you're reading...

Lee Jussim’s Twitter Thread Illustrates The Cognitive Theory of Politics

The Twitter thread below after the double line (e.g., ======) by Rutgers professor of psychology, Lee Jussim ( @PsychRabble ) provides supporting evidence for the Cognitive Theory of Politics.


The Cognitive Theory of Politics maintains that the political left and right are best understood as psychological profiles, each of which experiences the world in its own unique way. A good analogy for this is introverts and extroverts.  As Heterodox Academy‘s Musa al-Gharbi observes, it’s not true that left and right are similar people who happen to vote differently. It is true that they’re different kinds of people, with different immutable heritable traits.


The psychological profiles are defined along two basic dimensions of Cognitive Style and Moral Matrix.


Cognitive styles are ways of thinking; operating systems, if you will, of social cognition, like Windows and iOS.  They are explored by Arthur Herman in The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization:


Despite their differences, Plato and Aristotle agreed on many things.  They both stressed the importance of reason as our guide for understanding and shaping the world. Both believed that our physical world is shaped by certain eternal forms that are more real than matter. The difference was that Plato’s forms existed outside matter, whereas Aristotle’s forms were unrealizable without it. (p. 61)


The twentieth century’s greatest ideological conflicts do mark the violent unfolding of a Platonist versus Aristotelian view of what it means to be free and how reason and knowledge ultimately fit into our lives (p.539-540)


These two ways of thinking are summarized in Cognitive Theory of Politics:


Plato thought that everything in the real world is but a pale imitation of its ideal self, and it is the role of the enlightened among us to help us see the ideal and to help steer society toward it. This is the style of thinking behind RFK’s “I dream things that never were and ask ‘Why not?’” John Lennon’s “Imagine,” President Obama’s “Fundamentally Transform,” and even Woodrow Wilson’s progressivism.


Aristotle agreed that we should always strive to improve the human condition, but argued that the real world in which we live sets practical limits on what’s achievable. The human mind is not infinitely capable, nor is human nature infinitely malleable. If we’re not mindful of such limitations, or if we try to ‘fix’ them, our good intentions can end up doing more harm than good and lead us down the proverbial road to hell.


As with introverts and extroverts, the psychological profiles of left and right perceive the world differently; they internalize different conceptions of what it is, can be, and should be, and their relationship with it, including their ability, or lack thereof, to shape it to their desires. In short, they exist in different realities. This is consistent with Thomas Sowell’s analysis in A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles:


A vision has been described as a “pre-analytic cognitive act.” It is what we sense or feel before we have constructed any systematic reasoning that could be called a theory, much less deduced any specific consequences as hypotheses to be tested against evidence. A vision is our sense of how the world works.


Sowell’s definition of visions echoes the First Principle of Moral Psychology, described by Jonathan Haidt in the first third of his book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion:


The First Principle of Moral Psychology: Intuition comes first, reasoning follows.


The vast majority of what we think, say, and do is motivated by the “pre-analytic cognitive act” of subconscious instinct and intuition. Reasoning comes along after the fact. it chief evolved purpose is to justify and defend our intuitions and to convince other people that our own intuitions are the right ones.


Haidt goes on in the remainder of his book to explore the evolutionary origins of our moral intuitions. He finds six primary evolved psychological mechanisms of subconscious cognition: care/harm, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, purity/degradation, and autonomy/oppression.


The psychological profile of the left consists of the cognitive style of Platonic rationalism, and a one- or two-foundation morality of “care” and “fairness” (as equality).


The psychology of the right consists of the cognitive style of Aristotelian empiricism, and an all-foundation morality of care, fairness, loyalty, authority, purity, and liberty.


As I’ve  written elsewhere, these pairings seem to make logical sense. The moral matrices of left and right seem to follow naturally from their respective cognitive styles.


At bottom, leftism rests on the foundation of reason; the power of the human mind to overcome just about any obstacle or solve any problem through logical thought.


Conservatism, on the other hand, rests on the foundation of experience; the lessons learned through the hard knocks of every-day life are the surest guide in any attempt to overcome obstacles or solve problems.


The foundations of reason vs. experiences go a long way toward helping me understanding why liberalism places greater weight on the first two moral foundations and conservatism places approximately equal weight on all five of them.


