Sunday, October 04, 2015

Spin-Meister Hibbing does good

John R. Hibbing has been doing research into the underlying differences between liberals and conservatives for a long time.  And Hibbing has a great talent  -- for spin.  Put any set of findings about Left/Right differences in front of him and he can  interpret those finding as showing that liberals are the cool cats and conservatives are the bad eggs.  Leftist psychologists do that routinely, of course and I have been amusing myself "Unspinning" their claims since 1968. And I have been unspinning Hibbing for at least 10 years.  See here and here

But Hibbing seems ultimately to have been educated by his own data and now just takes refuge in jargon rather than spin. And his work is interesting for the type of data he produces.  He tries to examine biological differences directly -- which is in principle less fakeable.  Although it is less fakeable, it is also harder to interpret. So let me look at one of his papers that I don't think I have directly addressed before.  Here is the Abstract:

The political left rolls with the good and the political right confronts the bad: connecting physiology and cognition to preferences

By Michael D. Dodd, Amanda Balzer, Carly M. Jacobs, Michael W. Gruszczynski, Kevin B. Smith, John R. Hibbing


We report evidence that individual-level variation in people's physiological and attentional responses to aversive and appetitive stimuli are correlated with broad political orientations. Specifically, we find that greater orientation to aversive stimuli tends to be associated with right-of-centre and greater orientation to appetitive (pleasing) stimuli with left-of-centre political inclinations. These findings are consistent with recent evidence that political views are connected to physiological predispositions but are unique in incorporating findings on variation in directed attention that make it possible to understand additional aspects of the link between the physiological and the political.


A more detailed summary HERE

And later in the paper Hibbing becomes very humble indeed. We read:  "It may be that those on the political left are more out of step with adaptive behaviours".  He rightly sees caution as adaptive.

In any case, the findings are perfectly well interpretable as showing that Leftists avoid unpleasant thoughts and that conservatives are more cautious about possible threats and dangers.  Hibbing's obfuscatory version of that is that conservatives have  "greater orientation to aversive stimuli".  But since conservatism has been associated with caution for a couple of hundred years, "caution" is clearly a more informative and well-grounded word to describe conservatism than  is "oriented to aversive stimuli".  In some contexts "conservative" is even used as a synonym for caution.

And the bit about Leftists avoiding unpleasant thoughts is also familiar.  Leftists in fact tend to live in a cloud cuckoo land of their own (with apologies to Aristophanes) where all thoughts jarring to their beliefs are zealously kept out.  And they most rigorously avoid any thoughts about possible bad impacts that their policies might have.  Ever since the French Revolution there have been mountains of evidence about what beliefs in "all men are equal" lead to but no Leftist seems to have heard of any of it.  Too unpleasant!  Much nicer to dwell on feelings that Leftists are all heart.

In fact, given the anger that drives their policies, they probably NEED to seek out pleasant thoughts to cool themselves down.

So Hibbing's findings do confirm some basic truths -- after you get past the jargon.

Some critics (e.g. here) on both the Left and Right have criticized Hibbing on the grounds that it is the Left, not the Right, who are cautious about global warming.  How does that fit in?  Easy peasy:  Conservatives are only concerned about real threats and real dangers.  And most conservatives can see the threat of dangerous global warming for the transparent hokum that it is.  They can see that it is a made-up threat, not a real one.  For liberals on the other hand, global warming is a most pleasant fantasy.  It enables them to see themselves as "saving the planet".  How heroic can you get?  A saviour of the planet!  Beat that!

Hibbing was right -- JR


The Hungarians have got balls

They have very rapidly erected effective border controls to stop the Muslim invasion.  An obvious lesson if an American government wanted to control its borders

From the back garden of Istvan Molnar's home, you can see Hungary's newly erected 'Iron Curtain' in the distance.

The razor-wire fence has become a defining symbol of the migrant crisis. The barricade — 4m high and constructed in six weeks on the back of prison labour — runs the length of the country's 110-mile border with Serbia.

The Berlin Wall, by comparison, was 96 miles long. This hinterland between Hungary and the Balkans was once the main entry point to the European Union for the diaspora pouring out of the Middle East.

Today, on the Hungarian side, waiting for anyone who breaches the barricade, are squads of police reinforced by SWAT teams from Hungary's elite Counter Terrorism Centre (TEC).

The role of these officers, in black commando uniforms, is to 'capture persons that pose a danger for themselves and the public' — a mission statement that leaves little doubt about the way Budapest views the wave of asylum seekers we have all seen on the TV news.

Tear gas, pepper spray and water canons were used against them after they attempted to break through the fence — not far from Mr Molnar's house in the village of Roszke — on the morning it went up on September 15.

The day before, a record 9,380 migrants were rounded up on Hungary's Serbian border after crossing the frontier and put on trains to Austria; the day after, the number had slumped to just 366.

Now, little more than a fortnight after the 'Iron Curtain' sprung up in a field outside Istvan Molnar's house, provoking international condemnation, village life is returning to normal in Roszke (pop: around 3,000) after months of near-chaos.

Migrants, sometimes hundreds at a time, no longer pass Mr Molnar's window at all hours of the day and night. The people smugglers have moved on. The reception camp, where migrants were processed, is empty.

'There is no one to process at the moment,' the police officer manning the gate of the compound told us, shrugging his shoulders. Men, women and children who turn up in Roszke, and elsewhere on the Hungarian/Serbian border, are simply being turned away despite criticism from Germany and other EU partners.

