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The Sciences

Political moderates & ideological agnosticism

Gene ExpressionBy Razib KhanMarch 13, 2009 2:31 AM

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Joshua Zelinsky says regarding political moderates:

This is interesting. The stereotype is if anything the exact opposite about political moderates. The stereotype is that they are the smart people who can see the shades of gray and who aren't subject to things like belief overkill. This seems to show that if anything the opposite is the case.

A few thoughts: 1) People tend to hang around with people just like them. Joshua seems like a smart person, so I wouldn't be surprised if everyone he knew well was rather smart. Perhaps within the smart set this is exactly why someone is moderate. 2) I think the typical moderate is closer to the undecided voter. Their "wild card" status is a less a function of epistemological caution, and more of plain ignorance so that they do not align their political choices with their norms (assuming they have norms above & beyond beastly needs). 3) I think the last part about norms is important. I suspect that intelligent people, or those predisposed to think in a rational-abstract manner, are more likely to have a coherent set of norms which result in their identification with an organized ideology. A "moderate" stance is not as coherent as conservatism or liberalism because its own position is contingent on the other two, and tends to emerge on a case by case basis. I think that some people certainly become conservative or liberal by making a utilitarian calculation, but I think it is usually much more common to mix one's ideology with one's utility function, so that the state of the world as it is has little effect on ideology. It is in evaluating the state of the world as it is that I think that the cognitive toolkit of the intelligent has yields, but I doubt that the state of the world has much relevance to political orientation (which is more a matter of innate personal & socialization).

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