Reason alone is sufficient to understand and internalize the first two moral foundations. The argument in their favor essentially boils down to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This is the “reciprocal altruism” of fairness/reciprocity and the “ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others” of harm/care. The “do unto others” argument just makes sense on its face. It is direct, uncomplicated, and powerful. It is not a great stretch of the imagination for me to understand why some might see reason alone, and its logical extension through “do unto others” to the first two moral foundations as sufficient in and of itself to form the basis of a political philosophy, even to the point of being dismissive of, or at least finding unnecessary, the three remaining moral foundations.


Experience, on the other hand, is manifested – to varying degrees – in the notions of ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity. The argument in favor of all three of them boils down to “these have been shown to work.” Group behavior, for example, exhibits the collected wisdom of all persons within the group over the entire duration of its existence, possibly spanning multiple generations or even centuries. To be a part of a group, then, is to stand on the shoulders, so to speak, of all who came before, and to band together in defense of the group when a threat to it is perceived – thus the “one for all, all for one” sensibility of ingroup/loyalty. The “respect for traditions” and social systems of authority/respect, and even the value placed on the clean living of purity/sanctity, I believe similarly reflect, on the part of conservatives, an instinctive, intuitive, possibly even subconscious, respect for, and internalization of, the collected wisdom of experience.


The cognitive theory, I suggest, brings near crystal clarity to Professor Jussim’s Twitter thread about The Battle for the Soul of the Left.


And at the same time the thread returns the favor, providing ample supporting evidence for the cognitive theory. Herman’s “unfolding of a Platonist versus Aristotelian view of what it means to be free and how reason and knowledge ultimately fit into our lives” is playing out in real-time, hiding in plain sight, right in front of our eyes.


The Battle for the Soul of the Left: The IDW Debates (ideas of @safeortrue vs @EricRWeinstein) Thread with Links (to really *understand* the ideas here, you probably need to read the links, if you haven’t already). 1/n ending in END

Part of what has inspired the rise of the Intellectual Dark Web has been the rise of an intolerant, authoritarian, anti-democratic radical social justice left. For an intro see my essay: The Reality of the Rise of an Intolerant and Radical Left on Campus

In this video, @EricRWeinstein, who coined “IDW,” refers to transformation of originally reasonable ideas, such as privilege, intersectionality&social constructivism into a batshit crazy modern authoritarian political movement. He calls it the “upgrade.”

BUT, @safeortrue, who has a long history of superb critiques of the radical left, steps in with a trilogy of critiques of the IDW. You should read them all, here are the first two: Caricaturing the Left Doesn’t Benefit the Intellectual Dark Web 

Uri argued (among other things) that IDW doesn’t engage ideas of the new “upgrade” left. I pushed back, arguing he got it mostly backwards: lots of folks, IDW&not, have TRIED to engage the ‘upgrade’ left and have been largely ignored.

Open Tweet (short thread) to @safeortrue (others welcome, but pls stay civil), In your last 2 @Quillette pieces, you argued there is an emerging partial alliance between IDW “classical liberals” & the moderate right, and pt’d out that classic liberalism is not NOT ideological. 1/n

So far so good. Here is your conclusion to your 2nd essay: I have some questions. These are genuine questions.

An emerging feature of the pro(re?)gressive left is refusal to accept evidence as bearing on controversial social issues EXCEPT when that issue supports its views. This is built into much of the rhetoric, which is variations on “disagree and it proves you are an ‘ist'”.

You see this in academia all the time, where mathematicians and physicsts (see Strumia controversies) have brought Grievance intersectionality whole hog, and promote studies showing bias and almost never acknowledge the existence of counter-evidence.

It is almost as if the main purpose of presenting evidence is to give on a veneer of scientificiness, so one can claim, “Hey, its science!”

The idea is plausibly interpretable as: “Exploit evid to advance one’s political goals. We are not here to even-handedly take the full scope of the evidence and 1st reach a conclusion about what it says before advancing political ends.”

A response to^ among many on the modern pro(re?)gressive left is some variant of “anyone who makes that sort of argument is simply reifying privilege and power.”

The problem here does not seem to be the IDW-types. The pro(re)gressive left, when it acts as described above — and I do think that is a lot — is saying, in effect, “I do not want to hear your bullshit.”

