Low Effort Thinking and Conservative Criticism

If Dr. Eidelman’s study in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin  linking conservatives to “Low Effort Thinking” is flawless. Many arguments based on his data amount to personal attacks I.E. conservatives are stupid. Insolence won’t help explain or solve any problem. Conservatism rests on ideals so now lets have a real life metaphor to change our point of view about beliefs.

Ron owns a septic company.  [1] He was called to a job in a gated community to service the system of a corporate executive. The jovial client explained he dug up his own tank to get some exercise apart from his jet set life.

Both men chatted and Ron noticed something, but said nothing. The exec asked, “is that what I think it is?” Ron said “yes”.  It seems a bunch of condoms had been flushed.  The palpable angst suggested that this man and his wife didn’t use condoms. Some weeks passed and Ron received another call and as he pumped a new batch of condoms emerged. The client  offered a wad of cash asking the details be kept secret then got in his car and left a large path of smoking rubber behind him.

Ideas about ourselves and the world can be shattered by facts. The wishful thinking of a rich person can be as delusional as that of a beggar. I refer to viewing life through beliefs  that act like blue lenses making the world look blue. Was the security and comfort of Ron’s client as unreal before the truth emerged as it was after? I think so.

The problem symbolized in the story is mistaking some concept for a fact; confusing the event called idea with what the thought refers too. To clarify – you never eat the thought of a banana.

I am not faulting here the formulas or deduction of conservatives though they may be flawed. I am saying those formulas leave out relevant facts. 2 + 2 = 4 is always rationally true. [2] Yet two rabbits and two other rabbits can be more than four rabbits without adding any. It is useless to say the argument is unfair because it involves change. The basis of the argument references life including the unknown variables that are not accounted for in formulas but can nonetheless change the outcome. I have never considered these objections answered by conservatives.

 “We may say, Karl Popper states, that a green leaf changes when it turns brown; but we do not say the green leaf changes when we substitute for it a brown leaf. It is essential to the idea of change that the thing which changes retains its identity while changing.[3] And yet it must be something else: it was green, and now it becomes brown; it was moist, and now it becomes dry; it was hot, and it becomes cold.

Thus every change is the transition of a thing into something with, in a way, opposite qualities… And yet, while changing, the changing thing must remain identical with itself.” [4]

4 of the same & not the same


There are facts which aren’t accounted for in beliefs (theses) and we can’t know if those variables would falsify our conclusions. When I worked building roofing trusses we followed precise schematics that were created and inspected by a team of engineers [5]. The steel parts I fabricated were accurate up to three hundredths of an inch. Once we were given a scheme that we couldn’t actually build. We kicked the plan back to the designers three times and on each occasion they found no flaw. Finally under time pressure we forced the engineering team to come and show us idiots how to build this marvel, and they failed. No one ever knew why (mistake or anomaly) it happened. They just changed to a different design that worked.

The assertion that conservative ideology equals evidence of lazy thinking will be open to the retort. If we are so dumb why are so many billionaires republican? 1. Refer to septic story above. 2. The credit for the reply that follows belongs to Professor Peter Munz.

 …one would suppose that a false belief will soon secure its own falsification, because people who espouse it will behave so stupidly that they will not survive for long. If the belief in question is, for example, that grain grows when one prays and not when one tends one’s fields, one will suppose that the people who harbor such a belief will soon starve to death. But this supposition is mistaken. The false belief, promotes cooperation and solidarity among the people who are using it as a catechism. Such cooperation will make them into a formidable military power and enable them to take food from the people they conquer…. [they] will suppose that it is their false belief that makes them thrive; for it enables them not only to get all the necessary food, but also to enjoy the pride they derive from their ability to conquer. The false belief… has a very good chance for survival because one of its effects is to shield the people who harbor it from the inexorable consequences.[6]

A bone crushing argument but not so fast, many problems are still not being solved. In fact we are going backwards. The women in Texas now have less access to general health care due to the republican position on abortion.  I think the GOP are also quite mistaken about climate change and so on. Pyrrhic victory in argument solves no problem. We are in this world-boat together. Viewing all knowledge as hypothetical can mitigate these errors yet this method can be trouble for one who desires certainty.

