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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Fact Checking Mitch Berg and Conservative Notions of Superiority

My friend and sometimes mentor Mitch Berg wrote something today on his blog that I could not let go unaddressed without a good fact check - something regarding which his blog is consistently lax.

Here is the link to the immodestly, but hilariously titled post:
"We Are Better Than You In Every Meaningful Way",  By Mitch Berg
Empirical research has proven in recent years that people who favor smaller government, by whatever label – conservatives, Tea Partiers, whatever – are smarter, better-informed, better-educated and more generally successful at life, are generally happier, more generous, and are even better in bed than big-government people by whatever label (liberal, “progressive’, yadda yadda).
and then he goes on to assert that conservatives are also less racist.

For the smarter, better informed, he linked to a conservatively biased web site that used a single poll of only three questions, while pretty much ignoring all the evidence to the contrary, like this much larger, more complex study.

For the happier and more successful, he used this New York Times article.  The problems with his assumptions come when you read it, including this sentence which directly refutes his assertions about racism:
The overwhelming majority of supporters say Mr. Obama does not share the values most Americans live by and that he does not understand the problems of people like themselves. More than half say the policies of the administration favor the poor, and 25 percent think that the administration favors blacks over whites — compared with 11 percent of the general public.

They are more likely than the general public, and Republicans, to say that too much has been made of the problems facing black people. (my emphasis - DG)
And yet polls of most American citizens - regardless of their race - indicate they still believe racism, discrimination against blacks continues, suggesting tea partiers and Republicans are in active denial of the realities of race in the United States:
PRINCETON, NJ -- A recent USA Today/Gallup poll finds most Americans saying racism is widespread against blacks in the United States. This includes a slim majority of whites (51%), a slightly higher 59% of Hispanics, and the vast majority of blacks (78%).
The science tends to back up the perceptions of most of us that racism directed against african americans is continuing, but then the conservatives seem to be at best selective in the science they embrace, at worst they seem anti-science / science deniers:

Co-author Jennifer Eberhardt, a Stanford associate professor of psychology who is black, said she was shocked by the results, particularly since they involved subjects born after Jim Crow and the civil rights movement. "This was actually some of the most depressing work I have done," she said. "This shook me up. You have suspicions when you do the work—intuitions—you have a hunch. But it was hard to prepare for how strong [the black-ape association] was—how we were able to pick it up every time."

The paper, "Not Yet Human: Implicit Knowledge, Historical Dehumanization and Contemporary Consequences," is the result of a series of six previously unpublished studies conducted by Eberhardt, Pennsylvania State University psychologist Phillip Atiba Goff (the lead author and a former student of Eberhardt's) and Matthew C. Jackson and Melissa J. Williams, graduate students at Penn State and Berkeley, respectively. The paper is scheduled to appear Feb. 7 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, which is published by the American Psychological Association.

The research took place over six years at Stanford and Penn State under Eberhardt's supervision. It involved mostly white male undergraduates. In a series of studies that subliminally flashed black or white male faces on a screen for a fraction of a second to "prime" the students, researchers found subjects could identify blurry ape drawings much faster after they were primed with black faces than with white faces.
If it is unpleasant, might cost them money, or is inconvenient, conservatives like the ones Mitch Berg is self-congratulating on their superiority simply ignore or deny the information. 

I don't see that as being genuinely at all superior; it is merely an expedient, self-serving delusion.

And then there is that pesky category of happier, which doesn't hold up well if you look closely either - using his own source!
“Regardless of marital status, income or church attendance, right-wing individuals reported greater life satisfaction and well-being than left-wingers, the new study found. Conservatives also scored highest on measures of rationalization, which gauge a person’s tendency to justify, or explain away, inequalities.

The rationalization measure included statements such as: “It is not really that big a problem if some people have more of a chance in life than others,” and “This country would be better off if we worried less about how equal people are.”
How easy to be happy, if you embrace that ugly approach to life  --- how happy, IF you just ignore or deny anything that intrudes reality on your subjective rationalized existence, an exceptional ability to put on blinders to what you don't want to acknowledge!

That is not fact-based living, that is not living in reality.  It does explain the repeated chanting of right wingers 'We're Number 1, We're Number 1!",  like the claims we have the best health care system in the world, defiantly denying the facts of every objective, quantifying metric to the contrary. 

The United States is a wonderful country, in a world of other wonderful countries, many of which are becoming more competitive than we are.  We won't regain our competitive edge in ANY category unless we take an objective look at our changing position in the world in comparison to other countries.  Simply claiming an empty superiority does not confer that superiority - unless you're simply good at rationalizing away annoying facts you don't want to face.  Conservatives are apparently better at doing THAT, per Mitch's own source.  (I have to wonder - did he actually read any of these first before including them?)

Now to address Mitch's overarching premise, there was one source I found which pretty much gets to the meat of it all right here - if you'll pardon the use of the word 'right'; while this is from 2004, the numbers haven't changed much.  I find voting trends to be a better indicator than self-identification of people's actual politics.  People mean so many different things when they call themselves conservatives, for example.

About that happier in life, a measure is marriage; and that better in bed claim, the stark reality is:

In red states in 2001, there were 572,000 divorces … Blue states recorded 340,000 … In the same year, 11 red states had higher rates of divorce than any blue state …

And better educated?  Not with sex ed - all that failed abstinence only sex ed we're STILL funding:

In each of the red states of Louisiana, Mississippi, and New Mexico, 46.3 percent of all births were to unwed mothers … In blue states, on average, that percentage was 31.7 … Delaware has the highest rate of births to teenage mothers among all blue states, yet 17 red states have a higher rate … Of those red states, 15 have at least twice the rate as that of Massachusetts … There were more than 100 teen pregnancies per 1,000 women aged 15 to 19 in 5 red states in 2002 … None of the blue states had rates that high … The rate of teen births declined in 46 states from 1988 to 2000 … It climbed in 3 red states and saw no change in another …

There is a huge correlation between teen pregnancy and failures in education, failures which are multi-generational: 
Because the relationship between academic failure and teen pregnancy is so strong, and because teen pregnancy affects the educational achievement of teens them-selves as well as that of their children, those concerned about educating young people should also be concerned with preventing teen pregnancy. is it we have all these failed educationally teen pregnancies among these conservatives who claim their political associates are so smart? I guess they just don't count anyone who they want to rationalize away. Like Bristol Palin?

