"Authoritarians" Again

How do you take this seriously enough even to rebut it?
[N]ationally, only authoritarian attitudes and fear of terrorism — not income, age, education, or even race — predict with statistical significance whether someone will support Trump....

Individuals with a disposition to authoritarianism demonstrate a fear of "the other" as well as a readiness to follow and obey strong leaders. They tend to see the world in black-and-white terms. They are by definition attitudinally inflexible and rigid. And once they have identified friend from foe, they hold tight to their conclusions.
If a right wing author were describing the Left, particularly in its campus incarnation or its more emphatic activist groups, he could just copy and paste the second paragraph verbatim. But those people are Trump's most devoted opponents, not his supporters. Mote, beam.

As usual when reading the dicta of social psychology, I'm left wondering by their results if there can possibly be any validity to the field at all. If they are blind to flaws as obvious as this, such that repeated studies by practicing professionals replicate these results and publish them as if they were to be taken seriously, how can we trust any aspect of what they are doing?

22 comments:

David Foster said...

"a wall to keep out 'the other'"

If labor & management in a particular industry work together to erect tariff barriers to protect their industry from imports, no one will accuse them of racism or authoritarianism. They might be accused of unwisdom or selfishness or failure to understand economics, but no one will say they are racists.

But if (say) a construction worker wants to erect barriers to keep out *his* competition...in the form of lower-prices workers....he will indeed be called a racist.

Grim said...

An excellent point.

Edith Hook said...

This
http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2016/02/from-trumpmania-to-euroscepticism-revenge-of-the-plebs/


But back to the theme of the post, this is just recycled, rehashed, memes from the 60s. I swear, I read these same claims in college.

raven said...

To venture a guess- like reporters, if queried, they would self identify as left 95% of the time.

They cannot see or feel the water they swim in.

These people (leftists) are nuts. They act normal for the most part,in everyday life, but their thinking is conditioned so heavily they will instantly accept complete contradictions as mandated from the top, and like the starlings on Dartmoor, will engage in any twists and turns to follow the leader.




Cassandra said...

OK, I'm going to question a few of your assumptions:

As usual when reading the dicta of social psychology, I'm left wondering by their results if there can possibly be any validity to the field at all.

Well, how familiar are you with "the dicta of social psychology"? Do you read widely in the field (and are you thus familiar with the spectrum of research)? Or are you reacting to a small number of non-randomly selected articles that attract attention from a crowd of people who are highly motivated to notice when liberals say dumb things? IOW, how representative are the examples you read of the entire field? How can I possibly take someone's judgment of an entire field seriously, unless they are in fact broadly familiar with that field?

FWIW, I don't know the answers to these questions :p But any time I see someone condemning an entire field of study on the basis of a few selected works, my spidey sense tends to go off. Is there anything worthwhile in ALL of social science? Well, perhaps studies like this might have some value:

http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayFulltext?type=1&fid=9945987&jid=BBS&volumeId=38&issueId=-1&aid=9945982

I can honestly say I have never seen its like on the Right, but then right-leaning academics are few and far between. But if they were in the majority, how often do you think we'd see studies of whether THEY were diverse enough to be objective?

Given that humans are... well, all too human, I'm guessing "not often", either :p

Mixed in with the grief I've been feeling at Justice Scalia's passing, there have been a surprising number of articles from liberals, praising Scalia for influencing how they thought about law and conservatism. That's something he *earned*, without for one moment being less steadfast in (or apologetic for) his beliefs. Respect tends to beget respect.

I think it would be a great shame if we on the right started acting like so many have on the left, and become a closed echo chamber who simply dismiss (often based upon the "outrage du jour", entire broad swaths of intellectual inquiry. Social psychology is the study of how individuals are influenced by institutions, social groups, peers, or simply other people. IOW, how do we react to other people? You have written quite a bit about institutions, so I happen to think this a worthy field of inquiry that cannot reasonably be dismissed on the basis of a few dumb articles about Donald Trump supporters. I would likewise hope liberals don't entirely dismiss conservatives based on a few egregiously idiotic examples from our side.

