Conservatives and Liberals Assume Everyone Else is Like Themselves

Conservatives are well-known for their “pull yourself up by your bootlaces” ideology, and liberals have made whole careers out of claiming that conservatives are hypocrites who got a hand up  in their own lives, but want to deny that same help to everyone else. Conservatives, of course, claim that they got where they did by dint of sheer hard work and willpower.

So which is it? Are conservatives jut liars who want to keep all of the goodies for themselves? Or do they practice what they preach? And what about liberals? How hard are they trying to get ahead?

A recent article in the LA Times describes a study on willpower/self control:

“In a series of three studies with more than 300 participants, the authors found that people who identify as conservative perform better on tests of self-control than those who identify as liberal regardless of race, socioeconomic status and gender.”

What about age? (I suppose we can assume they probably controlled for age.)

They tested self control by asking volunteers to take the Stroop Test (reading words like “red” and “blue” printed in ink that’s a different color.) Accurately reading the cards without saying the color of the ink requires self-control and impulse-suppression, and conservatives tended to do better on the test than liberals.

They also found that conservatives are better at dieting.

In other words, people who themselves have a lot of self-control expect everyone else to have just as much self-control as they have.

In general, I find that people tend to assume that everyone else works the same way they do–for example, that criminals “know right from wrong,” in the same way as non-criminals, but for some reason chose to commit crimes.

Likewise, it appears that people who don’t have a lot of willpower assume that everyone else also doesn’t have a lot of willpower–and that conservatives are therefore lying when they say they hauled themselves up via bootstraps. (It must be some other, magical force at play.)

I am reminded here of a conversation I had with a liberal acquaintance over the Mike Brown case. (I feel compelled to note, here, that I don’t talk to this person anymore because I decided they have very bad judgment in the company they keep. That was a tough decision, because they did provide an interesting window into dysfunction.)

Anyway, it occurred to me as we were speaking that this person’s position on the case was shaped largely by their ability to imagine themselves in Mike Brown’s shoes: they had done a bit of “harmless shoplifting” as a teenager, and certainly didn’t see themselves as someone who ought to be shot, by the police or otherwise.

This person is, in many ways, mildly criminal. They get in fights, smoke pot, and probably j-walk. Their relationships start fast and end in flames. (In their defense, they’re basically a nice person who cares about others; I hope they’re having a happy life.) They aren’t someone who deserves to have their life destroyed by imprisonment, but they are a little bit criminal.

Looking at my own perspective, I’ve never shoplifted–as a kid, if a vending machine gave me too much change, I returned it to the store. I tend to be overly rule-oriented–which explains why I harp so much on society’s lies. Lying bothers me.

At any rate, this mild criminality clearly affected my acquaintance’s opinion on the proper police response to crime; had they been a person who couldn’t imagine themselves stealing cigarettes (or cigars, or whatever,) they would not have identified so strongly with the situation.


I feel like this post comes down a little hard on liberals; in the interest of fairness, I feel compelled to note that these are all basically biological traits that people don’t have a ton of control over, and there are plenty of people in this world who have something good to contribute even though they have the self-control of a golden retriever in a room full of squeaky toys.

Theory: Americans are fat because we don’t eat enough

I’ve long had a theory that dieting makes people gain weight. Just think about it for a second: at the very least, the correlation is tremendous.

Lots of studies have shown that diets are pretty useless–people tend, on average, to lose little to no weight on them. The whole diet industry, from diet sodas to lite beer to Weight Watchers, is, of course, basically a fraud.

The reasons are probably simple: One, humans have evolved no mechanisms to resist eating whenever possible. Your ancestors are people who ate when they could, not people who were indifferent to food, especially not tasty food*. And two, we live in a society with abundant, cheap, delicious food. Chances are good you’ve never even lived through a famine, much less had to go without for significant periods every few years of your life.

*Or have we?

I have watched people try to diet (mostly relatives.) The process goes something like this:

1. Relative declares, “I am going to lose weight for sure this time!”
2. Eats meager breakfast of oatmeal and apples.
3. Eats more apples for snack.
4. Comes over to my house, devours all my chips.
5. Weight-loss fails.

(A lot of people claim that you are supposed to feel “full” using various diet methods, but I’ve watched this happen enough times to enough different people to suspect that it’s a pretty common scenario.)

So tonight I was getting a bowl of icecream for a sick kiddo. Normally when getting icecream, I sneak a bite at the end. I can’t eat a full bowl of icecream, because hypoglycemia, but the taste is very tempting. But tonight, I looked at the icecream, and said, “No, I don’t want icecream.” What the hell was wrong with me? I’d just eaten a bowl of beans + cheese. I was full.

I suspect that our willpower, our ability to resist the kinds of foods that we can basically all agree aren’t really great to be eating, goes completely down the drain when we are hungry. And people are most likely to be hungry when they are dieting. So if you eat nothing but apples for breakfast, then somewhere along the way, you’re likely to eat nothing but cookies for dinner. But a solid breakfast of eggs, toast, and even a little bacon will probably leave you feeling full and happy, rendering temptation less, well, tempting.