Dumb, conservative and racist?
by Kelvin Wade
A new study out of Brock University in Ontario has stoked controversy. Researchers have found that low intelligence in children may lead to prejudice in adults. But this isn’t really the controversial part. These researchers say low-intelligence adults gravitate to socially conservative ideologies.
The study infers that a socially conservative ideology is the link between low intelligence and racism in those individuals who are racist. Other studies have shown that prejudice is more common in those holding right wing ideologies.
According to the research, people of low intelligence who hold prejudicial views have less contact with other groups than their own. If you take someone who gravitates to a simple, structured conservative ideology with little contact with those of a different race or sexual orientation, it’s not surprising that prejudice could develop.
We saw a real world example of the study in the form of the Tea Party. During the healthcare debate we saw thousands of right wing people take to the streets and interspersed with them were people whose views crossed the line into prejudice, plainly visible on the offensive signs they carried.
This is not to say that all Tea Partiers or conservatives are prejudiced and progressives are not. Lead researcher Gordon Hodson explained, “There are multiple examples of very bright conservatives and not-so-bright liberals, and many examples of very principled conservatives and very intolerant liberals.”
So once again, the study isn’t saying that all conservatives or all Republicans are dumb and racist. I think comedian Bill Maher said it best when he said that not all Republicans are racist, but if you’re racist, you’re probably a Republican.
But does this mean people who hold right wing views have lower intelligence? The study relies on I.Q. tests and they’re controversial in their own right. It could be that those scoring low on I.Q. tests crave a simple ideology to make sense of a complicated world. And conservative ideology is all about absolutes, for the most part rejecting nuance.
You’re either with us or against us, as one famous right-winger once said.
In my view, it is the simplicity of the conservative argument that explains the success of right wing talk radio. Black-white, either-or reasoning works well on the radio. A progressive, nuanced answer to a complex issue is boring.
Unfortunately, liberals have ran with the study as a cudgel to attack “stupid, racist conservatives,” while conservatives simply reject the data the same way they reject “the liberal media” when they hear news they don’t like. Neither attitude helps improve our union.
I’m less interested in the ideology part of the study and more interested in the prejudice. If we can use studies like this to lessen racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia, it can only improve our society. Maybe the answer is greater exposure to those who are different. Life experience works better than any rational argument to change minds and soften hearts.
Now I’ve tried to present this in the most non-inflammatory way I could. But if you’re socially conservative and after reading this still only see me as someone bashing Republicans and calling them racist, then you’re proving the study’s point.