Cassandra said...

OK, now having read the linked article, it was written (not by a social psychologist, but) by a political science.

The paper he links was likewise written for/by political scientists, not social psychologists.

So how did we get to a wholesale condemnation of social psychology from works written by academicians in a completely different field?

Cassandra said...

"political scientist" phD candidate.

Grim said...

I read social psychology pieces about as often as they appear in Arts & Letters Daily, as well as from other favorite material over the course of about twenty years. My concerns about the field are surely not new to you -- I used to write occasional pieces here called 'Psychology is Witchcraft,' in the sense of medicine-doctor 'witches' rather than Wiccan ones.

So it's not that I respond to 'outrage du jour' stories exclusively, though I occasionally comment on one. You and I have often clashed on the point: you have said before that you think it's unreasonable of me to dismiss an entire field of human knowledge as unworthy. I think the methodology of psychology is so bad that I'm not sure how much of it gets beyond unfalsifiable just-so stories. Some: that part of psychology that gets into chemical trials with drugs can point to falsifiable trials that can test for real effects beyond the placebo level.

But "personality studies"? Cognitive dissonance? Diagnoses of people you haven't actually examined -- I can't recall the last Presidential election where some psychologist didn't declare that his or her least favorite candidate was clinically a narcissist or something else.

Psychology is the single most popular major in colleges across the United States today. A professor I know describes it as "what everyone majors in if they're not sure what they want to study." It's a serious matter whether or not it is, as a discipline, built on sand. I strongly suspect, and have for years, that the whole discipline will eventually be thrown out as unfounded. It will, I suspect, be replaced as completely -- and for the same reason -- as the study of epicycles in astronomy.

Grim said...

So how did we get to a wholesale condemnation of social psychology from works written by academicians in a completely different field?

Because it's the underlying mechanism. Political science isn't a science either, but the personality tests depend on theories from psychology -- both about how the 'psyche' works, and about how tests should be structured. They don't originate in PoliSci.

Grim said...

To whit.

Cassandra said...

You're seriously going to condemn an entire field of inquiry based on the work of a single person?

That doesn't really strike me as a reasonable thing to do. You read an article by a political scientist who's clutching at straws (like so many human beings who desperately want to appeal to authority) to make a point. It's bad scholarship, and I won't argue that.

It's when you go from condemning one article or one study to painting an entire field with the same broad brush that I object.

Cassandra said...

FWIW, I find it actually quite plausible (based on my entirely non-scientific personal experience) to say that one of the two phenoms mentioned in your article - fear of terrorism - explains quite a bit of support for Trump.

The article freely admits that it may well be this factor (and not authoritarianism at all) that is at work. I don't find it at all weird that people who are concerned about terrorism would support Trump, given that he's talking the biggest game about protecting us from it.

Don't pretend to understand support for Trump, but this is what I'm hearing from real people who support him. They're glad he's not ashamed to say we deserve for our govt. to protect us from people who want to kill us.

Grim said...

ou're seriously going to condemn an entire field of inquiry based on the work of a single person? That doesn't really strike me as a reasonable thing to do.

Oh, no, I didn't mean to suggest that the field should be condemned because it tracks to him. I cited him simply because the idea of an authoritarian personality is rooted partially in his work -- he's at the basis of that concept.

I think the reason to condemn psychology is its general failure, not any specific failure. This article is likewise incidental, a single datum in a very vast field of nonsense.

Tom said...

And MacWilliams again, as well. We've talked about his work before, and it was the same claim. He's extending it with a new study, but it's the same old "people who want obedient children are assumed to be political authoritarians" line we talked about.

As for academic fields, there's something useful in every field. However, a field can have such a powerful political bias that any politically relevant work that comes out of it should be viewed quite skeptically. For example, Johnathan Haidt is is a social psychologist who has turned to studying academia. He argues pretty persuasively that certain fields are powerfully biased politically, and that this affects who gets grants, who gets published, and who gets hired into faculty positions. This certainly does call into question the validity of any work with political implications published in those fields.

