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Are You Smarter Than A Social Rightist?

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Over a year and a half ago, I wrote an article about a then-recent study popularized by the American Enterprise Institute. It showed negative correlations between participants’ socially right wing beliefs and their overall IQ scores. Many thought such a finding was preposterous and quintessentially bigoted in nature. I viewed it as none too surprising.

Just last month, scientists at Ontario’s Brock University published another study on the subject. It resoundingly substantiated the former one, but delved much deeper into the cause and effect relationship between intelligence deficits and rightist surpluses. In a nutshell, children burdened with low intelligence are likely to develop prejudicial outlooks lasting into adulthood. As adults, they will find socially right-wing ideologies attractive because such ideologies encompass hierarchical relationship structures, absolutist moral certainties, and severe impediments to altering the status quo. When confronted with individuals or groups who are different, social rightists tend to become strikingly reactionary because they fear change of any kind. The reason for this almost definitely can be attributed to their low levels of intelligence; rationally considering what change might bring is simply too complicated for them.

While my own personal experiences and extensive research on this subject lead me to agree with Brock’s study, I simply cannot believe that being a leftist is an indicator of personal genius. Undoubtably, critical and lateral thinkers lean, generally speaking, forward in their opinions. However, I can hardly say that the garden variety socialist hippie in Haight-Ashbury is any smarter in the practical sense than a Bible thumping theocrat in the backwoods of Mississippi. It seems that political radicalism of any stripe is indicative of cognitive, and possibly psychological, problems.

In any case, and this is coming from a registered Republican, the men and women at Brock have given new insight to an age-old stereotype. Perhaps it is a lower measure of intelligence on the part of hardcore righties which leads to their popular branding as dolts. I mean, really, when you pit a left-winger against a right-winger, despite both being nonsensical dogmatists, the lefty is more likely to at least sound more intelligent. When one hears them being interviewed at political rallies and other similar events, rightists often have a difficult time articulating their stances. Many of them typically resort to cheap talking points gleaned from partisan websites, televised shock jocks or radio entertainers. This does not sound like the discourse of especially acute individuals to me.

Oh, well. Sage or not, every American citizen has the right to participate legally and ethically in our country’s political process. Such awesome freedom does allow rabble from both ends of the spectrum to weigh in, but this gives realists such as myself the opportunity to document a truly unique kind of carnival. Honestly, I would not have it any other way.

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About Joseph F. Cotto

  • roger,

    The problem, as far as I can tell, with trying to build an optimal state is that everyone has his or her ideas about what such a thing actually is. While my comments might have sounded that way, I was not trying to minimize left- or right-wing anger. It would be great to quell the discontent, but we must first ask ourselves the following; why are they discontent in the first place? From my standpoint, the answer is rooted in economics. As you have said on my occasions, the American Dream is a distant fantasy for many, and it is only natural that they feel upset about this.

    The economy, as you know, runs in cycles. Even during the Great Depression, things eventually turned around. I have no reason to believe that the same will not happen with America’s current financial crisis, prolonged as it is. How this will get done, though, is anybody’s guess. The unemployment statistics, despite them being badly flawed, are showing a downtick, so something must be going in the correct direction. What exactly this is will only be revealed with time.

  • It’s not good for the country’s stability, Joseph; it’s but a consequence of both economic and political instability. We can’t hope for the optimal state before we can take care of business.

    Again, you’re minimizing the level of discontent from both right and left, a highly unrealistic viewpoint. Beside, to limit politics to fiscal matters alone is pure foolishness. If anything, the proper object is to alleviate the discontent.

    Moreover, I have no idea what’s the basis of your claim the economy might turn around. There is no reason whatever to suppose such a thing.

  • Tommy,

    It must have been, as it so often is in San Francisco, a cold and rainy day. Here in Florida, we have our own rendition of Haight-Ashbury called Five Points. Ironically, it is located in Jacksonville; a bastion of military conservatism that functions as our answer to San Diego. Just goes to show that you cannot judge a city by its stereotype.


    That was a very kind comment. Thank you. As I said in an earlier reply, I learned fast that it is best to describe my views in a tempered fashion. It is not about preaching to the choir, after all, but communicating an opinion to an interested audience.


