A Harvard psychology professor might want to rethink his claim that conservatives are more fearful

Sometimes, timing is everything.  Steven Pinker, who is a Harvard psychology professor just published a long opinion piece in the New York Times explaining why there is a Red State/Blue State divide.  As a predicate to his discussion, he began by dividing the mindsets that characterize conservatives and their Progressive counterparts:

Conservative thinkers like the economist Thomas Sowell and the Times columnist David Brooks have noted that the political right has a Tragic Vision of human nature, in which people are permanently limited in morality, knowledge and reason. Human beings are perennially tempted by aggression, which can be prevented only by the deterrence of a strong military, of citizens resolved to defend themselves and of the prospect of harsh criminal punishment. No central planner is wise or knowledgeable enough to manage an entire economy, which is better left to the invisible hand of the market, in which intelligence is distributed across a network of hundreds of millions of individuals implicitly transmitting information about scarcity and abundance through the prices they negotiate. Humanity is always in danger of backsliding into barbarism, so we should respect customs in sexuality, religion and public propriety, even if no one can articulate their rationale, because they are time-tested workarounds for our innate shortcomings. The left, in contrast, has a Utopian Vision, which emphasizes the malleability of human nature, puts customs under the microscope, articulates rational plans for a better society and seeks to implement them through public institutions.

(First, a quibble:  David Brooks is not a conservative.  He is, instead, a lukewarm liberal who has a good sinecure at the New York Times by pretending to be conservative.  Aside from that, he’s not very bright.  He can talk the talk, but anyone who is overwhelmed by the crease in a presidential candidate’s pants is not a serious thinker, or even a very serious human being. Quibble over. )

Pinker is correct that Sowell, who is a God amongst conservative thinkers, does talk about the conservative “tragic vision.”  I’m not sure I agree with Sowell’s terminology, though.  He’s not describing tragedy, so much as he is describing a realistic understanding of humankind, unpolluted by Utopianism.

In the tragic vision, individual sufferings and social evils are inherent in the innate deficiencies of all human beings, whether these deficiencies are in knowledge, wisdom, morality, or courage. Moreover, the available resources are always inadequate to fulfill all the desires of all the people. Thus there are no “solutions” in the tragic vision, but only trade-offs that still leave many unfulfilled and much unhappiness in the world.

Here’s where the timing bit comes in:  In the above quoted paragraph, Pinker contends that the Left has a Utopian vision.  While it’s true that the Left believes that the State can coerce people into a utilitarian conformism, the Utopianism seems to have leaked away recently.  How else to explain the latest Obama campaign effort (h/t Newsbusters)?

Imagine an America
Where strip mines are fun and free
Where gays can be fixed
And sick people just die
And oil fills the sea

We don’t have to pay for freeways!
Our schools are good enough
Give us endless wars
On foreign shores
And lots of Chinese stuff

We’re the children of the future
American through and through
But something happened to our country
And we’re kinda blaming you

We haven’t killed all the polar bears
But it’s not for lack of trying
Big Bird is sacked
The Earth is cracked
And the atmosphere is frying

Congress went home early
They did their best we know
You can’t cut spending
With elections pending
Unless it’s welfare dough

We’re the children of the future
American through and through
But something happened to our country
And we’re kinda blaming you

Find a park that is still open
And take a breath of poison air
They foreclosed your place
To build a weapon in space
But you can write off your au pair

It’s a little awkward to tell you
But you left us holding the bag
When we look around
The place is all dumbed down
And the long term’s kind of a drag

We’re the children of the future
American through and through
But something happened to our country
And yeah, we’re blaming you

You did your best
You failed the test

Mom and Dad
We’re blaming you!

If that isn’t dystopianism, I honestly don’t know what is.  The Obama campaign has no faith whatsoever in human kind.  If it had faith, it wouldn’t believe that the only answer is Big Government.  The campaign would believe in the people and ease off of the constant coercion that is modern Progressivism.

I cannot think of a more repugnant, off-putting advertisement than this dark, twisted vision of the future, one that insults at least half of the American people and that is, quite frankly, stupid and hysterical.  I really thought the campaign had plumbed the depths with its Lena Dunham ad (voting for Obama is like sex) but it’s never wise to underestimate the ugliness behind the Obama campaign.  One can only wonder what the coming week’s ad cycle will bring from a campaign that must work with a pathetic executive record and an increasingly unlikable candidate.

