Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
--C.S. Lewis--

Monday, June 2, 2008

Are Conservatives More Truthful?

According to this article they seem to be. While I'd love to just blandly accept this as true, I seriously doubt that it is. The problem with all studies like the ones cited in this article, whether they pick on conservatives or liberals, is that they ask the wrong question. For most people, their political outlook is not so much a core component of their identity so much as it is the natural result of those traits that do make up the core of their identity (did that make sense?). Therefore, assuming the study itself is methodologically sound, I don't think that it asks the right question. By focusing on political identity rather than the underlying reasons for that identity, the survey is picking up the effects of those underlying ideals rather than any meaningful affect that political ideology has on honesty.

For example, conservatives tend to be more religious than liberals. Religious conservatives tend to think of their religious materials (the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Koran, the Upanishads etc) as divine and therefore holy, whereas religious liberals tend to see these same materials as manmade and therefore flawed. In this context it makes sense that these religious differences would lead to a difference in levels of honesty. After all, a command from Almighty God carries far more weight than an ethical system that evolved over the centuries through the efforts of men.

Another example that springs to mind is age. Young people tend to be more liberal, and grow conservative as they age. I think it's also entirely within the realm of possibility that young people have less solid ethical foundations than their elders. This difference could also very well account for the split in honesty between the two sides of the political spectrum.

In short, people who look at partisan affiliation as an explanation for behavior are still a level too high. They need to go deeper.