I think we can reason with rank and file conservatives if we use examples that are relevant to them. The perishable nature of our circumstances prompt me, within the limits of my ability, to offer a solution by way describing the mistake and looking at alternatives.

4 Circles = Theory’s. Lines = knowledge. The larger the scope the larger the gaps in knowledge.

Proponents of the free market love their neat formulas and argue against economic stimulus. If they only argued about how the money was spent I would agree with them about many things. One reason for their thesis rests on the idea that taking money from one part of an economic system and simply moving it to another, offers no real gain for the whole. The argument itself shines purely like an icicle droplet in the morning sun. But, the economy is NOT like a box of apples. If we look at complex systems like water, electrical, agricultural or a human body the circumstances are different. These systems can redirect the resources to areas of need. What conservative needing a skin graft or a section of leg artery to supply their heart would chose to forgo the procedure because there was no net gain? That’s absurd.

Distorted thinking shows itself again regarding sex education, birth control and abortion. If teens did not have sex, they wouldn’t need birth control. It seems we can derive from the subject “virgin,” the predicate “not pregnant.” The failures of abstinence only education in conservative states gets excluded from the equation, thus this proposition remains as empty as it is true. [8] Moreover, problems don’t get solved this way. What conservative would deny a need for police by saying, if people didn’t commit crime we wouldn’t need law enforcement. There will be trial and error with policies but if one solution is inferior to another then consider the other better, even if not ideal.

The double standard between public policy and private actions among conservatives never ceases to be a stone in the shoe of liberals. Like Bob Barr the opponent of abortion who paid for the termination of his wife’s pregnancy with a personal check. Proponents of family values also tend to loosen up while traveling, particularly in Vegas. The list could go on, conservatives have been willing to make circumstantial exceptions to their own rules for for their own benefit. But this very self interest could be the key to republicans understanding new ideas. The same concern can be extended to others that one has for oneself. Sure it looks like a sacrifice when one is not the direct beneficiary but we need to look closer. As with  health care for low wage workers, they are handling all our food. We as a society have something to gain by giving them benefits, our own health.

By Todd Vickers

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Edit: Grammar


[1] Todd Vickers – Excerpted from (provisionally named) The Kabir Project

[2]  G.E. Moore – the identity theory of truth applies to propositions that, unlike “2+2=4,” do seem to require a relation to something outside themselves in order to be true.

[3] It may be argued that Poppers disposition towards Hegelian dialectic is refuted in his own words. I think Popper has accounted for this with his emphasis on situational analysis.

[4] Karl Popper Conjectures and Refutations pp.195

[5] G.E. Moore – Perincipa Ethica pp.155 An engineer is entitled to assert that, if a bridge be built in a certain way, it will probably bear certain loads for a certain time; but he can never be absolutely certain that it has been built in the way required, nor that, even if it has, some accident will not intervene to falsify his prediction.

[6] Peter Munz – Philosophical Darwinism

[7] Bertrand Russell – TheProblemsofPhilosophy “The man who has fed the chicken every day throughout its life at last wrings its neck instead, showing that more refined views as to the uniformity of nature would have been useful to the chicken.”

[8] Mississippi had the highest rate of teen births, at 55 per every 1,000 girls aged 15 to 19, followed by New Mexico at about 53 and Arkansas at 52.5. The best-performing states included New Hampshire at just under 16 per 1,000, Massachusetts at about 17, and Vermont at just under 18.

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One reply on “Low Effort Thinking and Conservative Criticism”

  1. You actually make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this topic to be really something which I think I would never understand. It seems too complicated and very broad for me. I am looking forward for your next post, I’ll try to get the hang of it!

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