Here's a link to an article on Haidt's work:

http://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/social-psychology-biased-republicans

We've talked about Haidt before at the Hall as well. He criticized MacWilliams assumptions, if I remember correctly.

Ymar Sakar said...

As usual when reading the dicta of social psychology, I'm left wondering by their results if there can possibly be any validity to the field at all. If they are blind to flaws as obvious as this, such that repeated studies by practicing professionals replicate these results and publish them as if they were to be taken seriously, how can we trust any aspect of what they are doing?

Psychology is a tool and a weapon. Thus thinking it is limited to how it is used by looking at the Left's case, is limiting. A gun in the hands of the inexperienced can only perform so many things, most of them accidentally. Does that mean people shouldn't have guns then because guns are a "demon danger"?

As for being blind, many of them are not blind to the flaws, they use the weapon with the knowledge that it is flawed. It's intentional, not unintentional. Yes, sometimes the jihadist goes to drop something into a mortar and it explodes him and them all up to the skies. But that's the risks the Left chooses to work with. Well, even if they didn't choose it, They Have their Orders nonetheless.

Cassandra said...

... a field can have such a powerful political bias that any politically relevant work that comes out of it should be viewed quite skeptically.

That's an excellent point that I agree with, and it applies across academia with a very few exceptions. There is nothing really in social psychology that makes it unique. It also happens to be true in Philosophy.

The thing is, though philosophy is chock full of this kind of intellectual monoculture rubbish, I wouldn't dream of suggesting the entire field is worthless. I might suggest a little more self-examination (gosh, didn't some wag once say that the unexamined life wasn't worth living? I'm sure I heard that somewhere....).

Look, I'm never going to react well to broad brush characterizations, particularly if they're not backed up with COPIOUS supporting evidence. I don't react well to them from philosophy profs who love to joke at the top of their lungs about conservatives at parties (secure in the knowledge that no one they know/who counts is a conservative!, and I'm not any more inclined to react well to them from other people (conservative, liberal, librarian types - don't care what the flavor of the month is).

Fact is, this guy's poli sci, the paper he linked was poli sci, and I'm going to go way out on a limb and say an article written by a poli sci twit that quotes a poli sci study is probably not a great basis for generalizations about a completely different field.

Grim said...

Philosophy is the root of all the fields of human knowledge with the arguable exception of mathematics, so dismissing it as a whole would be a grave risk. On the other hand, if you want to hear it done, you should come to a philosophy conference -- especially one on metaphysics or epistemology. Philosophers are greatly concerned as to whether their methods hold water, and to what degree we can claim to know anything at all.

You also won't find people reluctant to dismiss whole sections of philosophy, to include critical studies (race and gender studies especially), phenomenology, and indeed metaphysics itself: the 20th century included a number of figures, including the recently-mentioned Arendt, who wanted to "dissolve" metaphysics as a fundamentally senseless exercise.

Psychology is thus being subjected only to the same fundamental criticism. Frankly, I can't find anything in it of any value whatsoever. It is grounded on unfalsifiable theories about unobservable entities that may or may not exist. Its predictive capacity is, as Tom rightly points out, so badly flawed by bias as to be worse than useless: in any field its practitioners really care about, the caring-about-it misleads (unsurprisingly, since there is very little empirical study possible of the entities it purports to study, e.g., 'the authoritarian mind').

Further, one only has to look at the effect of psychology on the world to see how poisonous it has been. It is, in that regard, like eugenics. Watch that documentary we discussed not long ago, "The Century of the Self," and you'll find all the argument you could want to justify the position.

Sometimes, here as with eugenics, a broad brush is the only proper tool.

Cassandra said...

Grim, I'm sorry but that is just nonsense. Anyone can look for only examples that prove their point. This is pretty much what the Internet comes down to: people searching for proof of what they already think and (what a surprise!) finding it!

But that's not a reasonable or unbiased way to make decisions about the world. There are tons of examples of how psychology and psychiatry have helped people live normal lives. You can airily dismiss this evidence because you don't care for certain other studies, but that's not a serious evaluation technique.

