Video: What makes libertarians tick? with Aiden Gregg

Here now is Aiden’s introduction to the psychology of libertarians and the general causal theories that explain political prejudices. This is a powerful tool for us.

Veteran libertarian activist Brian Micklethwait neatly explains why in his quick review of the talk on Samizdata:

The main thing to learn from such work as Haidt’s is […] that you have a better chance of converting someone to Righteousness if you understand their psychological dispositions better. What “moral foundations” (to quote the words on my scribbled notes) do they consider to be most important?

As to what these moral foundations are, we were offered six variables of concern, so to speak, to consider important, rather more or rather less than others: care/harm, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, sanctity/degradation, freedom/oppression. If, like most libertarians, you are more exercised about freedom/oppression than, say, about sanctity/degradation, but are arguing with a conservative whose concerns are the opposite of yours, then you just banging on about how freedom/oppression is what matters most, and that libertarianism scores well on this variable, will not get you very far. It will be a dialogue of the deaf.

The raw data in this talk, should be more than enough to get you thinking about what kinds of messages are most likely to reasonate with your audience. Arguing with a liberal about economic liberty? Give them personal stories they can empathise with. Show how systemic problems grind upon individual lives. Arguing with a conservative over gay marriage? Help them get over the ickiness factor by telling them about how a tolerance of alternative ways of life helps promote economic growth, or how homosexuality might have evolved as a useful means of population control. Activate their emotions or their reason in ways appropriate to your argument.

The data is all derived from the Iyer et al paper, the weaknesses of which I discussed before, but the strength of this material is in understanding your audience and targeting the right messages to them.

Health warnings

Aiden gives a few warnings about the use of this material at the very begining and very end of his talk. He points out that reason and psychology are compatible, and both have a role to play in determining political affiliation; that we are not slaves to our prejudices and that the differences measured are significant, but actually rather small. This is why I was so keen to superimpose the graphs over the video as he talked you through differences – to give you an idea of scale. As an example of why scale is important, witness this misunderstanding about over “systemisation” and aspergers – being a bit more systematic simply isn’t enough to make you autistic.

A little note about the moral foundations graphs. I was able to be mathematical about the Big 5 personality graph (the colourful one) and the graph of additional factors – such as Baron-Cohen systematisation and Reactance (the white one) is taken from Iyer, but the yellow ones are bit fudged. In particular the “liberty” column was formed by literally drawing (in Inkscape) a rectangle that stopped half way between economic liberty and personal liberty bars on the more complex graph below. In practice this made conservatives, liberals and librtarians rank in a different order for the liberty measure than a more sophisticated treatment may have done and differently to how Aiden describes. If it’s important, follow Aiden, but Aiden and I agree that it suffices to explain the narrative.

Missing regard to harm

In my earlier post I identified certain kinds of harm that Libertarians are likely to be highly attuned to which may not have been accounted for in the statistics. Effectively I was speculating that the care/harm foundation was measured in a way that did not reflect how libertarians process the same thing, leaving us looking more cold-hearted than is fair. I put this to Aiden who replied:

Nonetheless, I agree wholeheartedly with your final point, that the relatively high libertarian endorsement (and relatively high left-liberal rejection) of freedom may at least partly reflect the care/harm foundation, given that libertarians reject the initiation of force, which surely makes it, in the first instance, the gentlest political philosophy around.

Having said that, the weight of the evidence of the paper does suggest that self-identified libertarians on average channel something of Rand’s affective austerity.

Graphs, Graphs, Graphs

Here is the original peer reviewed moral foundations graph:

Iyer paper figure 1

And, just to round things off nicely, here’s the pretty personality traits graph for you:

big5 personality graph

Big 5 personality traits

And the emotional responsiveness factors:

emotional responsiveness



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