Then we have those success stories that Mitch was claiming; the reality of red states stats suggest otherwise.

Crime is higher, and domestic abuse is more of an issue that is again......ignored, rationalized away apparently:
The per capita rate of violent crime in red states is 421 per 100,000 … In blue states, it's 372 per 100,000 … The per capita rate of murder and non-negligent manslaughter in Louisiana is 13 per 100,000 … In Maine, it's 1.2 per 100,000 … As of 2000, 37 states had statewide policies or procedures to address domestic violence … All 13 that didn't were red states …
Then we have the metric of drug addiction and alcohol abuse, which certainly do not correlate to happiness or success:
The 5 states with the highest rates of alcohol dependence or abuse are red states … The 5 states with the highest rates of alcohol dependence or abuse among 12- to 17-year-olds are also red states … The per capita rate of methamphetamine-lab seizures in California is 2 per 100,000 … In Arkansas, it's 20 per 100,000 … The number of meth-lab seizures in red states increased by 38 percent from 1999 to 2003 … In the same time frame, it decreased by 38 percent in blue states …
And then we have the claims about better in bed.  Better in bed with a steady committed partner to me would seem to be a better measure of sexual satisfaction, and promiscuity, looking for different sexual partners, would seem to suggest, logically, LESS sexual satisfaction:
Residents of the all-red Mountain States are the most likely to have had 3 or more sexual partners in the previous year … Residents of all-blue New England are the least likely to have had more than 1 partner in that span … Residents of the mid-Atlantic region of New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey were the most likely to be sexually abstinent …
And a stable, satisfying, SAFE sex life would reasonably be expected to produce fewer sexually transmitted diseases, while the opposite might reasonably, logically be expected to produce higher rates of STDs.:
Residents of the all-red West South Central region (Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana) were the least likely … Five red states reported more than 400 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 residents in 2002 … No blue state had a rate that high … The per capita rate of gonorrhea in red states was 140 per 100,000 … In blue states, it was 99 per 100,000.
Conservatives have some very strange ideas about human sexuality, ideas which make their notions of being better in bed highly suspect.  An example would be MN. Rep. Glenn Gruehagen, who wants to destroy the landmark research of Professor Kinsey which quantified and described actual human sexual behavior for what it is.  I see Gruenhagen as being just one more conservative who wants to destroy any facts which don't fit into his reality; his emphatic desire to destroy the Kinsey research is one more case of a conservative trying to make the real world of human sexuality go away in favor of his sanitized fantasy world of sex.  People who are so set on denying human sexuality are not people who are happy or successful in that area of life.

However much conservatives may want to pat themselves on the back, and congratulate themselves on the wonderfulness which is them, they should take off the blinders first and take a good look at reality - for a change.  They have consistently expanded government MORE than any other political group, they have consistently exploded the debt more than any other group, and they include in their numbers ill informed science deniers on every subject from global warming to evolution.  They want to rewrite our text books into the worst kinds of revisionist history:
"TEA would also introduce new textbooks on the history of the United States that exclude all the founding years up until 1877, that's right, the part that teaches about our ancestor heroes and how they made us a great nation. That means our children will no longer learn how the Constitution was derived or any of the history of the Civil War."
And as to the 'better educated' claims, there is this as well in addressing how differently conservatives and liberals compare in our approach to education:
Presented to the biennial meeting of the Conference on Human Development,
Indianapolis, April, 2008.

"Using publicly available data, states coded as “blue” based upon results from the 2004
presidential election were significantly higher in education funding than were states coded as “red.” Students in blue states scored significantly higher on outcome measures
of math and reading in grades four and eight in 2004 and 2007 than did students in red
I guess those better-educated conservatives must have gone to liberal states to get their superior education.  That is something we should all keep in mind as we watch conservatives in states like Wisconsin and Minnesota try to change our education systems!

Sadly, the reality is that conservatives have only the same old failed proposals which not only fail to benefit themselves, they benefit a few wealthy rich who hold their leashes.  I've often asked myself why it is that the right so consistently acts against their own self-interest - and against the interests of their fellow citizens - and in his post, Mitch provided the answer.  They simply rationalize away anything they don't like and tell themselves, like Candide, that this is the best of all possible worlds, even when it is not, and call themselves happy doing it.

We can only hope to re-educate them with facts, and if we cannot, then we can have a good laugh at their delusions while trying to persuade them away from their birther conspiracies, notions of FEMA education camps, and their terrors over ACORN, and non-existant voter fraud.
In November of 2009 we found 52% of Republicans thought ACORN had stolen the election for Barack Obama in 2008. Now only 25% think the organization will steal the election for him again next year, while 43% think it will not and 32% aren't sure yet.
Now 25% may seem like a high percentage to think that an organization no longer in existence will manage to steal a Presidential election but it's less than half the number who thought that two years ago.
Among Republicans who think ACORN will steal the election their top choice for the nomination is Palin at 20%, followed by Gingrich at 19%, and Huckabee and Romney at 16%.

It must be exhausting for these poor ill-informed conservatives to be so paranoid all the time.  Just think how restful it would be for them to be better acquainted with facts, and reality?

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