    Your idea of both parties becoming radicalized in accordance with the electorate’s increasing polarization is not necessarily untrue. The American Dream means different things to different people, so to say that it is totally dead outside of the political fringe is painting with too broad a brush in my view. I also cannot see how an extremist populace is in any way good for the country’s stability. I told you in the past that, as far I can tell, all politics boil down to fiscal matters. If our economy turns around, then much of the anger had by voters of any belief system should be toned down considerably. This is what history shows, anyhow.

  • You can have it in a little while, Chris. I’m still using it to cushion my head as it bangs against the wall!

  • Doc, Pass me that facepalm when you’re done with it!

  • RDJ

    this is a load of nonsense … long live YHWH and his scriptures . The atrocities of the republican party arent too be blamed on conservatism , but rather on the fact that illuminati liberal establishment pro-government occultists infiltrated the once conservative anti-government republicans and made them illuminati big government bush reagan satanists

  • Sure, Costello, I’m never fazed by past glitches in communication, nor do I hold any grudges. Shoot, but do try to stay on topic rather than be piling up on the poor ole Roger.

  • So yes, I’m not surprised that you’re surprised.


  • Costello

    I understood what Roger was trying to say, but I haven’t had a conversation with him so not sure if he will allow me to comment in that regard

  • Not saying it’s a bad thing, Dreadful. You’re putting an intentional spin on things. The meaning clearly was that in order to misunderstand or to misread Rosey, one would have to be a dimwit. In short, no challenge to speak of.

    So yes, I’m not surprised that you’re surprised.

  • There’s very little you post or say that challenges comprehension or invites incomprehension

    You say that like it’s a bad thing.

    Not that I’m surprised…

  • Not just any intolerance but petty intolerance, Rosey, I didn’t stammer!

    As to intolerance for stupidity, yes, I have none of that. There’s very little you post or say that challenges comprehension or invites incomprehension, so again, I have no apologies to make. Rather proud of myself calling you on it every chance I get. All the masquerading that’s being done here comes from your highness.

  • I’d take impatience and petty intolerance, not that I particularly associate those qualities with Igor, over incomprehension and miscomprehension masquerading as intelligence and engagement anyday…

  • Jordan Richardson

    Igor, just sometimes? It’s hard to make a comment here on any topic, even if just to issue a brief compliment to a writer, without his “interjection.” Very tedious indeed.

  • Your age is beginning to show, Igor — impatience and petty intolerance. There was someone like you on BC a year or so ago, Blifly I believe was his name, and some used to call him “professor”; like a good soldier, he faded away.

    I suggest you take a five-hour energy drink to invigorate your brain cells.

  • Igor

    8,9-Roger: sometimes your didactic blah-blah is very tedious.

  • @6

    Not so certain, Jordan, that the “softening” of Mr. Cotto’s articles had the kind of positive effect on the quality of the ensuing discussion you claim for it. If your own comment is supposed to serve as any kind of indication, it fails miserably: you haven’t made any contribution yet to advance Joseph’s thesis other than saying it’s “thought-provoking.” So unless you’re idea of a polite conversation is one which can take place only in a social club setting, we’re operating with different standards here.

    Starting with a lukewarm, “rational” thesis is not the way to go, Jordan; quite the opposite. The former will generate only lukewarm responses and it’s eventually peter out; the latter will result in a robust discussion, in the course of which, IF the discussants listen to one another, and the appropriate pairing down. You can’t make a potent drink if the ingredients you’re starting with aren’t spicy enough or potent. But if you start with potent ingredients, you can dilute the drink to suit your taste.

  • @4

    Forty years ago, Joseph, your claim might have been more credible; not so today. Forty years ago, there were many who still believed in the American Dream; today, only the diehards do.

    The very polarization we experience today in both Houses is not the cause but the symptom of the times. And unless you’re willing to believe the Congress is obstructionist for racist reasons, because Obama happens to be a black, you must look for reasons elsewhere.

    If the Republican party got “radicalized” and preaches “dissent,” it’s only because it considers its message as falling on receptive ears. Unlike you, I view both the Tea Party and the OWS as positive movements, positive in the context of our times (an important and crucial qualifications). Both express deep-seated discontent. The first emboldened the “radicalization” of the Republicans; the second grew out of the failure of the Democratic party to seize the day. As to those who still appear not to have been caught in the ideological crossfire, let’s just say they’re either too busy making it from day to day or sufficiently well-to-do to be able to stay above the fray (because everything’s going their way).

