TORY LAB RATS?
1st June 2020
Anna Marchenkova / CC BY (
Although it may not always be true, until it was proved otherwise, a charitable and respectful person behaves as though another person’s political sympathies have been chosen with proper judgmental objectivity and in full possession of the faculty of free will. In doing this he will accord to others, as a starting point, the assumption that they have full human dignity and intellectual respectability. One would do this if one was a true believer in liberty of opinion and the maxim, often attributed wrongly to Voltaire, but useful nevertheless, that “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." This sensibly removes suppression of wrong ideas by force and leaves open the field to legitimately criticising or attempting to dismantle one’s opponents’ creeds using nothing more than reasoned argument. This is the proper 'ventilation’ process.
However there is always the temptation to attempt a sneakier form of subterfuge against one’s opponents and, perhaps for lack of confidence of going the bareback rational route, the left often succumbs to it. In doing so it attempts, into the bargain, to smuggle in an argumentative hierarchy that places a reductionist technocratic outlook at the apex which dislodges the human from that apex. What the left will do is to discard old models of free will and responsibility which lie at the heart of our legal systems and replace them with demeaning deterministic assumptions about people. It is noteworthy that those who do this always somehow reserve for themselves all the benefits of free will while stripping them away from their opponents.
This is how it works. Conservatism is ‘explained’ as a choice which was never really a choice but something dictated by the primitive lizard brain or by previous psychological conditioning over which we had no control. Under the guise of adherence to serious scientific inquiry (the highest calling of all in our era) conservatives are, almost, without noticing and as a casual afterthought, reduced to the status of lab rats in a behaviourist experiment. The scientists in question might even disingenuously pretend, were this pointed out to them, that they hadn’t noticed that this is what they’d accidentally achieved.
I can give two eminent examples of this process. The first is the prominent Frankfurt School philosopher-sociologist Theodore Adorno who wrote a book called The Authoritarian Personality. Post World War 2 he attempted to ‘explain’ in semi-Freudian psychological/sociological terms (and there of course is the smuggled in ‘science’) why people chose Fascism. The old model of freedom and moral responsibility is carefully and with no particular justification placed on one side on the assumption that it has served its purpose and in its place is put a kind of reductionist and deterministic mathematical scale based on how much authoritarianism one suffered at the hands of one’s parents. Adorno called this his ‘F Scale’ – the F standing for Fascism. It shows how authoritarianism and anti-democratic leanings in one’s soul make one susceptible to Fascist propaganda. One is measured according to how much one’s ‘profile’ is infected with the qualities listed below. Before I list them I will make it clear that I am not suggesting such descriptions are not appropriate for some people – my objection is the suggestion that they are deterministically inevitable and that you are their victim rather than that they are your responsibility. Here is the list:
· Conventionalism: Adherence to conventional values.
· Authoritarian Submission: Towards in group authority figures.
· Authoritarian Aggression: Against people who violate conventional values.
· Anti-Intraception: Opposition to subjectivity and imagination.
· Superstition and Stereotypy: Belief in individual fate; thinking in rigid categories.
· Power and Toughness: Concerned with submission and domination; assertion of strength.
· Destructiveness and Cynicism: hostility against human nature.
· Projectivity: Perception of the world as dangerous; tendency to project unconscious impulses.
· Sex: Overly concerned with modern sexual practices.
And in the mix as a cause too, apparently, was suppressed homosexuality which was redirected into outward hostility towards the father, which was, in turn, suppressed for fear of being infantilized and castrated by the father. And so on….
All of this has been enlisted to explain those with conservative leanings. It’s not that conservatives spontaneously and naturally choose nature and being as a starting point as, perhaps Thomas Aquinas and Martin Heidegger do; it’s that the choice is made for them by something beyond their control.
This take on conservatives has more recently been reinforced by another -ist, the psychologist, Jonathan Haidt. Just by being a scientific -ist the unquestionable uauthority of science to pronounce on these things is smuggled in of course as the ideological character of the inquirer is the unavoidable destiny of the outcome.
Haidt pursues the idea that conservatives are only conservative because of a kind of disgust gag-reflex. We’re back to that all-controlling lizard brain that has nothing to do with our higher faculties. Once more conservatives are explained and demeaned in one fell swoop by a process which turns them into untermenschen. After that you don’t really need to dignify them by arguing with them at all. You can just pity them from the lofty position of your own freely and rationally chosen political positions. The conservatives are subjected to a scientific method of inquiry that, by its nature, can only find them to be pitiable lab rats.
What we are witnessing in such attempts to explain and demean conservatives is a kind of Sumo-wrestling style battle for position and purchase between an old model which places human free will and moral responsibility outside the remit of science and the technocratic ‘experts’ like Adorno and Haidt. Now, even those apparently generally on the side of conservatism have to have a dash of the glamour of science attached to them in order to have the authority to pronounce. Jordan Peterson draws much of his authority from his credentials as a university indentured psychologist. It is this that gives weight to his pronouncements on biblical myth whose psychological benefits are explained in Jungian terms. The fact that those same myths gave people in the West enormous benefits because of the moral truths contained in them long before science and scientific method were even a twinkle in Francis Bacon’s eye in the 17th Century seems to be neither here nor there. Truth is now only truth if it has been recycled through science and given its imprimatur even if it is in areas that are not the domain of science.
We are watching a cultural war where scientific armies with their technocratic 'experts' as shock troops seek to annexe more and more of human consciousness in the belief that they can achieve perfect control over it and, sinisterly, deliver a form of what is deemed to be human perfection. The loser is what comes most naturally and spontaneoulsy to humans – a conservative outlook.
It was good to see Toby Young recently fighting back by suggesting that liberals had exhibited a deal more disgust in the COVID emergency than conservatives and thus rubbishing the whole belittling thesis.