Look: I am eager to learn stuff I don't know--which requires actively courting and posting smart disagreement.

But as you will understand, I don't like to post things that mischaracterize and are aimed to mislead.

-- Brad Delong

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Two Degrees of Steve, and Why Dinosaurs Vote Repugnicant

My friend Steve chides his conservative friend, another Steve: "who is evidently claiming that wisdom and common sense (he seems to be implying that they’re the same thing) and likelihood of voting Republican all increase together with age."

Well, this is some deeply muddled - and from the conservative POV, highly self-serving - thinking.

Two degree Steve cites this rather interesting post at OKTrends - which has some good points, but is pretty badly flawed.

If you're going to read further in this post, I suggest you first read the links to one degree Steve, two degree Steve, and the source, in that order (same links as above.)  Because this is my reply to one degree Steve, and stands better on a foundation of context.  (Typos corrected, slight editing for clarity)

I'm shocked – shocked I tell you – to see a conservative cherry-picking information to confirm his pre-conceived notions. While some people gain wisdom with age, the majority of people simply don’t spend enough time thinking about anything more important than March Madness to develop even the most rudimentary level of sagacity. 

More typically, what happens with age is ossification. The OKtrends article has a lot of good and insightful stuff in it. But it also suggests that people in their 40′s will wander for a time back into the Democratic fold before reaching final fossil status as born again Rethugs. Only anecdotal, but I have never seen even a single individual go through that kind of double-back transformation.

Further, the economic “permissiveness” scale is incorrectly constructed. I’m not even sure there is a single scalar economic concept that could give you a meaningful dimension. How do you accommodate regulation, intervention, transfer payments, tax policy, corporate bailouts, etc. into a scalable entity?

While I recognize that Rethugs are more cohesive in their views than Dems, I contend that is because ossification, and its associated simplistic black-white world view is the common characteristic, irrespective of age. Dems are more diverse because the absence of ossification can manifest itself in an infinite variety of ways, and they populate the gray areas.

The idea that anyone over age 50 in the lower right quadrant would vote Democratic is actually laughable. The authoritarians are in almost 100% overlap with the religious right. Their neighbors in that quadrant are teabaggers. I think the conceptual flaw is in the graph that indicates economic beliefs trumping social beliefs as one ages. It is social beliefs that ossify more (think racism, anti-gay prejudice) with age. 

The other more fundamental flaw is in imagining that peoples’ belief systems are the result of some – indeed, any – rational thought process. I contend that not one person in 10 – or 100, or maybe 1000 – has political beliefs that are derived from thinking hard about policy, the underlying principles, and the results. Most people don’t think any deeper than a sound bite with a simple message. Again, this is an area where the Rethugs excel – not limited by truth, logic, or anything else. 

People vote their comfort zone, and as one ages, that typically becomes more conservative and entrenched. Wisdom and common sense are, at best, orthogonal to these developments.


squatlo said...

Well said! What's difficult to understand is how people can so readily vote against their own best interests, time after time. I can understand philosophical differences that might spring from religious indoctrination (or mere stupidity and an uncurious mind) but for the life of me I don't see how people can support candidates and causes that actually hurt their own interests. For example, folks who think "cutting taxes" is the desired outcome of every election, and who then whine when their meat goes uninspected, their water treatment plant shuts down, or their highways fall apart under their shiny SUVs.
I see people rail about illegal immigrants receiving health care benefits for their kids, and they won't acknowledge that having their own kids in the daycare with Juan and Juanita's son who is carrying an undiagnosed case of spinal meningitis might not be a good thing...
I think a simple test to determine whether or not someone is predisposed to vote Republican can be found in their basic nature: are they selfish or mean-spirited? They're Republicans. They won't admit to those characteristics, of course, saying they're generous with their church offerings and once walked past a homeless person without telling them to get a fucking job... but overall, if a person is selfish and mean, they're Republican. Find me a selfish and mean-spirited Democrat and we'll talk.

Jazzbumpa said...

Squatlo -

It's all about message. Rethugs deliver an easy to digest sound bite that requires no thought. Refuting it takes volumes, and the thinking is often subtle and/or complex.

In that kind of context, truth has no chance.

Gays, guns and god: simple messages for the simple minded.

Selfish mean-spiritedness is not a requirement, but it does predispose one toward authoritarianism.

Cheers (I guess)