    You’re proceeding from the assumption that radicalization is not a desirable thing, but your assumption applies only to stable economic and political system. The present state of the system is anything but stable, and radicalization is the only intelligent/understandable response.

    So yes, I was wrong in accusing you of elitist thinking. By way of correcting that, it’s clear to me you’re engaging in wishful, unrealistic thinking.

  • What I get from this piece is re-confirmation of my view that less well educated people will tend to follow dogma, whether from the right or the left, rather than think for themselves.

    I have long since lost the ability to support any political party for this very reason and suspect that many others feel the same way, which may in part explain the relatively low level of participation in elections.

  • Jordan Richardson

    Joseph, like the good Dr. I was off to a very bad start with you. Your initial piece, “Hell on Earth: An American Story,” was about how “the left was turning America into a hell on earth.”

    Lately, however, your articles have softened and become much, much more rational and inclusive. It’s gotten a lot better and your are one of the few reasons I still visit this site.

    Thanks for another thought-provoking piece and for setting a wonderful example of how conversation can actually occur, even on the Internet (!!!), when the rhetoric is dialled down.

  • Interesting observations, JC. I like the stereotype “garden variety socialist hippie in Haight-Ashbury. . .” I was over there a week ago and didn’t see any. Bear in mind that I carry my laminated ACLU membership card in my shirt pocket as a business card protector. It comes in handy as a rightist repellant.


  • Glenn,

    Thank you. You have my respect as well. While we might disagree more often than not, you articulate your ideas in an eminently reasonable manner and provide ample food for thought.

    Dr Dreadful,

    Thanks to you, too. In my earlier articles, I sometimes described my ideas in a blunt, if not contrite, manner. Pretty quickly, though, I realized that by thoroughly explaining my rationale, those who disagreed with me would at least not feel that their time was wasted in reading my writings. This approach seems to have paid off very well.


    I am not being dismissive at all. Most Americans are neither far-right or far-left. They feel a lack of representation in our nation’s increasingly polarized political dialogue. You are correct, though, in stating that radicals are produced more often than not through environmental means. I said as much in a comment yesterday. As far as being a realist is concerned, this merely denotes one looking at a problem objectively and trying to find the most practical solution. Romney, judging from his private and public sector records, is a prime example of this, which is why I strongly support his candidacy. In my view, there is nothing elitist about recognizing the facts on the ground and acting accordingly.

  • Kind of being dismissive here, Joseph, of the vast segment of the populace, whatever the stripe, as rabble. And if they’re indeed “rabble,” don’t forget — we produced such people.

    And what’s the intended contrast here, the so-called “realists”? Such as Romney, is it too much to presume?

    Can’t help but think you’re setting yourself up here as a kind of elitist.

  • Time to eat crow.

    I got off to a very bad start with Joseph when he first appeared at Blogcritics. I believe I called one of his early articles “an unmitigated pile of crap” or words to that effect.

    While that may have been the case, his subsequent body of work is, I have to say, very impressive. While I may often disagree with it, I’ve added Mr Cotto to the list of those regulars at BC whose opinions I most respect.

    As far as the relative intelligence of leftists and rightists goes, I think there’s a danger of over-generalizing. There’s certainly a physiological difference in the way people think which may determine their political beliefs. Chris Mooney has a book coming out about that which sounds as if it ought to be required reading.

    Speaking, though, as someone who used to hold a number of reactionary views but who has since migrated from the political right to the centre-left, I don’t know that it’s always a question of social rightists being unable to think other than they do, or that they are simply prevented from doing so, either through choice or because of their environment.

    In my case, the shift began when I was exposed, on a friendship level, to those of differing political opinions to my own. People who I had previously categorized as naive fools turned out to have intelligent rationales for believing as they did which were worth thinking about.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Joseph –

    I simply cannot believe that being a leftist is an indicator of personal genius.

    No, of course it isn’t…and there’s many a rightist out there who is very, very intelligent. All it means is that those on the left are less likely to immediately reject information that is outside their worldview, while those on the right are more likely to do so…and there seems to be a biological determinant of the degree of those likelihoods.

    I’ve written on this subject before, but haven’t done so since because there’s very, very few people out there who are willing to hear about scientific research that indicates that people like themselves might not be as mentally agile as those of a different group that they really don’t like. You, Joseph, are a very rare exception to that rule, and I’m impressed at your courage in writing this article. You’ve got my respect.