Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Personality and Politics, Or Why Social Science Is Sometimes Neither

The Toronto Star today reports on a longitudinal study conducted among preschoolers in Berkeley, California over the last 20 years. The study asserts that preschoolers who 20 years ago were reported by teachers as whiny and insecure have grown to become politically conservative. Confident, resilient, self-reliant kids grew up to become politically liberal.

SWNID, as an amateur social scientist, will not argue that the study was conducted by liberally biased investigators. We will instead suggest the following:

First, whatever might be true of the children in this study, it is not true of other children. We were a confident, resilient, self-reliant preschooler, who became a confident, resilient, self-reliant kindergartener, who became an overconfident, aggressive, dominant elementary student and an oppressively arrogant, nearly blasphemously self-reliant high school student, and insufferably cocksure college and graduate student and now, of course, a Seldom-Wrong-Never-In-Doubt self-proclaimed expert on everything and judge of all.

I have never whined. At least not much. Certainly not as a preschooler. As a preschooler, SWNID bossed the older kids in the neighborhood. Nothing on Fenmore Road happened without our permission.

And I have been consistently politically conservative.

So I present myself as the definitive counter-example to the results of this study: unparalleled in confidence, resilience and self-reliance, and somewhere to the right of Torquemada politically.

Second, we observe that this study was conducted in Berkeley, California, without question one of the most politically atypical spots on the planet. It's hardly surprising that children raised in Berkeley would tend towards liberal political views: they were raised on granola, Woody Guthrie and Mother Jones. To the Trotskyites typical of Berkeley, voting for Al Gore in 2000 instead of Ralph Nader smacked of fascism.

So, let's imagine a child who grows up in the People's Republic of Berkeley and whose childhood is, for unknown reasons, such that he presents whiny behavior to teachers. Years later, he asks himself why his life has been filled with misery. He associates his discontent with his surroundings. He has an epiphany: My life stinks because of all these stupid liberals in Berkeley!
Immediately, he fires his psychoanalyst, registers Republican, subscribes to the National Review, and moves to Idaho, finding happiness.

Or let's imagine this. Preschool teachers in Berkeley in 1984 have just finished leading their classes in a discussion of whole foods and the nuclear freeze. They then are asked by a social scientist to rate students as "self-reliant" or "whiny." They think back to the discussion just before. Many students cooperated with the exercise and responded that they would eat an organic, vegan diet while working for unilateral disarmament.

But a few proved recalcitrant. They insisted that they'd eat processed foods and red meat all their lives, and enjoy it too. They said that they felt safer with a nuclear arsenal keeping the "evil empire" at bay.

These had already been told that they would attend the "re-education camp," formerly known as after-school detention. But they won't conform to the revolutionary agenda.

So how does a teacher at UC Berkeley's early childhood education lab school characterize such an anti-revolutionary, reactionary, petty-bourgeois crumb-cruncher?


1 comment:

Justin said...

nice blog. but you should totally check mine out. ha ha...interesting thoughts....