I finished reading an article this morning about a study that was conducted on the psychological characteristics of folks who claim to be libertarians. When I finished reading it, I wasn’t really sure if I should be offended or proud, so rational thinker I am, I decided to give it the rest of the day to stew in my brain to see how things would turn out. Well, it seems that day was wasted, because I still can’t decide exactly how i feel, so I think the therapeutic thing for me to do is to write it down and see what comes out.
So, starting off, here is a sentence that very nearly caused me to spit my morning coffee onto my computer screen:
“Revealingly, they score lower than both conservatives and liberals on measures of care for others and protecting others from harm.“
But I do care, I thought to myself. I really do! The problem is that I care to send my money to whom I wish to send it to instead of forking it over to the government. I care to see to it that my family is fed first, and then I’ll see about helping you with yours. I care to not allow my life to crumble while building up yours. Damn! There I go being all about myself again!
Oh, and for the record, I have been involved in law enforcement and security for the better part of my life, which means I absolutely do care very much about protecting others from harm. I certainly am not in it for the pay! I’ll protect you from harm, but I will do so while staying within the framework of the Constitution.
And here’s another little quip that I found hard to swallow:
“Libertarians also tend to be less social than most.“
This is where it became painfully obvious to me that I was not included in the study. It’s clear that none of its authors have ever been to one of my parties…especially the ones I had while in the military – on your dime, thank you very much, if you were working back in the late 80’s! Come over to my house for a a weekend barbeque and I guarantee some good food, even better brew, and some good conversation late into the night. I’m comfortable in crowded rooms, excel at public speaking, and have no problem telling you I love you if I really do, and meaning it! I don’t know what their definition of ‘less social’ is, but I’m betting that I ain’t it.
Okay…now for the stinger:
“The libertarian style of thinking can even verge, in extreme cases, on autism.“
Huh? I will admit I have a twinge of A.D.D. (SQUIRREL!) show up once in a while, but man….autism-like characteristics? Oh wait – the article continues to explain:
“The University of Cambridge-based psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen, a leading autism researcher, famously has shown that people with autism exhibit two critical features: They test exceptionally low on empathizing scales and exceptionally high on systemizing ones. Empathizing governs social relationships — Are you able to relate to other people? — while systemizing governs understanding and analysis of the outside world. Everyone falls somewhere on the empathizing-systemizing scale.
Libertarians score very low on the empathizing scale and very high on the systemizing scale. In other words, they are highly rational moral thinkers, less emotional than both conservatives and liberals.”
Whew! Now that’s a bit better. Or is it? It seems we’re highly rational moral thinkers who are not as emotional as the rest of the World. Is it just me, or did I just get lumped in with Star Trek’s Mr. Spock? According to the study, we have some trouble with empathy. Really? I think that we libertarians are highly empathic. You see, we understand other people’s misery…we can put ourselves squarely in their shoes.
We understand how it feels to pay taxes that you’ll likely never see again.
We understand what it’s like to send your child to a school that under-performs.
We understand what it’s like to have a loved one sent off to a foreign country to fight a war that drags on and on and on…with no end in sight.
We understand what it’s like to need a helping hand, only we also understand that we have no right to force you to give it to us.
It was right around the ‘very low on the empathizing scale’ part that I started to see the big picture.
“There are upsides to such a coolly analytic cognitive style. For instance, libertarians are better at logic problems – “
Sweet! An upside! Finally we have something to cheer about! We can solve logic problems…which must mean that those on the left and those on the right defy logic, right? We are the logical ones! Is there something wrong with that? Well let’s see…
“The downsides include a “greater susceptibility to autism” – “
Crap! And just when I was feeling good about myself.
The good news can be found in the concluding two paragraphs of the article, where David Boaz, the VP of the Cato Institute, comes to our defense by letting letting us know that he sees “no evidence that libertarians display less love, compassion or morality than other people”, and Legal scholar Richard Epstein, at New York University, pretty much says that we libertarians can discern between the political and personal world. He says, that “liberty is the guiding value on matters of public policy while allowing for the personal values to dominate [personal] interactions.” Couldn’t have said it any better myself.
So what is my verdict on this study? I think it’s flat wrong. Many of the libertarians I know on a personal level just don’t fit the mold that is presented here. Maybe they hit the 12,000 most extreme libertarians, or maybe just folks who think they’re libertarians but really aren’t. I don’t know, but I have to believe that
I’m every bit the human that everyone else is. I make mistakes, I laugh, I cry, I get angry, I get sad, and most importantly, I love.