Conservatives Over-Generalize; Liberals Under-Generalize

This is a theory about a general trend.

Liberals tend to be very good at learning specific, detailed bits of information, but bad at big-picture ideas. Conservatives tend to be good at big-picture ideas, but bad at specific details. In other words, liberals are the guys who can’t see the forest for the trees, while conservatives have a habit of referring to all trees as “oaks.”

Or all sodas as Cokes:


Waitress: What would y’all like to drink?
Lady: Oh, I’ll have a Coke.
Waitress: All right, what kind of Coke?
Lady: Diet Pepsi.

When conservatives speak of general trends among people, liberals are prone to protesting that “Not all X are like that.” For liberals, the fact that one guy might be an exception to a general trend is important enough to mention in any discussion. Liberals who want to un-gender pregnancy discussion, because “men can get pregnant, too,” are a perfect example of this. (See my previous post about TERFS.)

This post was inspired by a friend’s complaint that “Trump keeps saying untrue things,” to which I responded that the Hillary also says lots of untrue things. It seems to me that there is a distinct pattern in the kinds of untruths each camp engages in.


If you ask the average conservative to define the races of man, he’d probably tell you: black, white, and Asian. Give him a crayon and a map of the world, and he’d probably produce something like this:

Ask the average liberal to define the races of man, and he’ll tell you that race is a social construct and that there’s more genetic variation within races than between them.

Diagram of Trans-species polymorphisms, from Evo and Proud
Diagram of Trans-species polymorphisms, from Evo and Proud

Both of these statements are basically correct, (but see here) but in different ways. The Conservative misses the within-racial variety (and may draw the racial borders incorrectly, eg, assuming that north Africans or Australians are Black.) And the Liberal misses that race is actually a real thing, and that the issue of genetic between vs. within also holds true for different species (see: species is a social construct,) and yet we still recognize that “dog” is a useful word for describing a real category of things we encounter in the real world.

Conservatives are prone to saying things like, “Blacks commit more crime than whites,” and liberals are prone to responding that the majority of black people aren’t criminals.

nope-the-claim-trump-says-clinton-acid-washed-her-email-4623517I find that it helps a lot in understanding people if I give them the benefit of the doubt and try to understand what they mean, rather than get hung up on the exact words they use.

NBC perhaps went too far down this path when they claimed that Trump had lied for saying Clinton “acid washed” her email server, when in fact she had used an app called BleachBit. Sure, bleach is a weak base, not an acid, but I don’t think Trump was actually trying to discuss chemistry in this case.

When the newsmedia claimed that the Syrian refugees pouring into Germany would be “good for the German economy,” this was obviously false. Yes, some Syrians are exceptionally bright, hardworking, motivated people who will do their best to benefit their new home. But most refugees are traumatized and don’t speak the local language. Few people would argue that the Syrian educational system turns out grads with test scores equal to the German system. It’s one thing to take refugees for pure humanitarian reasons, because you care about them as people. It’s another thing to pretend that refugees are going to make the average German richer. They won’t.

When Trump says there is so much wrong with black communities, so much poverty and violence, he is, broadly speaking, correct. When Hillary says there is so much good in black communities, like black businesses and churches, she is, narrowly speaking, also correct.

Of course, as Conway et al caution [warning PDF]:

Prior research suggests that liberals are more complex than conservatives. However, it may be that liberals are not more complex in general, but rather only more complex on certain topic domains (while conservatives
are more complex in other domains). Four studies (comprised of over 2,500 participants) evaluated this idea. … By making only small adjustments to a popularly used dogmatism scale, results show that liberals can be significantly more dogmatic if a liberal domain is made salient. Studies 2–4 involve the domain specificity of integrative complexity. A large number of open-ended responses from college students (Studies 2 and 3) and candidates in the 2004 Presidential election (Study 4) across an array of topic domains reveals little or no main effect of political ideology on integrative complexity, but rather topic domain by ideology interactions. Liberals are higher in complexity on some topics, but conservatives are higher on others.

12 thoughts on “Conservatives Over-Generalize; Liberals Under-Generalize

  1. I was working up an argument while reading this, but your final link covers most of it. That said, I find that most group distinctions beyond ethnicity are of extremely limited utility. Having grown up amongst the secular Jews, and now having lived amongst the orthodox Jews, it is plain that our conservative/liberal divide is inherently religious. People are people, and the distinctions we draw between us (within ethnic groups) are often arbitrary.


  2. Some time ago Steve Sailor asked the Unz readers what, after the trans bathroom rights, they think will be the next Lib “cause of the day.”

    I began musing the answers and struck me how the MSM and the culture wars tend to focus on the rights/issues affecting a truly MINUSCULE number of people. The SSM itself is desired by a small percentage of an already small group of gays (male and female). How many trans people are there in the US? Why do we have to change ALL the public bathrooms in the States to be inclusive to a truly small group of people?

    So as I scrawled down the commentators’ answers it dawned on me that to answer Sailor’s question we have to focus on a really unique outliers. For that reasons, I reject “polyamory” as the next trend: probably too many people interested, some of which are these not exotic enough/way too numerous Mormons.