(By the way, to the extent that this video is only one in a series of disturbing Obama campaign videos, you can vote for the one you think is worst here, at the Gay Patriot.)

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    Saw this at The Blaze. First thing that came to mind was Children of the Corn (1984) a Stephen King novel turned schlock film. In brief from IMDb – A young couple is trapped in a remote town where a dangerous religious cult of children believe everyone over the age of 18 must be killed.

  • Michael Adams

    My twenty years  in the Knee-Jerk-Liberal Church were like an anthropologist’s field work. Fearful?  The fear was everywhere, like clouds of vile incense. They were even afraid of people who were unafraid. They are the chief reason that I usually put “Liberal” in quotes. They were dear kind people, but utterly reactionary.They truly loved me, with a tinge of fear, but they idolized the professorial types who came as guest  speakers from time to time, to deliver one of those opinions about the big bad scary world out there, with the calm reassurance that they need not fear, as long as they did not venture out among the savages.
    Recent discussion here has involved much detail about the fear being sown among women in California and elsewhere, fear of a free world without Obama. In essence, those are the data, which can be distilled into the theory: Leftism is fear.

  • kbterrier

    Sowell does not call it the tragic vision.  He calls it the constrained vision as opposed to the unconstrained vision of the Left.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    Liberal Church indeed. Such is the magnificence of human imagination that we can even create such a diverse set of evil in this world out of faith itself.

  • Wolf Howling

    As usual, a left wing writer engages in projection.

    Progs are innately distrustful of human nature.  They couple that with a belief that society can be perfected through regulation.  When that fails, it is not because the foundational belief is utopian, its because the regulation was not properly designed, and thus another regulation needs to be passed to fix it.

    As to “we should respect customs in sexuality, religion and public propriety, even if no one can articulate their rationale,” . . . whoa.  Where did that come from?   One could write – and indeed, many have written – volumes on the origins of our customs and the purposes they serve – perfectly ‘rational’ explanations  though many of which the left just doesn’t want to acknowledge as having any legitimate basis.  For but one example, monogamy, virginity and heterosexuality come to mind, just in respect to disease transmission alone.   Or how about marriage and children within wedlock.  How much better do children of a stable marriage perform in comparison to children raised in single parent households?

    Pinker seems unaware of the massive cognitive dissonance inherent in his propositions.  He charges the left with having a “utopian vision,” but then in the same sentence, credits them with “articulat[ing] rational plans for a better society.”  The very word “utopian” is defined as “impractical or unrealistic schemes.”   

    Actually, Book, I think the default position for progressives is dystopianism.  They have an innate distrust of humanity which is only subject to cure when it is being fully controlled by the left.  Dystopia dominates their view of reality, utopia colors their view of the possible and how to plan to get there.



  • http://OgBlog.net Earl

    WH said: “Pinker seems unaware of the massive cognitive dissonance inherent in his propositions.  He charges the left with having a “utopian vision,” but then in the same sentence, credits them with “articulat[ing] rational plans for a better society.”  The very word “utopian” is defined as “impractical or unrealistic schemes.”
    It is wildly utopian to imagine that you can articulate and implement a “rational plan for a better society”. And that is what Obama and the rest of the left are actually attempting to do.
    And this in the teeth of the evidence from the 20th Century attempts at the same kind of thing — USSR, China, and (in a microcosm) Cuba.  There are plenty of other examples – North Korea, anyone?
    It’s a religion….it’s not subject to disproof.  It must be defeated – over and over again.  Beginning November 6, 2012.

  • Caped Crusader

    Being at modern day Harvard, and therefore indoctrinated rather than educated, he probably has never heard of Adolph Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, Mao, Castro  Pol Pot  and a few other utopian liberal “reformers” and their plans for an all powerful and beneficial central state and the lovely benefits they all produced for mankind.

  • Caped Crusader

    Just look at all the faces, tense, unhappy, sad facies. CHILD ABUSE — someone call CPS! They will all grow up as unhappy liberals. One or two look as if they know it’s BS and are having a hard time not laughing; they are the hope for the future. Children should be happy and lighthearted and carefree!