Hungary's response? Another razor-wire barrier is in the process of being built on the border with Croatia. The strategy is trumpeted in giant government posters on roadsides and roundabouts. 'The country must be defended,' they read.

Mr Molnar, 61, a gardener, and his wife Irenke, 57, gave water and blankets to the migrants, but, like almost everyone else here, they approve of the crackdown. The couple voted for the man who is behind it, prime minister Viktor Orban. 'I think the police should certainly be allowed to use force where necessary to stop people coming through,' said Mr Molnar.

There is another, more fundamental, sub-plot to Hungary's brutally effective migrant policy, though.  It is encapsulated in Mr Orban's inflammatory public statements about 'Christian Europe' being under threat. 'If you're being overrun, you can't accept migrants,' he wrote in a German daily newspaper.

'We must not forget that those who are coming in have been brought up under a different religion and represent a profoundly different culture.  'The majority are not Christians but Muslims. That is an important question because Europe and European culture have Christian roots. Is it not already, and in itself, alarming that Europe's Christian culture is barely able to uphold Europe's own Christian values? The people want us to control the situation and protect our borders.'

The Crusader rhetoric conjures up an image of Muslim hordes at the gates of fortress Hungary. Indeed, to understand the psychological forces behind the hatred you need to understand how Christian-Muslim conflict is deeply embedded in the Hungarian DNA just as mutual suspicion and hatred have historically existed between Arab and Jew in the Middle East or Catholic and Protestant in Northern Ireland.

Mr Orban is both reflecting — and many, would say, exploiting — this primal fear of 'outsiders', especially Muslim outsiders, in Hungary.

The origins of that legacy can be found in Mohacs, a small town on the Danube, near the Croatian border. It was here in 1526 that a heavily outnumbered Hungarian army suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of Ottoman invaders under Suleiman the Magnificent.

The Battle of Mohacs was Hungary's equivalent of the Battle of Hastings; one defeat led to the Norman conquest of England, the other to 150 years of Ottoman rule in Hungary.

The battlefield on the outskirts of Mohacs is now a memorial site. An inscription inside proclaims: 'Here began the ruination of a once strong Hungary.'

Mohacs, in fact, marked the end of the old independent Kingdom of Hungary. In the immediate aftermath, Christian churches were converted into mosques, a poll tax was levied on non-Muslims, and Hungarian landlords were dispossessed.

Children in Hungary are taught about this at school, just as British children are taught about 1066. Foreign domination, first by the Ottoman Turks, followed by Austria, then — after World War II — by the Soviet Union, lasted almost five centuries, with Hungary properly emerging only in 1989 as a fully independent republic, following round-table talks which led to the end of communist rule.

Viewed through the prism of history, recent events in Hungary become, if not acceptable, then at least more understandable.

If you take away the razor wire, tear gas and incendiary language, Britain's solution for dealing with the migrant crisis is little different from Hungary's. Both countries argue that creating a quota system will only encourage more new arrivals and both maintain that the emphasis should be on improving conditions in refugee camps in states neighbouring Syria.

Unlike Britain and the rest of Western Europe, however, Hungary and the reborn states of central Europe emerged from the Soviet era more ethnically homogeneous.

Hungary had no immigration during the Soviet era. Borders were effectively sealed. No one, as we well know, was allowed out, or in.

After the Iron Curtain came down, the immigrants that did come were mostly Christian Europeans. Consequently, Hungary was not prepared for the sudden arrival of large numbers of Muslim asylum seekers.

Local people, it is clear, do not want them. This fear has been exacerbated by the racial hatred, religious violence and ethnic cleansing on Hungary's doorstep, unleashed following the bloody break-up of Yugoslavia.

There were atrocities on all sides, setting neighbour against neighbour, Muslim against Christian, in Croatia, Serbia, Kosovo and Bosnia. Some took place only miles from Istvan Molnar's home in Roszke on the other side of the new 'Iron Curtain'.

The fears of politicians reflect the fears of the people, and vice-versa.  The politician at the centre of the controversy, of course, is Viktor Orban, who insists that Hungarians have 'the right not to live together with populous Muslim communities'.

One statistic, in particular, has been used to justify the government's hardline position on migrants. The figure is 291,000 — the number of migrants who entered the country illegally this year before the border was fenced off. Of these, 80 per cent were single young men, according to the latest UN data.

The Hungarian authorities have no idea who these people are. They could be potential terrorists or economic migrants. But one thing is for sure, the Hungarians reason: they couldn't have been genuine refugees, otherwise why would they have entered the country illegally?

Mr Orban has described this most recent 'influx' as an invasion. The figure he quotes (291,000) does not include genuine asylum seekers.

Not so long ago, Viktor Orban faced criticism of his increasingly authoritarian style.

Today, however, his popularity is soaring. A recent poll showed around 82 per cent of Hungarians were in favour of tighter immigration controls.

'Brussels is failing to understand just how deeply Hungarians feel about this issue,' said Neil Barnett, a Research Fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies think-tank in London, who lived in Hungary for more than a decade.

'For centuries the Magyars have felt themselves to be the unthanked guardians of European Christendom. However much arching of eyebrows this causes in Brussels, here is a question that threatens to tear Europe apart at the seams.'

Because, for Hungarians, the 'Iron Curtain' is a source of pride, not shame.



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