The field of psychology is helping vets with serious problems learn to heal themselves. It has helped people with crippling depression and other forms of mental illness.

Maybe you've lived such a blessed life that you've never encountered someone you cared for who needed that kind of help. If so, good for you. It must be nice. I've been lucky enough that my immediate family has never been touched by that kind of problem, but I have friends and more distant family who can't say the same.

And I can easily think of people who have been helped by research into how the mind works and how chemical imbalances can disrupt the normal functioning of the brain.

I'm not in favor of overdiagnosing or overmedication: any fool knows you don't use the same tool to solve every problem. But to say the kinds of things you're saying just strikes me as bizarre. I thank God for people who have conducted research that came up with the therapies that helped people I care for deeply.

Grim said...

Cass,

You're running in something completely alien to the point we were discussing, which was whether or not this is a serious field of knowledge. Priests and rabbis also help people struggling with depression and mental illness, as do Buddhist monasteries, Islamic practices, and Hindu meditation strategies.

That does not make religion a science. In fact, we can say for certain that at least some of these religious claims are false, because they contradict each other about what is true. We can also recognize that some of them have less reliably helpful results than others: Islam more readily leads to violence than Zen Buddhism, to take one example. None of them are sciences.

Some people point to the harms caused by religion in the same way that I am pointing to the harms caused by psychology. But religion doesn't claim to be a science. It doesn't claim to be a form of medicine that ought to be -- for example -- a standard for law, such that courts should rely on the testimony of priests as to whether someone should or should not retain their rights, or have their brains cut upon, or be forced onto drugs. Religion is voluntary and, if it doesn't work for you, you are always free to go. It wasn't always that way, but we made it that way and for good reasons.

Dodgy 12-step programs may not work better than a placebo, but they do work some of the time. We probably all know someone who was helped by Alcoholics Anonymous. We probably also know people who tried it and gave it up because it didn't work for them. Sugar pills work sometimes, too.

The only reason I'm not going to chase this topic further is that it's too big and psychology is not worth my time. It's a disaster of a field. I'd need to devote years to the project of assembling even a representative sample of all the ways it goes wrong. It is a fundamentally flawed endeavor. It ought to have no standing in any university, and especially not in any court.

We will figure that out eventually, but for the moment it remains the fashion.

Ymar Sakar said...

In fact, we can say for certain that at least some of these religious claims are false, because they contradict each other about what is true.

Like the claim that light is a photon and a wave, they contradict each other. Doesn't mean both are false. Doesn't mean one is true either.

Ymar Sakar said...

The only reason I'm not going to chase this topic further is that it's too big and psychology is not worth my time. It's a disaster of a field. I'd need to devote years to the project of assembling even a representative sample of all the ways it goes wrong. It is a fundamentally flawed endeavor. It ought to have no standing in any university, and especially not in any court.

The humans are the ones with the flaws, not the universe or the abstract field.

It is not the tool that provides the moral and ethical justification and promise of a better end result.

If a population of gun users became Democrat criminals, it would have the same result as replacing the representative sample in psychology.

Real science was always conducted by individuals, often mad scientists or from accidental experiments, not conglomerates or masses of people who obeyed orders. They did not adhere to the social status quo, not even if it was called psychology. Learning the status quo is unnecessary, although to the curious that is a hard sell.


Criticizing psychology is meaningless, the same as criticizing guns. What matters is the users, not the tools. It's something people who like to ignore the Left, have a problem with.

Grim said...

Like the claim that light is a photon and a wave, they contradict each other.

That light seems to behave as both a particle and a wave, depending on modes of observation, is not a contradiction. A contradiction would be: "Light is a particle. Light is not a particle." One of these claims must be false, whereas both "light sometimes seems to be a particle" and "light sometimes seems not to be a particle" can be true.

The religious claims are actually contradictions. "Jesus is God." "Jesus is not God." It's not that Jesus sometimes behaves as a God when measured in a certain way. Either Jesus is in fact the Creator of the universe, or not. One of these claims must be false.