Arnold Kling  

Political Sentiment

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Bryan writes,


The full-blown triumph of political correctness, of hypersensitivity plus one-sided education, is patriotism.

A few random comments.

1. Piers Brendon, in The Dark Valley says that Adolf Hitler's policies, although they produced full employment, served to impoverish Germans. Because of autarky and the drive to expand the military, the average standard of living declined. This was the "age of ersatz," as Brendon puts it. On the other hand, Brendon claims (as do many other historians) that Hitler restored the German people's pride in their nation.

Say that again? A government burns books, murders and tortures dissidents, persecutes Jews, and thereby restores people's pride?

2. In America, patriotic sentiment is expressed most strongly in statements like, "Men died so that you can enjoy the freedom you have now." The implication is that if you are not loyal to the government, then you are spoiled and undeserving.

3. I think that the Left is equally sentimental, about such things as public education and Social Security.

4. I think that there is some hope that political sentiments of this sort will decline over time.

I focus a lot of my historical reading on the first World War and on the 1930s. I think that people were really stupid back then. I take the Flynn Effect seriously, which suggests that the average IQ several generations back was what today would be considered to be mentally retarded. In my view, this helps to explain how cheerfully the nations went to war in1914. Yes, the war turned out to be worse than what they expected. But how were their expectations not influenced by the Civil War or the Franco-Prussian war?

On the whole, I think that political sentiment is something that deserves a lot of skepticism. Instead of thinking that because so many people have sentimental views toward government that those views must be right, I believe that one should try to think independently about such issues.


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CATEGORIES: Economics and Culture



COMMENTS (17 to date)
Lord writes:

You, who put so much emphasis on genetics, should be a monarchist, as the cream rose to the top. Then patriotism is just allegiance to your prior beliefs.

gabriel rossman writes:

I'm no psychometrician, but I'm not sure I agree with reading the Flynn effect as saying that our great grandparents were, by today's standards, retarded.
This is certainly one interpretation that is consistent with models like improved childhood nutrition and health but other models attribute the Flynn Effect to cultural/educational changes privileging highly abstract styles of reasoning that works well with g-loaded tests. To the extent that it's the latter, we're testing better without really being any smarter in a common sense kind of way.
It's particularly worth noting the Wason Effect in this context, since political problems are more comparable to the embodied social problems that most people can handle well rather than abstract decontextualized logical inference that stumble most people (and which most IQ tests are based on).

A. writes:

The warmongers are still here, I just can't see it as an IQ effect.

David C writes:

"I think that the Left is equally sentimental, about such things as public education and Social Security."

I disagree. For liberals, the goals are ensuring everyone is provided for and preventing the evils of businessmen. Education and social security are simply a means to that end. They may sometimes be closed-minded to other means, but there's always that chance. For conservatives, patriotism itself is the goal.

medwards writes:

"The implication is that if you are not loyal to the government, then you are spoiled and undeserving."

It's not loyalty to the government, it's loyalty to the nation and its ideals. What those ideals are depends on who's doing the talking.

And, do you really think people a few generations back would be considered retarded today? Did you know your grandparents or great-grandparents? Would you consider them retarded?

DavidinOC writes:

Arnold, since you mention WW1, Franco Prussian and Civil War, may I suggest The Culture of Defeat by Wolfgang Schivelbusch.

M.B. Drapier writes:

I can't see much to support the idea that low intelligence was responsible for the war-hunger in the lead-up to WWI, even if (for the sake of argument) one does take the Flynn effect seriously. To begin with, I think one would have no difficulty in finding examples of people of indisputably low intelligence who are not keen on war or at least not keen on risking their own lives in it, and I don't think one could argue that they made a strenuous mental effort to come to that conclusion. Conversely, the problem with (to choose a thoroughly obvious example) Nietzsche is clearly not that he was particularly unintelligent, by anyone's standards. Simply, I think war-hunger is the kind of stupidity that does not require low intelligence, and in the nineteenth-century it was a stupidity of the intellectuals first and foremost. "This is your brain on Romanticism."

IIRC the Franco-Prussian war did strongly affect people's expectations for WWI - they were expecting a repeat of it, another bloody but decisive and fairly swift war.

It's also worth saying that not everyone who supported the war was a bloodthirsty maniac or hopelessly ignorant about the nature of war in general. There were indeed fairly good reasons to think the Kaiser did badly need a thrashing in 1914, especially after the Germans entered Belgium.

Tom Crispin writes:

Know your sample.

Very likely when historians write of restoring the people's pride, the people they speak of are the chattering class.

I second DavidinOC's recommendation of The Culture of Defeat.

agnostic writes:

If for nothing else, strong political sentiment serves its purpose by protecting you against hostile enemies who have a strong political sentiment of their own.

If you're part of a group that is politically decadent and apathetic, it's only a matter of time before the more politically driven groups run you out of town.

Rob Sequyle writes:

Your view of the Flynn effect explaining the insanity of WWI is interesting but it doesn't explain why so many people continue to do such stupid things. Consider all the recent (post WWII) conflicts that have claimed millions of lives: Korea, Vietnam, Iran/Iraq, Sudan, Congo, Cambodia, Rwanda. Seems like the Flynn effect missed a lot of us.

Steve Sailer writes:

"But how were their expectations not influenced by the Civil War or the Franco-Prussian war?"

The statesmen of 1914's expectations were influenced by the shortness and decisiveness of the Franco-Prussian war. One of their mistakes was not paying attention to the length of American Civil War, and, especially, to how it evolved into trench warfare over its last year.

Matt C writes:

> I take the Flynn Effect seriously, which suggests that the average IQ several generations back was what today would be considered to be mentally retarded. In my view, this helps to explain how cheerfully the nations went to war in 1914.

Alas, I'm not smart enough to articulate all the ideas I'd like to say here, in the time I have to post. But I think the Flynn effect is partly real and partly due to us living in a world where we have gotten better at mastering some particular *proxies* for intelligence--which is not quite the same thing as becoming more intelligent full stop.

I find it hard to believe that the average person from 100 years ago would be regarded as mentally retarded today. As one counterargument, I've read quite a bit of Mencken, and that is not the picture he paints of his society (despite his contempt for less intelligent and lower class persons). It's also worth noting that he was widely read and admired in his time. Would stupid people appreciate Mencken? I doubt it.

For that matter, do you think that ancient Rome and Greece were full of functional retards? I think that's a difficult case to make. Something else has got to be going on here.

Ak Mike writes:

A little odd to characterize the people responsible for creating, discovering, and/or distributing electricity, lights, telephones, automobiles, airplanes, radar, sonar, radio, rockets, nuclear theory, quantum theory, relativity, etc. etc as retarded compared to us moderns, whose big triumphs are Facebook and iPads.

Baskerville writes:

Have you ever considered the possibility that the Flynn effect is at least partially explained by meme evolution?

Prakash writes:

Rousing people to patriotic behaviour uses modules already carved in by human evolution. It is easy to build on.

It is too early for free trading liberals to populate the genetic pool enough to push out the patriotic and nationalistic.

If you want the survival of liberal values, contribute to friendly AI creation.

Jaap writes:

if our ancestors were retarded, then our current political class (and the people who voted for them) is insane by Einstein's standards. why else did we go to war in Afghanistan? did we really expect different results after the English Empire and Soviet Union tried their hand?

matt writes:

The Flynn Effect in this context is just a way to comfort oneself that "it can't happen now." To say that atrocities and human cruelty will ebb because humans are smarter is nothing more than a bedtime story.

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