    The rise in a number of surprisingly apologetic articles about ped0philes (Salon, even NYT) makes me think that the Libs are testing the waters here for another unique minority: overall, there are not that many people attracted to actual children. Combined with a push for an acceptance of the sex transitioning for 10 years olds (see: National Geographic) I think the trend may be to normalize weird fetishes in both kids and adults. The majority will considered to be boring vanilla normies, but Cosmos of the world will publish articles on how to please your partner who is a furry etc.

    Basically, only issues that are truly rare will be worth boycotting businesses for, because as you stated Libs love to really go granular.


    • I suspect there’s some confirmation bias going on here; I recall seeing various articles about pedophilia over the years. They come and go. Plus, even the most liberal of libs I know aren’t in favor of pedophilia, and I’ve known people who are pro-trans since the mid-90s. Maybe I’m wrong and out of touch, but I just don’t see it.

      The media runs on controversy, and controversy works best when there are a large number of people on both sides willing to double down and argue hard. Dylan Roof didn’t cause nearly the controversy Zimmerman did, because almost everyone in the country agrees that Roof did wrong, but people are split on Zimmerman. It’s much easier to get people arguing about Zimmerman. So to sell papers, you probably want articles that are close to something that 50% of your target audience believes.

      If I were to hazard a guess, it’d be “Islam is actually feminist; burkas are empowering.” After all, sexism is just a creation of white heteropatriarcal colonialism.

      Plus, with a conservative in power, perhaps they’ll start caring about homeless and unemployed people again.


  3. Have you read The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt? Great book. Goes into liberals, conservatives and the evolution of morality.

    To the question many people ask about politics — Why doesn’t the other side listen to reason? — Haidt replies: We were never designed to listen to reason. When you ask people moral questions, time their responses and scan their brains, their answers and brain activation patterns indicate that they reach conclusions quickly and produce reasons later only to justify what they’ve decided. The funniest and most painful illustrations are Haidt’s transcripts of interviews about bizarre scenarios. Is it wrong to have sex with a dead chicken? How about with your sister? Is it O.K. to defecate in a urinal? If your dog dies, why not eat it? Under interrogation, most subjects in psychology experiments agree these things are wrong. But none can explain why.

    The best one is the “have sex with your sister” one because no one could think of a rational answer and could only think intuitively. Now think about that in regards to political psychology, morality and politics as a whole.


    • I’ve read something on evolutionary morality, but I don’t remember the title anymore. Might have been Haidt; might have been something similar.
      I think the fact that moral reasoning isn’t really rational should be a tip-off to us. Not that we shouldn’t try to think rationally about morality, but that we shouldn’t be too trusting of “rational” answers–our instinctive selves may know something that our rational selves can’t figure out, but is nonetheless true.


      • I like it. I don’t think morality is ‘unique’, if it’s a human behavior then it’s an evolved trait (or may be an exaptation). But morality isn’t how we ‘discover truth’.

        Haidt believes Plato was wrong about rationality and that intuition rules. I’ve argued with people who’ve said oh you’re a Marxist; I don’t care what you say your political beliefs are, you’re a Marxist because you believe there’s no objective morality and that it’s an evolved trait.

        Some people can’t separate science from politics.

        I think morality is subjective and not quantifiable.

        And the fact that we go with our gut instinct with ‘moral dilemmas’ shows that we aren’t rational at all. Haidt’s social intuition model is better than the rationalist model.

        If moral reasoning is generally a post hoc construction intended to justify automatic moral intuitions, then our moral life is plagued by two illusions. The first illusion can be called the wag-the-dog illusion: We believe that our own moral judgment (the dog) is driven by our own moral reasoning (the tail). The second illusion can be called the wag-theother-dog’s-tail illusion: In a moral argument, we expect the successful rebuttal of an opponent’s arguments to change the opponent’s mind. Such a belief is like thinking that forcing a dog’s tail to wag by moving it with your hand will make the dog happy.

        Click to access LP_Haidt.pdf

        Liked by 1 person

  4. My theory is that there’s a big-picture explanation behind the impulse to state “not all X are like that”. If a conservative states that “black people commit more crimes than whites”, a liberal responds by pointing out that even if statistically black people commit more crimes, you cannot judge an individual person to be criminal based on the color of his skin (as long as there is at least one black person who doesn’t commit crimes). The big picture idea is the presumption of innocence. If you accept that we should presume innocence and you accept that not all black people are criminals, then you have to presume that any black person you see is innocent of having committed a crime until you see evidence to the contrary.


    • This is where we talk about Baysian statistics, right?
      I think most people recognize the need to balance between generalizing (making useful inferences) and over-generalizing (and are only really resistant to generalizing when the trait in question is negative.)


  5. My university president just fulfilled your hypothesis in his response to Trump’s ban on immigration from several majority Muslim countries. He overemphasizes the contributions of individual Muslim immigrants without considering long-term effects of immigration and/or safety concerns regarding the nature of the Islamic religion in general. His bias bewrays itself however; he himself is a recent immigrant.


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