unconstrained vision, I believe, has the worst track record in the history of ideas. This is a terrible and really dangerous idea, quite frankly.

      And if you say, “Welcome everyone. Constraints are bad.“ It quickly decays into a moral, into moral chaos. Again, the unconstrained vision, when it gets a chance to run things, screws it up.

      Twentieth century communism, fascism, any any movement that tried to create a new man ends up committing atrocities, ends up committing mass murder. Um, if any, if there are any historians here, but as far as I understand it most left wing revolutions have ended with mass murder, because, you have this utopia, people don’t go along, because you got human nature incorrectly, they don’t go along, but you know you’re right because you have reason on your side, so you use force, and you use more force, and you use more force, and you end up like Cuba, or North Korea, or the other communist revolutions. It doesn’t work.

      A return to critical thinking would be a death knell for liberalism as we currently know it because it would expose it for the myopic, dysfunctional, harmful, way of thinking that social science and human history prove it to me. Maybe this is why the left is so desperately trying to replace critical thinking with the cognitive distortions and emotional reasoning of “The Coddling of the American Mind,” the social justice thinking (sic) of Coddle U. and of the Two Incompatible Sacred Values at American Universities.


      Posted by The Independent Whig | January 13, 2018, 6:49 pm

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A politically diverse group of social scientists, natural scientists, humanists, and other scholars who want to improve our academic disciplines and universities. We share a concern about a growing problem: the loss or lack of “viewpoint diversity.” When nearly everyone in a field shares the same political orientation, certain ideas become orthodoxy, dissent is discouraged, and errors can go unchallenged.

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