Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Stereotype Breaker

If you follow politics at all, you've most likely heard all of the stereotypes. Republicans are supposed to be the hawkish wackos, Democrats are supposed to be either immoral or pansies (depending on what part of the country you're in), and Greens supposedly really, really love trees.

(Notice how I left out libertarians. There's rarely much to suppose with them: they're usually structural conservatives who may not like wiretaps much and tend to know how to party hard. Needless to say, a lot of Republicans at WVU are not-so-closet libertarians. But I digress.)

But what if I were to tell you a new study just came out today that turns some of these stereotypes on their heads? It's true. The report, a special to the Toronto Star, claims that whiny kids grow up to be conservative adults. The article goes on to say that "the confident, resilient, self-reliant kids" usually turn out liberal. Wimpy conservatives? Tough-as-nails liberals? It almost sounds sacrilegious.

Alright, reality check time. If you haven't followed the link (and you should), let me help lay a few key points out for you:

1.) The study in question was conducted by UC Berkeley professor Jack Block, who tracked about 100 people in the Berkeley area from nursery school to adulthood. In other words, the study was longitudinal and was conducted over the course of a few decades, starting back in the 1960s. Character traits were determined by personality tests.

2.) The participants all grew up in one of the most liberal areas of the entire country. UC Berkeley is so infamously liberal that I've seen some commentators refer to it as "Berserkeley." Like conservatism in the Bible Belt, liberalism is the status quo there.

3.) As anyone who's taken a basic psychology course knows, correlation does not equal causation. There could have been other variables determining what these people became politically when they grew up. In that part of the country, wouldn't it make sense for stable people from stable homes to be liberal out of tradition? After all, "liberal" and "non-conformist" are not necessarily synonyms. As Star writer Kurt Kleiner wonders, "The results do raise some obvious questions...does an insecure boy raised in Idaho or Alberta surrounded by conservatives turn instead to liberalism?" And of course, no study should be immediately taken as gospel, though journalists have a nasty habit of doing just that.

I do find it comical that some conservatives have already expressed outrage at this study, because when you consider all the potential variables and how non-representative the sample is, it's not indicative of the general population whatsoever. If there were several hundred of these people being tracked from all different regions of the US, and a correlation showed up, that would be a story. As it is, it's more of a basis for a philosophical discussion. Why do we hold the political opinions that we have? Are they dependent on how we were raised, or are they intrinsically tied to our personalities?

I was very self-reliant and confident as a kid; though blogging may suggest otherwise to some, I'm pretty well-known for not whining. I'm conservative, yet more liberal than either of my parents. Some of their strongest political views never really got passed to me. I still do a lot of back and forth reasoning on the hot-button issues of our day, often to the point that I end up becoming a true moderate for specific arguments. I really do keep an open mind, so much so that I find myself using liberal arguments on occasion because I'm so used to putting myself in left-wing shoes. I've always found it arrogant to believe that roughly half of Americans can be consistently wrong on any given topic, which is why I try never to bash a liberal for the sake of bashing them.

If the study is right, I guess I'm sort of unique. Then again, one man, much like this study, can't hope to be an accurate example of everyone.


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