For an anecdotal variation, see my Q piece DEFENDING BLM protestors: Stigmatizing Legitimate Dissent: A Response to J. Oliver Conroy

About halfway through, after a speaker provided evidence, statistical evidence that, NOT focusing on racism, but eliminating victimless crimes would empty prisons of black people, the response? “We don’t need no statistics!”

You ask the IDW: Do you want to have a conversation with your ideological opponents? It seems like a reasonable question, UNLESS you reach the conclusion that your ideological opponents actually have no interest in having a convo EXCEPT on their terms.

“Now,” you might say, “Lee, you just flipped the requirement. Why should the pro(re)gressive left accept IDW or classical liberal terms? Isn’t that just a mirror image of suggesting the game be played on IDW/classical liberal terms?”

And I say, “no.” The rules are the same. If the assumptions of logic, evidence, reason need to be “examined” — sounds good. So do the assumptions of critical theory, intersectionality, etc.

I have seen no evidence that the pro(re)gressive left has much willingness to examine its own presumptions, whereas I have seen the logical/evidence/science-based left do exactly that: Science Reformers Reduce Political Bias in Psychology

When is the last time you saw Judith Butler or Kimberly Crenshaw, or any such person, even attempt to rebut** Pinker’s The Blank Slate? ** not dismiss, rebuke, but rebut?

That strikes me as tantamount to the core problem not being that the IDW does not want a conversation. It seems tantamount to the core problem being that the pro(re)gressive academic left (in general, w/rare exceptions) has no interest in listening.

I’d bet that most IDWers would be thrilled to have prominent members of pro(re)gressive left attempt to rebut their claims.

So here is my question do you: Do you think your q put to the IDW targets the wrong group? If the main group showing no interest in having a discussion is the pro(re)gressive left, why put the “discussion?” q to the IDW? END

Prime example is Pinker’s The Blank Slate, published 17 years ago, *debunking* the environmental determinism that drives ideas of the modern pro(re)gressive left. PoMo has not even bothered to attempt to refute his arguments. Just kept marching along as if nothing had happened.

This article is amazing. Take 20 min, not bc it will take that long to read, but to stop, digest, and think: Yes, The Intellectual Dark Web Is Politically Diverse

Here are two section titles from^: “Some reasonable progressives rationalize taking their ideas to unreasonable lengths” and “Reasonable Progressives Who Don’t Take Their Ideas to Unreasonable Lengths Seem Unwilling to Vocally Differentiate Themselves from Those Who Do.”

BUT, Uri comes back with another GREAT* essay pushing back HARD on @EricRWeinstein‘s ‘upgrade’ analysis : *I can & do think all of his essays are great, even when I disagree with them in whole or part: On the IDW: A Response to Eric Weinstein

Here is how I understand 3 of Uri’s main pts: 1. Eric is right, the ‘upgrade’ has a dangerous, authoritarian component. BUT:

2. Eric missed a second development on the left. There is another group. It has wholeheartedly accepted the radical ‘upgrade’ notions of privilege, pervasive structural oppression, etc. but is NOT authoritarian, and remains evidence & logic-based.

3.Uri acknowledges that one can’t have a sane discussion of anything with the batshit crazy (my term) authoritarian PoMo intersectional radical left. BUT, he argues that the IDW CAN AND SHOULD engage the NOT batshit crazy/authoritarian, still-logic/evidence-based ‘upgrade’ left.

Uri and Eric have a short twitter-debate convo here, where Eric pushes back hard (but civilly) on Uri’s claims. My take on Eric’s pushback is some version of “it is too late, they have already gone way toxically too far.”

MY TAKE: Uri is more literally right, but Eric has the bigger picture more right. First, why Uri is literally right:

Uri is Literally Right: The social sciences are FILLED with quantitative, empirically oriented social scientists, who follow the forms of science & evidence, and probably “believe” their conclusions/claims but whose work is demonstrably polluted by SJ agendas.

