Of late, a fascinating debate has been wending its way through academic circles: to wit, are liberals smarter than conservatives? Last year, Satoshi Kanazawa, a researcher at the London School of Economics and Political Science published a paper in the journal -- Social Psychology that reached a fascinating conclusion: more intelligent people -- as measured by IQ -- are more likely to say they are liberal. Interestingly, they are also less likely to say they go to religious services.
Kanazawa's findings -- especially the part about intelligence-and-liberalism -- are nothing new. Two earlier studies, the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health ("Add Health") and the General Social Survey ("GSS") came to pretty much the same conclusion. "Add Health," which surveyed more than 20,000 kids concluded, "The mean IQ of adolescents who identify themselves as 'very liberal' is 106, as compared with a mean IQ of 95 for those calling themselves 'very conservative.'" (N.B. The self-identification upon which the studies' conclusions are based can be quite misleading. Heck: if adults have a hard time defining the terms "liberal" and "conservative" how can anyone reasonably expect their children to do much better? )
Now, before anyone mounts their elevated equine, this is not an essay on whether liberals are smarter than conservatives. Personally, I could care less. Although I have rarely -- if ever -- agreed with such conservative thinkers/practitioners as Thomas Sowell, William F. Buckley, Irving Kristol or New Gingrich, I know that they may well be just as intelligent as liberals like Paul Krugman, Robert Reich, Joseph Stiglitz or Barney Frank. One should be able to appreciate their intellectual acuity even while finding fault with their conclusions.
One thing which does intrigue me, is why conservatives are, generally speaking, so much more successful than liberals when it comes to rallying the troops. I mean, try as we may, liberals and progressives have failed to come up with anything even remotely as successful or engaging as the Tea Party Movement. And with regards to media:
- When it comes to viewers, ratings and ad revenues, MSNBC comes in a distant second to FOX.
- Air America -- the liberal radio network -- crashed and burned in January 2010 after barely 6 years.
- For every progressive talker like Thom Hartmann, Stephanie Miller or Bill Press (all of "Dial Global," which I bet most have never heard of) there are dozens of conservatives like Limbaugh, Hannaty, and Beck.
While the arch-conservative right has such "superstars" in Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Alan West and Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, the progressive left can counter with . . . with . . . ? With Alan Grayson? Jane Harman? Debbie Wasserman Schultz? While the Tea Party folks classify Harvard Law grads like Grayson, Harman and Obama (all of whom came from either broken or immigrant working-class families) as "effete," they treat blue bloods like George W. Bush and Mitt Romney as "just one of the guys." And while liberals and progressives make reasoned arguments about the fundamental fairness of making health insurance available to all, the inherent illegality of Arizona's immigration law or question the wisdom of off-shore drilling, conservatives and regressives counter with such slogans as "Death Panels," "If the Feds won't take action we will," and "Drill Baby Drill."
So what's going on here? Why is it that conservatives generally have the upper hand when it comes to rallying the troops, or getting them to watch, listen and then parrot their mouthpieces? At the same time, why do liberals and progressives, by comparison, seem to be so much more "medium cool."
Head and heart . . . heart and head.
In thinking about this over a long period of time, I have come to the conclusion that the differences between liberals and conservatives, between progressives and regressives, has precious little to do with intelligence; it has more to do with at what the two sides are taking aim -- with how they shape their arguments. For liberals, arguments are generally layered with logic and aimed squarely at the head -- at the reasonable intellect. Those on the other side of the aisle tend to aim straight for the heart or gut; their arguments are generally more visceral than analytic. And although those aiming for the heart may be just as intelligent as those aiming for the head, their arguments tend to be anti-intellectual. Should we then be surprised that there are so many people "knowingly" fulminating over "Death Panels," "Forced bank bailouts," and "Selling America down the river?" Their leaders and opinion-makers shower them with slogans. For liberals, our leaders and opinion-makers regale us with reason.
Perhaps we would do well to learn a lesson from the conservatives. Appeals to reason are fine, but cannot be expected to carry the day all that often. Addressing the heart -- instead of the head from time to time -- can be marvelously profitable.
Just ask Harlen Cobin and Stephen King; they've been outselling Melville and Faulkner for a long, long time.