  • Charles Martel

    Nothing in reality confirms the “rationality” of the left. Inevitably, its nostrums lead to poverty, both material and spiritual, and the eventual decay of economies and cultures into stasis. The huge push back that we are all hoping for on Nov. 6 is a sign that not all Americans have been demoralized or propagandized to the point of accepting a role as latter-day Cubans, or Quebeckers, or Englishmen.
    The unwary among leftists—and I would count at least 80 percent of progressives among that group—congratulate themselves on their rationality, compassion, and superior post-bourgeois morality. They are the chum(p) brigade that sharks like Obama, Bill Ayers, Tom Friedman, Paul Krugman, Valerie Jarrett, the Rev. Wright, and all the other haters feed on to reach the true goal of the left’s “utopian” vision: Total control by an elite over a compliant, ignorant, fearful populace that not only looks up to its rulers but unquestioningly supplies them with material wealth.

  • jj

    Harvard professors never rethink anything, that’s the point of being a Harvard professor.

  • lee

    I used to be addicted to the PBS version of a “Survivor” type reality series, and whenever there was  professor (and his/her spouse), you knew you were always in for a treat: someone (or two–because the spouse was just as bad, if not worse) who knew better than everyone else, and yet, somehow, was a complete diaster in the setting. Hmmmmmm…

  • JKB

    This sounded a bit odd compared to other things I’d read by Pinker (several books).  The tragic/utopian divide is actually him relating the current thoughts of others.  However, his development of the divide is just as offensive and just as ludicrous.  That the NE and coastal areas were settled by English farmer types whereas the interior South and eventually the interior West were settled by Scot-Irish herders.  Talk about simplification and just ignoring all the other nationalities that settled the US.  

    Perhaps his lovers of government vs. tamers of anarchy has some merit.  But the divide is more that just where your from and what you do.  America was originally settled by many who sought to escape the government, British and, eventually, other mostly European governments.  But once settled along the coasts, the leaders set about establishing such governments here, either by franchise from the British crown as in many Southern colonies or by religious leadership in the NE.  Those who still felt the need for self-determination and self-governance moved into the interior, for many decades staying just ahead of the government men.  A similar separation happened via the West Coast.  This is a far more logical rational for the divide than farmers and herders.  

    One might see it, on the East Coast, as the Coastal/NE settlers were force out of the old country but long for re-admittance.  Whereas those who move across the Appalachians took their leave and don’t seek the old country’s approval or acceptance.  

    He does latch onto an amusingly foolish assertion:

    “The historian Pieter Spierenburg has suggested that “democracy came too soon to America,” namely, before the government had disarmed its citizens. Since American governance was more or less democratic from the start, the people could choose not to cede to it the safeguarding of their personal safety but to keep it as their prerogative.” 

    Of course, the now out of favor history of the United States supports that democracy wouldn’t have come to America had the citizens been disarmed.  Perhaps the sovereign would have permitted the subjects to vote, but would we every really have democracy if it was a gift rather than a God-given right?  And oddly, democracy formed in its purest form in the New England townships with the town meeting, everyone having a voice and everyone having a vote (yes, there was the issue of women’s suffrage).

    Isn’t it odd when a Progressive professor, but I repeat myself, tries to piece together this meme to defame conservatives, red-staters, etc. the work falls well below their usual scholarship.   It is almost that they can’t comprehend the popping-the-bubble-of-authoritativeness 

  • JohnC

    Seen stories on this commercial on a lot of websites. I had avoided watching it because I knew it would be awful.
    Rush Limbaugh played the full audio today. Jeez Loueez… the title of the song has to be something along the lines of “America – You Disgusting Piece of S***.”

  • JohnC

    I’m Barack Obama and I approve this message.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    pinker is uneducated in certain human realities. He really needs to get certified in interrogation and H2H survival training, because the doctrine and theology of human psychology in universities are a bit biased and intentionally incomplete.

    Those of us who already knew the Left had a Utopian and religious church theology (not ideology, theology, complete with Aztec human sacrifices), naturally figured out the inevitable end was dystopia. Did people not get it yet?