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Are conservatives and extremists stupid, and should we do something about it?

Posted on 7th March 2021

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This video report on "The Young Turks" got me thinking.

The report covers the results of a University of Cambridge study of Americans, which shows that extreme conservatives have difficulties with cognitive tasks (i.e. they are less smart). This study joins a growing body of work on similar themes, which generally show that conservatives are less smart or have lower academic achievement. Another example is the study which showed that people in the UK who voted for Brexit had lesser academic achievement than average.

We should be cautious in interpreting this data, because the studies show statistical correlation, not a cause and effect relationship.

If, however, we accept the suggestion that being less smart makes one more likely to hold conservative or extremist views, we should be very cautious about any suggestion that we try to do something about it. That would put us on a slippery slope, potentially leading to things like:

  • Attempts to "cure" people of their conservative views;
  • Restriction of the voting rights of conservatives and extremists;
  • Job applications being refused on the basis of one's political opinions, because they are a sign of lower intelligence;
  • A whole gamut of thought control measures by governments.

That doesn't sound like the kind of society that I want to live in. We don't restrict the voting rights of people with mental disabilities, and we shouldn't even think about doing so based on people's political opinions. Even if someone's views are the result of reduced mental capabilities, those views are still valid opinions, and we shouldn't restrict their rights to express those views (within some obvious limits, like incitement to insurrection).

The other key thing to remember is that not all extremist views lie at the conservative end of the political spectrum. I could give some examples, but some readers would probably be offended.

Of course, that doesn't stop you from feeling better about yourself, knowing that your politics suggests that you are smarter than others.