The “bias” charge is tough. How do you know the person *levelling* the charge is not biased? Bias is not just “I disagree w/finding.” Something has to be DEMONSTRABLY *wrong* somewhere. Here are some imperfect but, imho, damn good heuristics for bias (thread):

Here IS SJ bias that anyone can see for themselves. This blog exposes a social psych review pubbed in an elite outlet concluding that “gender stereotypes are mostly inaccurate” W/O CITING A SINGLE 1 OF THE 11 PAPERS ASSESSING GENDER STEREOTYPE ACCURACY: “Gender Stereotypes are Inaccurate” if You Ignore the Data

That blog references all 11 papers (reporting 16 separate empirical studies, most finding…guess?…moderate to high gender stereotype accuracy). All pubbed in “peer reviewed journals.” COMPLETELY IGNORED!!!! This not my “opinion.” The bias is a FACT you can see for yourselves.

This thread wins Deconstructing Bad Social Science for the Month: It shows how seemingly evidence-based SJ conclusions in empirical, quantitative articles often hinge on 1 plausible but fallacious sentence that only an expert could detect as flawed. 

There are millions of more examples like this, I have written 1 whole book and edited another on this ridiculousness in my home field of social psychology. The 1st won a best book in psych award the year it came out:

Uri highlighted this NYTimes op ed as a great example of this 2nd group, the logic & evidence-based left that accepts privilege, standpoint, etc.: Extensive Data Shows Punishing Reach of Racism for Black Boys

I am not going to deconstruct the entire article, that would take an epic thread itself. ONE of its arguments rests of feet of clay. Here is the paper underlying the Op Ed: Race and Economic Opportunity in the United States:
An Intergenerational Perspective∗ Here is a key claim:

This takes for granted the measurement and validity of “implicit bias.” Implicit bias is one of the most wildly oversold claims in all of the social sciences, and mired in deep controversies. I threaded about that here:

Greenwald, founder of the most famous/widely used measure of “implicit bias,” the Implicit Association Test, presented this as the working definition of “implicit bias” for the last 20yrs at a special NSF conference. The IAT does not measure “implicit bias” by his own definition:

I have two points. IDK who is/not IDW, but MANY OF US HAVE DIRECTLY ENGAGED WITH POMO/GRIEVANCE STUDIES ideas. We are losing, not because our claims are being *refuted* but because they are being literally ignored.

Scholars who simply ignore contrary scholarship DESERVE TO BE DELEGITIMIZED AS SCHOLARS. Ok, we all make mistakes. Once, maybe twice. But when it is OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER it no longer matters if it is a “mistake.” It is vast incompetence.

The second point is more important. Most of the leftist Grievance ‘upgrade’ — whether the authoritarian or ‘reasonable’ type — has its intellectual source, roots, and “evidence” from academia.

BUT the social sciences & humanities skew so massively left, that the # willing and able to engage w/such biased/bad/distorted scholarship are few and far between. (Ironically, that title is from 1 of @safeortrue‘s Quillette articles)

Throw in the intimidation factor by the authoritarian radical academic left (see the recent ostracisim of Noah Carl), and even many on the reasonable academic left in academia will likely shrink from engaging critically with the ‘reasonable’ upgrade.

There are some of us. I am not the only one willing to do this battle. But many of us willing to do it feel embattled, not because we are losing debates *on the merits* but because the ‘upgrade’ numerically dominates the social sciences and does not engage.

If it is really about evidence, logic, and getting at truth, they should WANT to engage, to better get at truths. But few do. That tells me that even among the “evidence and reasonable” ‘upgrade’ left, it is not about truth. It is about power.

And they are winning. If its about power, not truth, and they are winning, why should they change tactics and engage? They shouldn’t.

And that is why, even though Uri is literally right in (at least almost maybe) every one of his arguments, in the bigger picture, Eric is right. It is not about evidence, logic, and truth — even among the ‘upgrade’ left.

Uri is still right — the ideas of the ‘reasonable upgrade’ left do need to be engaged. But who is going to do it? There are not enough of us willing and able to do it critically. It’s like fighting an armada with a single understaffed ship.



No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

I Support Viewpoint Diversity


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.

An Interpretation of Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundations Theory

This sidebar lists a series of posts which together make up an essay relating Moral Foundations Theory to today's politics, and even a little history, as viewed through The Independent Whig's six-foundation moral lens.


Venn Diagram of Liberal and Conservative Traits and Moral Foundations and

%d bloggers like this: