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Turi: Today we are thrilled to be bringing John back to the on opinion podcast. This is the second time that we’re speaking to him. A reminder, John is the political scientist and the foundations Regents university professor in the department of political science at the university of Nebraska Lincoln. He’s one of the preeminent authorities on the biological and psychological correlates of political ideology. And he’s the. Predisposed liberals, conservatives and the biology of political differences, which is the work on the subject. We’ve brought him here before to talk about, um, the biology of Trump supporters in his excellent book. Um, Secura Tarion’s but we have him back because his work in predisposed is central to our core thesis. The idea that, um, those opinions. Which we most strongly defend and think of most as of our own these things that we build, build our identities around which we go to war over, which ruined Christmas lunches for it. Um, may actually not be so much in the remit of our control. They may not be ours in the sense that they’re rationally us. We may actually be predisposed to some of them. John, it’s a great pleasure to have you back
John Hibbing: happy to be with you Turi,
Turi: John, can we start right at the. Th if, if you say that we have a natural predisposition to our politics, what does predisposition mean to you?
John Hibbing: Well, you actually gave a pretty good start, uh, in your introductory remarks. Uh, I mean, most people clearly want to believe that their political views arise out of their rational observations of society and the information they’ve been exposed to on the basis of that they form sensible political beliefs. So the common tendency is for people to think of political orientations as being very. Uh, rational and malleable, uh, kind of skin deep and also things that are very conscious that people think they know why they have the views they do. And so this sets us up for the contrast, you know, my notion that, that, um, this is not the only part of the story that really we do have, uh, along with this contemporary information, we have these very deep underlying kind of psychological or physiological orientations that push us in one direction or the other. So there are a lot of things. Um, that we, we believe have their basis in influence us that we’re not aware of. That’s really what it amounts to. And so, um, you know, that’s not to say they’re irrational because perhaps whatever form these predispositions made a lot of sense, but that means that we can’t necessarily call them to mind. Um, when asked to do. So it’s a little bit more like a personality trait. When you think about it that, um, you know, we don’t often ask people, why are you an extrovert or an introvert? We kind of have the notion that this is just something that people are now. You can do things to mold that a little. I have a friend who’s an introvert and she reads lots of books about how introverts can survive in society. And she does very well, but you know, her instinct is still that of an introvert. So I, and I think if people would think of politics in that same kind of way that yes, you can mold it a little bit if you want, but it’s, it’s a challenge because we do have these very strong, underlying dispositions that we’re not entirely aware of.
Turi: Is there an argument that there’s a kind of biological determinism to the ways in which you’re then framing.
John Hibbing: Well, I certainly don’t think so. Um, you know, I, I think it’s a very important decision to refer to these things as predispositions rather than pre determinations. So, um, you know, um, it means that the deck is kind of stacked one way or the other, not that anything is predetermined. Um, and you know, we can talk about this later, but some people may find that depressing, but I think it, it, it doesn’t have to be, um, you know, it may be that, uh, the fact that people have these predispositions is, uh, you know, provide some stability. Uh, it makes it frustrating to debate politics with people sometimes, but I think that’s, that’s true. In fact, I think. This orientation that this kind of theme or predispositions helps us to understand why politics is so, uh, so difficult, why, as you say it spoiled so many Christmas Christmas launches.
Turi: So this is the key piece. There’s a difference between determination and D disposition. And I think one of the key things that emerges out of your work and you’re very, you’re constantly repeating is that we must remind ourselves to think in terms of probabilities and tendencies, rather than anything carved in ancient.
John Hibbing: Yes, I would agree entirely.
Turi: So one of the key pieces, one of the most surprising elements I suppose, of your work and let’s use this introvert extrovert example, um, because it’s dualistic, you are either an extrovert or an introvert. One of the things that you say in your work is that, and this is counter-intuitive politics is universal. It’s human nature. That varies. And what this seems to suggest is that. If you can identify predetermined political characteristics in humans, it sort of means that those political characteristics are in a sense natural, that they, those predispositions left and right conservative, progressive, whatever we might call them exist in a sense before human individuals do. And that’s a fascinating idea because I think it’s something that you’ve picked up everywhere. There is this dualistic nature to politics. In pretty much all societies is that right?
John Hibbing: It is. So, yeah, I hope this is where you wanted to go with this portion of the conversation. But I think this ties in with this notion of, of there being some fairly universal bedrock dilemmas of politics. So, uh, in, in here, I always need to be careful because I think one of the more challenging groups for us to persuade, um, of our arguments are those individuals who look at politics. You know, it varies so much from country to country or from time to time, you know, the big issue today might be the withdrawal from Afghanistan yesterday. It may have been. Brexit tomorrow, it may be mass mandates, you know, these things vary. So how can there be any kind of, kind of undergirding universality of politics? So, uh, this is where I like to introduce this notion of bedrock dilemmas. And I think it is useful to think of our hunter gatherer ancestors, you know, or, or any society. What, what is it that’s universal about politics? What kinds of things need to be. I’ll answer my own question to a certain extent. Uh, here are a few things that I think every society needs to do, and that is to figure out how to protect themselves from outsiders, you know, throughout history, uh, archeological record, it was to be believed. One of the more, the most common way we died was in fact at the hands of other human beings, uh, frequently outside or someone who was not in our group, or it could have been somebody who was inside. But is not particularly devoted to the norms of the group, but norm violator. So we need to be protected from outsiders. We need to protect it from, from insiders, who don’t play by the rules. We need to decide how we’re going to, uh, handle new ideas and lifestyles and approach us, you know, not everybody’s going to want to want to do it the same way. We’ve always done it. What about leadership? How is our group going to be. Um, should we have a strong, powerful leader or should we have a council or separation of powers and, uh, one final, one distribution, acquisition, distribution, and redistribution of resources. You know, every group is going to need to decide. So, I guess what I would encourage people to do as they ponder this notion of there possibly being universal elements of politics is to, to think about that. Any issue that we mentioned could be reframed in terms of these bedrock dilemmas. And so I think that’s, and a lot of these maybe cut to the chase. A lot of these can be packaged together in things that do end up being a left-right division. So for example, someone who really is very careful about outsider for ads, who is really worried and wants to. Insider norm violators who wants strong leadership. Who’s not so keen on new ideas or new lifestyles, those kinds of things packaged together on the right and somebody who has those opposite views, who loves to embrace outsiders, uh, and wants to go lightly on people who have violated norms. It not so keen on all powerful leaders and who is open to new life. That’s somebody on the left. So I think that’s that to me is the way you need to look at politics. If you’re going to have any hope of maybe understanding how there could be these fairly undergirding predispositions.
Turi: So if there are universal predispositions, it’s because there are a set of universal concerns in all societies, which essentially split one way or the other, and you have an unstated, but what all of those and therefore on left and right, you would have. Clusters of people who either, uh, who out onto the, to the left of all those five criteria or to the right of all those five criteria and various different degrees. But I think you think of politics a little bit like sexuality, which is that it’s sort of, it’s part of a spectrum across each of those different gradients. And then in those two generalized big buckets of left and right. It’s it is a peculiar question to ask, obviously, the, the politics. Saudi Arabia or the cultural politics of Saudi Arabia, very different from the cultural politics of China or the U S but I find it looking across the channel from the UK, France and Britain have had, have gone hand in hand in terms of political developments that have done throughout their history. And yet the concerns that motivate either sides is so deeply different that it’s, um, we can easily get bamboozled by the specifics of politics, rather than the key as you call them bedrock dilemma. That’s right
John Hibbing: there. There was one time, uh, several years ago I was on a little lecture tour in Denmark, and I remember, um, you know, Danes are very polite. So after one of my talks, somebody pulled me aside and said, you know, I think you’ve really got this all wrong. Uh, the left-right divisions, uh, you know, don’t work in Denmark because every single party in Denmark, even those on the right strongly support, a big social safety net, a lot of, of, uh, assistance. And, uh, fortunately I w I thought on my feet fairly quickly this time, because I say, okay, that’s fine. But what about the issue of whether or not those, uh, social benefits, uh, welfare, if you will, um, it should be extended to, uh, new or recently. And the person said, well, no, of course that’s where the political right. Those parties on the right. They don’t want that at all. Um, and I said, well, okay, now you’re talking. So, you know, I think you’ve really hit a bedrock dilemma. Uh, and that is what do we do? That this is an outsider. And some people have this instinct that outsiders should not be treated quite the same way. Whereas other Danes might say, yeah, you know, those who belong to a left-wing party, uh, sure. We should extend those benefits to a recent arrivals from the mid east or wherever. So, uh, as you say, If you think about it for a little bit, you can tie pretty much every issue back to one of these bedrock dilemmas,
Turi: sidekick. Yeah. But what takes political cultures further or less far down a liberal or conservative? W road, compare Denmark, say to Saudi Arabia to, to go, to get, to, to go absurd. Why is it that there is that there are these political cultures. How is it that you can see a culture like Denmark, which moves pretty down pretty far down the left line across pretty much everything as a core sort of in our overturn window, that the core basis of that political culture is pretty liberal versus another country, which would be much more conservative. What, what happens there? How do we end up with.
John Hibbing: Yeah. And that’s, that may be above my pay grade. That’s like, it’s a great question. I mean, I guess I would encourage you to avoid thinking too much along the lines of economic kinds of things. You know, I think that’s, um, the Marxist notion that then that the left-right spectrum really divides on how we’re going to treat poor people. Um, that’s not an unimportant issue at all, but I think if we’re trying to get out these bedrock dilemmas, you know, that wasn’t something that, that was really a big issue for. Uh, hunter gatherer ancestors. Um, I mean, there was some issues about distributing resources, but for the most part goods were perishable. So, um, you know, people, you know, consume them as pretty much as rapidly as they, as they could there wasn’t, you know, we hadn’t coined currency or even learned to salt meat. So you know, that those kinds of things, weren’t something we had to ponder a lot. There weren’t a lot of issues of taxation. So I guess I, some people have criticized me for this. I, I think if you’re really trying to understand. Uh, the pressures, you really need to think more in group terms ingroups and outgroups, uh, and belongingness and identity. Uh, I think that’s more so sometimes, you know, we conceptualize the Danes being way on the left. Okay. Maybe that’s true in terms of their social safety net, but in terms of attitudes toward outsiders, you know, um, the Danes, many of them have not reacted warmly as their country, uh, receives more and more outsiders. So I think that’s, that’s I guess the issue that I’d like to point you toward, I think. To me what’s happening in the world. And again, sorry if I’m jumping too far ahead here. Um, this, these issues of insiders and outsiders and belongingness identity, they’re all. But every once in a while they become particularly salient. And whenever that happens, I would submit to you that that’s when politics is going to be especially divisive, sorry for the U S example here. But when I think of our history, you know, we had the civil war and certainly that was about who belongs. Did slaves belong as real Americans. Um, and then in the 1960s, even around world war II, Um, you know, we had so many immigrants from Southern Europe, uh, lots of debate about the union movements and the power of workers. So there was kind of insiders versus outsiders, 1960s, uh, unrest on campus. And then today, and I think any time, this, this kind of lurking issue of insiders and outsiders comes to become the most salient issue, then your, your society is gonna be. Would
Turi: you say that’s the, that’s the Oola divide up. If you’ve got these five sort of different criteria by which you’re judged, left and right. That you just went through leadership, appropriation of distribution, of resources, et cetera, that the ingroup outgroup play is the most important
John Hibbing: one. Yes. And what’s interesting is it’s not just about in-groups and out-groups, it’s about attitudes toward ingroups and outgroups, it’s kind of become more, more the ideological division. You know, in the U S the people on the right are more than happy to welcome, uh, uh, blacks and Latinos who share their political views, but it’s this notion of, of how do we treat them so that the, the kind of ethnic divisions, I don’t mean to overstate this, clearly, those are still very serious and problematic, but I think increasingly we see that the division. Uh, that’s the most salient is actually one about ideology rather than skin color.
Turi: That’s fascinating. And doesn’t particularly Birdwell either. Um, okay. Can we, can we come back and I want to, I want to go back into this notion of the predisposition of politics, because you’ve done lots and lots of. Proving it, how can we, in a sense, prove or disprove the fact that we have predispositions to politics. And here I’d like to really ask you a little bit about some of the fascinating experiments you’ve done at a biological level skin, brain amygdala, expressivity.
John Hibbing: All right. Well, you asked for it. So, um, yeah, it’s true. You know, I think if, if you believe this, then you, you really do need to move towards some fairly different research approaches. Um, one of the most popular approaches and in political science, of course, and all of the social sciences would be a survey. So you would ask people. But if what I said earlier is true. You can see some of the problems with that. If people indeed aren’t quite as aware of what’s going on inside them, as they might think they are, then we maybe need to move to approaches that tap what’s going on inside of them without asking them to self-report on that. So indeed, um, we use a lot of psychological paradigms. Um, I’m trying to avoid going into too much detail, but maybe I should on one of them. Can I think that would give you the flavor? Uh, there’s one. I like it’s called the face in the crowd. So I know perhaps it would help if you would just imagine yourself as the research participant here. So we’d bring you into our lab. We put you in front of a computer screen and we would say, look, uh, in a minute, you’re going to see the screen filled with images. It’s going to be the same person with the same expression. It’s got like a bunch of mugshots, uh, except, uh, mud, you know, there might be 32 of these on the screen. One of them has a different. Sometimes called the odd ball expression. So, um, the person may have a smiley face or may have an angry face. Uh, whereas the rest of them are neutral faces. So we put this up and then we ask you to hit the space bar. As soon as you spot that odd Baltics. So maybe the first one that oddball expression is a happy one. Maybe the next one, it’s a different individual altogether, by the way. Uh, but also as a neutral expressions and then it’s an angry expression for the oddball one. It turns out if you look at the results of this, that, uh, people are always quicker to hit that space bar. When the oddball expression is an angry face, this is a fairly universal psychological tendency. You don’t have to think very hard to imagine an evolutionary explanation. It’s nice to know who’s happy and who isn’t, but it doesn’t have quite the immediacy of knowing who’s angry because if somebody is angry with you, they could do you ill. So, so presumably that’s why we do this. Well, what’s interesting is there’s a lot of individual variation though. There definitely is a tendency to spot the angry expression faster that we privilege those angry expressions, but not everyone does so to the same. So we measure that we measure the differential between how quickly someone hit the space bar for the happy face and the angry face over, you know, dozens of trials. And there, we can see some differences between people with political views that correlates with political. Um, conservatives are ha are quicker to spot the, the angry expression relative to the happy than, than people on the left are. So that’s just one example. Uh, and then as you say, uh, we do things like a memory task to see what kinds of images people remember. And there’s a difference between people on the right and people on the left and what they remember. We do indeed do some physiological work where we measure people’s, um, electrodermal or skin conductance response. To, uh, image us. And of course that’s a good indicator of sympathetic nervous response. So whether people are having a, a kind of fight or flight reaction, uh, we also measure their cardiovascular, uh, indicators. Uh, we look at their, uh, involuntary muscle movements in their face. Uh, that’s also a good way of doing that and they’re, there do tend to be some differences between people on the right and people on the left. One of my favorites is an eye tracker. So here again, if you imagine yourself coming into our lab, we say, now there’s gonna be. Uh, a kind of set of images on the screen, not people’s expressions this time, but just some images are favorable. Like somebody’s having a good time on a ski slope, similar unfavorable, like a car wreck or a riot, or on the favorable side of birthday cake, just all kinds of different things. And then the eye tracker allows you to know exactly where on the screen. The person’s eyes are. So we know whether you’re looking at the birthday cake as opposed to the car wreck, uh, and here again, you see some differences on the political spectrum and the kinds of things that people do. Uh, we also use, uh, brain imaging. If MRI, you can present people with images or ask them to do different tasks. Uh, we’ve done it in our lab, but other people have done this as well. Uh, and it turns out that you can spot some differences in brain activation patterns, uh, to take one example in our work, we see, uh, conservatives having special activation part of the brain knows that no one has the anterior singular cortex, which is kind of involved with. Um, situations that are unexpected and maybe bothersome, uh, whereas liberals people in the left, sorry, have a little bit more reaction to, uh, in their interior. Sorry, in there. So not a sensory too, which is sometimes the empathetic part of their brain. So if you, if I would step on. A rusty nail. I would have activation my smatter sensory too, but I would see a video of you stepping on one. I would have that as well. And people on the left have a little bit more activation there. So bottom line, sorry for the long answer is that there are a lot of techniques that you can use that I get at what’s going on inside of people quite apart from how they answer a survey item. And
Turi: just to tease out the key. Things that you’re discovering with these electronic conductivity of the skin, et cetera. Um, you’ve touched on a couple of here. One is that progressive liberals tend to be more empathic. They tend to engage more, more, be more interested in other people, and that conservatives tend to dwell more on, on threat. What are the other things which emerge. The research here in terms of deep, natural tendencies, which you can see correlate to political
John Hibbing: preference, or maybe this is the place. Point out that that thinking has evolved a little bit on this. Um, and, um, the physiological research that I mentioned to you, uh, with the skin conductance and things like that, uh, people have tried to replicate that and it’s replicated once, but several times it did not replicate. So I think that’s, that’s something we need to recognize in, uh, You know, I think it’s important not to be defensive about this because I think, I think we may have had it wrong at first. This notion that conservatives are, um, more reactive to any kind of negative situation I think was not correct. Uh, even though I have made that argument, uh, years ago, Um, but I, I take some of those failures to replicate seriously. And I think what we see now, these skin conductance measures, they actually can go down if you are really concentrating on something. So I think we might want to differentiate between a straight up fear reaction where you just say, oh my God, you know, there’s a bear on the room. What am I going to do? As opposed to really paying attention to these negative situations. And the more I study this morning, That, that latter description is more applicable to people on the right. They’re not fearful there, but they do think it’s their job to pay attention to these threats, to take them seriously. Um, and you know, they’re not running around like a chicken with their head cut off, but they’re taking them seriously. I also think the nature of the threats need to be a little bit more specified. I really think that a lot of the focus. For things that concern people on the right are these outsider, uh, and other human being threats. I think we see this with COVID. Um, you know, this is not an outsider human being as a threat. It is just, it’s something that we can’t see. So whether it’s environmental degradation or, or, uh, an RNA virus, you know, I think that doesn’t necessarily do it, but I think it’s more outside of threats. This is why in the U S at least a lot of the debate on the right has been not the dangers of COVID, but that it came from. You know, there again, we’re back to that outsider thing, which for a lot of people on the left, that’s irrelevant where it came from. Let’s let’s fix the darn thing so that I think needs to be introduced here that, uh, uh, I, I think maybe this blanket assertion that conservatives are just scared of everything needs to be replaced by a notion that, that they’re not necessarily scared. They’re more attentive to threats. W people on the left don’t appreciate. And those threats maybe are a little bit more narrowly centered on, uh, on outsider threats.
Turi: That makes sense. Thank you. Can I throw into the mix, this possibly absurd notion that there is such a thing as a liberal Jean, just as a way of getting you to talk a little bit about the genetic predispositions or the associations between genetics and politics. So. I can’t remember the scientists’ names. What are we going to find a gene, which they called Dr. D Ford and they, that, which they thought was a, was a, was a signal of liberalism. Can we just, can we unpack that and then maybe, can I ask you, um, to talk about the much more important work on genetics and politics specifically linked to twins?
John Hibbing: Yes, we should make sure we touch on that before we, uh, we end this conversation. Um, I do think part of these predispositions can be traced to genetics and that’s, that’s a controversial assertion, especially in the social sciences where people have tended not to emphasize those kinds of things. So one of the easiest ways to test this is to look at twins. There are two different types of twins dies. I got it. Twins, which, uh, that’s where you have one sperm that fertilizes one egg, a second sperm fertilize, a second egg, and you basically have two pregnancies that occur at the same time. So those twins really are no more genetically similar than regular sibling. Full siblings models. I got it. Twins. However, uh, that’s where you have one sperm cell that fertilizes one egg, that’s a single zygote for a period of time, maybe a week, maybe 10 days. And then for reasons that are not still fully understood, actually a 20 event occurs and that zygote splits. What, since that was one zygote at one time. Um, that’s the only time you have life created really by, by my tonic cell division, rather than my audit. Um, so they’re close to a hundred percent the same genetically. So the common approach with twin studies is to take a trait. Let’s take height. And, uh, if that trade is genetically based, then it is almost certainly going to be the case that monozygotic twins are more similar in height than dyes. I got it. I think you can see the logic to that. So this has been done for all kinds of things or personality traits, and then we’ve done it in politics. Other people have as well. The answer to the question, which I assume most people have in their minds right now is that it looks like if you believe twins studies and not everyone does that, approximately a third of variation across people in political orientation can be traced to Janine. So I think it’s important that we keep that in perspective. Some people fly off the handle when they hear that. But to me, I say, well, okay, if one-third, uh, it appears to be heritable, that means two thirds is not. So it’s not like we’re saying that there’s nothing, no role for the environment. We’re just saying, look, let’s, let’s have a sense of perspective about this. And let’s recognize that the environment is not every. So we’ve
Turi: got our politics in a sense in the same bracket as our preferences or our personalities and the massive differences between across personalities. We’ve got some very strong suggestion that in fact, there is a genetic basis to our politics. So it leads to our predisposition to politics, perhaps the most interesting. To my mind about the area of predisposition to politics, which you touch on is not just that we encounter the world in different ways, but that we, we see it in different ways. We approach it in different ways and we learn about it in different ways as well. There is a fundamental difference in perception between a. And a conservative and that, that whether it’s nature or nurture those things in a sense combined I’ve, I’ve expressed that, uh, appallingly badly. But I think what I want to ask you. In this debate around one’s political nature or the context in which one expresses it, there is a sort of feedback loop, which kicks in which, um, on one level obviates the question of nature and nature and nurture. But another level makes it more complicated because those two things mesh together. So well, I ask you to touch on this in a way which may not confuse. Our listeners in the way that I just did. I don’t
John Hibbing: think, I don’t think he did confuse your listeners. I think you said it quite well. Um, yeah, it’s certainly true. There was a definite feedback loop here and, um, you know, the, I think the problem is that again, to take a us example, you know, we’ve got these cable news outlets and there’s something like Fox news, a darling of the right. Uh, so many people say, if we could just get these people on the right to stop watching those particular news out, Then somehow things would change. And my message consistent with what you just said is that that’s probably not true. In fact, they’re attracted to those outlets in the first place because of these orientations and that’s what we really need to understand. And once they start watching that, certainly that feedback loop kicks in. And once they spend all their time around certain kinds of people, uh, that only, uh, only fortifies their existing beliefs. But I do think by focusing exclusively on say social. Um, um, or on the kind of sorting that we have in society today. I mean, that’s a terrible problem to, to just get the same message that you always get and that you want to hear motivated reasoning, we call it, um, That doesn’t negate the fact that we need to understand why we had those attractions in the first place. And so I think by ignoring that where we’re ignoring a really important part of the story, and I like the way you put it, that people really do have very different views of the world, different orientations to the world. And that’s extremely difficult to change. And, um, you know, I don’t know if you’ve ever had the experience. Getting in a deep political discussion with someone who disagrees fundamentally with your political beliefs, I suspect you have. Um, and I hope most of your listeners have, but you know, when that happens, I think it’s really hard to deny that there is some truth in what we’re saying, because some of these people are just not persuadable, uh, regardless of how, uh, compelling we think our arguments might be are all the facts that we must. Um, it’s just not going to do the job. You mentioned my more recent work on Trump supporters. And one of the things that I, I keep remembering is that a lot of Trump’s supporters say that they, uh, don’t like immigrants. Um, and some of them say they’re threatened by immigrants and we need to pay more attention to them. But even those who don’t, there are a lot of them who say that I shouldn’t say a lot 25% say that they’re not threatened by immigrants. Uh, and they even say that immigrants make the country better, but they also say we don’t want any more immigrants. So I think we need to bear that in mind. That is just a different view of the world. It’s not, it’s not just threat. It’s just, here’s my view of society. And it really is that this insider core, you know, whatever the, if it’s Christianity or, or being white or, you know, speaking English or whatever it might be, what, what makes us the kind of central component of society, they want to preserve that. And they feel that there are all these centrifical forces pulling it apart. And then on the other side, you have, people are just the opposite. You think, boy, you know, let’s bring in this diversity, this is what, what the world is all about and we need to embrace these individuals. So, so you’re right. I think there was a very fundamental difference in how they perceive the world and how they perceive really adjust in good and proper society. So
Turi: liberals and conservatives have. Deep natural in a sense differences, they focus on different things, threat perceptions, for example, or attentiveness to threat as you described it. Um, they see the current reality differently as well. So work you’ve done. So in that, um, the same piece of information will be under. Sincerely by somebody on the left, on the right as expressive of something, a very different thing. They process that information that they have picked up in different ways as well. And then of course they, they will learn what to do and take decisions on the basis of that differently as well. So you can see that we actually do live in very different structural realities. And I think perhaps that does talk to some of the. Tremendous clashes that all of us have felt. We feel like we’re bashing our head against a brick wall. There is a brick wall between left and right on many issues because they cannot see the perspective from which they’re looking.
John Hibbing: That’s a great summation and yeah, I guess, you know, to continue to move ahead a little bit, I guess one of my pitches would be quit banging your head against a brick wall. Um, that doesn’t mean you should quit talking about politics because there are some people who are definitely persuaded. You know, not everyone has dispositions. Um, there are people in the middle authentically in the middle. Um, there may be people on the left and on the right that just don’t quite have the same intensity. But, uh, I think it’s pretty easy to spot those who do, and if they do, because of the reasons you just mentioned, I just can’t see any benefit to be gained from. In fact, there’s only frustration. You think my God, they’re not listening to me or they’re not paying attention. They’re not incorporating this. And in a way that’s true because that information is so orthogonal to their view of the world that they just can’t do it. And so in that sense, you know? Yeah. Um, whether it sounds defeatist or not, I don’t know. But I think when, when someone just is hell bent on the other side of the political spectrum from. Uh, don’t, don’t frustrate yourself by trying to persuade them. I want to get onto this
Turi: and I want to get onto the, some of the political ramifications of the work that you’ve done. But before we do that, um, in your work, on the predisposition of politics, you’ve also identified that there are all sorts of fascinating correlations with things which feel absolutely. Not political in any kind of way. Um, can I ask you to run through some of those just cause there’ll be fascinating to talk to our listeners around, I mean, everything to do with our taste in food, our interest in art, the kind of fiction that we like, the kind of jokes that we find funny, even the kind of stocks and shares that we invest in. Can I ask to share some of that work? Because it reinforces the point that, um, if men are from Mars and women are from Venus. There’s something possible, possible to be said for conservatives and liberals in that dichotomy as well?
John Hibbing: Um, no, I I’d be happy to. And before I do one of the interesting things there is, I, I sometimes do this with my students, but I, so I say, what about something like tasting food? Um, you know, one question we ask, uh, when we do conduct surveys is if you had a choice between. Um, your favorite dish of all time or a dish that’s new and exciting. You’ve never had before. Uh, but that sounds really intriguing, which would be. And then we’ll go to, um, you know, tasting art, um, you know, you have realism Grantwood or, uh, do you think people would like, uh, something that’s more abstract anyway? Or what about novels? Do you like a novel that ends with a clear resolution or maybe one where you get to the last page and you say, oh, you know what exactly happened there? What’s, you know, I’m not quite sure what the resolution was. Uh, or poetry that rhymes, uh, as opposed to poetry that doesn’t, and then anyway, I’ll, I’ll ask the students. So which do you think liberals or conservatives people on the left people on the right would prefer and they always get it exactly right. You know, I think there is an intuition here, um, that is also important, but, uh, of course the punchline is that. Uh, indeed prefer their favorite dish. Um, they don’t want something new and exciting. Um, they prefer poetry that rhymes dammit, and they prefer novels that come to a clear resolution. You get the idea, there’s a consistency and a sturdiness there. That’s very important. Um, more important to people on the right than people on the left who are more willing to try new things. We know from personality studies that, uh, uh, people on the left tend to be more open to new experiences and people on the right tend to be more conscientious. Um, so for example, some of the survey items, there would be things like, uh, is it okay? For you to leave your office in kind of a mess when you go home from work or do you need to kind of tidy up before you go home and you like to have the same breakfast cereal each morning, or, you know, whatever you get the idea. And, uh, so th th this is not a bunch of academics who are imposing their opinion. On people. These are individuals on the left and on the right who themselves are saying, here’s how I conduct my life. This is how we conclude that. Indeed conservatives do tend to be a little bit more conscientious. So, um, you asked her a few other examples. Um, it’s not just, do you prefer a favorite dish, but taste in, uh, in food, like spicy food or even things like, uh, liking broccoli, you see differences there. What kind of pets do you like? Um, it turns out that conservatives are more likely to, uh, favor purebred breeds of dogs. Let’s say, uh, whereas people on the left are more likely to maybe go with, um, a mixed breed dog. So by the way, not all this was our research. There’s other people. In fact, one of the fun things about doing research in this area is that sometimes people will call. And that’s what happened with the dog study, by the way, somebody said, Hey, what about this? Does this fit? And I say, oh, I love you. You know, it fits perfectly. So you start thinking all these, these kinds of things, uh, you know, tasting leisure pursuits. Do you like to watch, uh, cars drive around in a circle or do you prefer a women’s football, soccer, whatever. Uh, so anyway, did there all kinds of differences in the way we conduct our lives? Uh, which I think helped us to see politics, not just as some kind of one-off, uh, higher order process. Uh, that’s, that’s very idiosyncratic as really a part and parcel of who we are as individuals
Turi: that’s beautifully put. So. Some of the ramifications of this work, as you said earlier. Um, if, um, if there are planetary metaphors to be used here, Mars and Venus or Jupiter and Saturn or whatever it might be. Um, and that frankly, if you meet somebody of the opposite team, we do have to take stock and realize that we are never going to bring them over to our own side because they are predisposed to not some very deep level. What does that mean for the way we conduct our politics? One, um, Yeah, maybe before I ask you what it means for the way we conduct our politics. Let me ask you why in the evolutionary story of humankind, why we might’ve ended up within this situation of sort of profound dualism across the criteria that you first flagged, um, and where we are today.
John Hibbing: Well, no, that I have a particularly good answer for that, but I’ll give it a try. I mean, I think, and I have to be careful here because I think people could take this wrong. But I do think from an evolutionary perspective, there probably is not an advantage of one ideology as opposed to the. In other words, you remember trying to think like an evolutionary psychologist, what there’d be, what’s going to allow me to survive and to reproduce feels that’s going to allow those genes to move on, uh, and influence the next generation. So, um, regardless of how much today, we might think that our view is. Much superior to the other view and thinking of it in those terms, you know, is, is it really going to be advantageous for me to be open to outsiders? You know, it was a dangerous world for our a hundred gatherer ancestors. So probably being careful about who you are. You know, made yourself vulnerable to what’s a good idea. Maybe you did need to be firm with people who in your group broke the rules. Maybe you needed to banish them from the group. Uh, so the point is, I think you can see that in our evolutionary past, there would be an advantage to having what we take today as to have the more conservative attitudes about outsiders and threats, and maybe that meant having a strong leader, um, and, and being cautious about new approaches to the. On the other hand, I think we all can see that there would be some clear advantages to being more open, to new things, to try. Let’s try something new. Um, you know, um, innovation is good. Um, outsiders bring in new ideas. They bring in genetic diversity. It probably opened up the opportunities for trade with different groups. All those things are good. They’re beneficial. So, uh, I guess the best I can do and kind of explaining why we have this duality is that. You know, there historically there have been benefits to each way. And I think, you know why that didn’t result in maybe a single human being who is kind of capable of incorporating both of those things. I’m not sure. Um, that would, would be ideal, although maybe that’s, that’s too much to ask for, but, uh, I think instead we’re left. Evolutionary psychologists like to think in terms of, of group selection rather than individual selection and maybe, uh, as bothersome as this might be for a lot of us, there could be an advantage to having a little bit of a mix of this. Maybe if we just had a whole bunch of lefties in a society, uh, or a whole bunch of righties in another society, those would actually be inferior to, uh, to societies that had them next. That’s just speculation on my part. That’s part of the problem with evolutionary psychology. It is mostly speculation, but I do think. Thinking of it in those terms, does at least help help us to kind of flesh out some of the possible
Turi: that’s fascinating. Yeah. So, um, that at some level, as a group, we have evolved to combine. Individuals on the conservative side and individuals on the liberal side, because that’s best for society. Otherwise you’d end up with one society, which is constantly going to war with all foreigners and would eventually end up with, you know, eating just one vegetable, um, versus another society, which would be, um, spectacular at trade. But we wiped up. As soon as they met a conservative society, they wouldn’t have defended themselves. So this combination is sort of, is. It makes intuitive sense on some level with, as you say, the big provisor question, which is why can’t we embody these two tendencies inside ourselves, uh, rather than having to outsource them to various different members of the, of the. Exactly. There are a couple of different versions of the evolutionary psychology of, of left and right here. And I want to open them up just because they’re politically tricky. Um, one says that hunter-gatherer societies were deeply Galatarian, um, and, and in fact, uh, they sit in a sense. That liberal approach was the primitive version. And it was only when we started settling down, um, and building agrarian societies that we needed to embrace a form of conservatism, uh, protection from the outside, because we were much more. Vulnerable having settled than we were when we were hunter gatherers, suggesting that we move from, you know, some backwards and primitive liberalism towards a more sophisticated conservatism. There’s another line of thought, which says that, um, uh, as you were sort of suggesting. Early man. And woman was in a pretty vulnerable place. They needed strong leaders, um, and a very healthy fear of the outsider, um, to survive. And it’s only now today in a much more cooperative world where we have norms and values and international law, um, that allows for liberalism to properly express itself. There’s a sort of political teleology, which has played out on either ones of the, either one of these narratives that ends up with a, an argument that, um, Liberals were the primitives and actually the way society works requires conservatism. And another, which says that while society in the past was needed to be conservative because it was so dangerous, conservatism is no longer really, um, up to date, it’s sort of an anachronism, like a, like an, almost an evolutionary hangover for a world, which actually is considerably more co-operative. How, how, how do you deal with these stories?
John Hibbing: Yeah. Um, first of all, I, I, yeah, I would avoid, um, uh, kind of a conclusion that somehow. Evolutionary progression, uh, toward one type of ideology or the other, uh, instead. And you’re right. I probably misspoke before when I implied that, uh, a hunter gatherer past or a hunter gatherer ancestors really were, were very eager for a very powerful leader. Um, I think it was a dangerous world. I think they were careful about outsiders, but most of the anthropological research suggests that they were amazingly egalitarian. Uh, so I think that the better way of. From my money is this. You can get in trouble in a couple of different ways as a group, as a band. Uh, one is for outsiders to threaten you, but there also is a danger for insiders to become so powerful that they are a threat. Uh, in fact, one of the things I used to belong to an anthropological reading group, and I remember, you know, those of us who were outsiders would mention a particular trait. Uh, and say, well, maybe that’s universal. And they would say, oh no, you know, the younger model don’t do that. Or the, uh, some other, uh, hunter gatherer. Uh, but then somebody, we were talking about this notion of, of a big man behavior, where somebody in the group, somebody in the band starts to think that they’re pretty important. Uh, maybe they are really good hunters and bring home a lot of. And I thought it was interesting that all the anthropologists, none of them said, well, no, that doesn’t happen here. So the point is I think this anti a big man behavior, this aversion to having a powerful insider, uh, is really something that needs to be reckoned with as well. So I think now the way I’d like to see it is we have to figure out where does the biggest threat come from? Is it that, uh, alpha male Chimp, that’s going to just dominate all the reproductive opportunities and. Uh, damage perhaps kill any challenges. I mean, that’s a threat from the inside or is it outsider, some other band of chimps that are gonna come and get us. So I think, I think the fact that we do, we are our history as a species has had to face both of those threats, leaves us with a dilemma. And therefore, I think you do have some people who want to say we’re willing to take a chance. We want this strong, powerful. Uh, to, to keep us safe from outsiders, even though we recognize that insider could take advantage of his or her almost certainly his, uh, position, whereas people, some people take the opposite view. Um, for some reason that’s always comes to my mind. Um, uh, Elizabeth Warren, a Senator from Massachusetts ran for president a couple of times. She gave a powerful speech in New York. And, um, she painted a picture. I was so negative about powerful corporations and political insiders that it just struck me that this is kind of like the anti-Trump. Whereas Trump is saying, oh no, we’ve got these terrible people from Mexico. We’re trying to get here, come through Mexico from, from central America. And we have to do something about that. Um, and I just think that’s, that’s the balance there. That’s the conflict you have, uh, for war on the real threat is these powerful insights. Who have a stranglehold on things and are not treating the people who are down and out properly. And for somebody else, the threat is really these outsiders and we need to sacrifice. Um, some freedom we need, we need to give power to insiders in order to protect.
Turi: And the ideal society is, um, is evolutionary. At least the one that we’ve come up with, which would suggest that there’s some element of ideal to it is one in which there is a trade off between those two different concerns or those could different concerns can oscillate depending on the political situation that we find ourselves in.
John Hibbing: That’s right. We’ve really been quite creative. When you think about it. And trying to have it both ways, uh, in the U S we’ve got James Madison who said, yes, we’re going to have some, a powerful government, but we’re going to divide that government up. So many ways that we’re going to avoid that big man behavior. That was the theory. At least that we’re going to be able to stop, uh, stop any one individual or very small group of individuals from acquiring too much power. So I think we’re aware of this at one level and we’ve tried to stop it. It’s just a pretty, devilishly difficult thing to do. Okay.
Turi: Well, on the back of that, let me ask you finally, um, Policy recommendations. Would you have on the basis of the work that you’ve done, which demonstrates these deep predispositions, at least amongst certain large groups of the population, not everybody, as you say, there’s some percentage of the population anywhere, which is most wearable, which will listen to both sides, which is not quite so predetermined to hide the hard left or hard. Right. But, um, but given that we do have these very, very strong, natural tendency. What would your, what are your political recommendations? Does a two party system makes sense. Should we have multiple party systems should, but what should we be more proportional in our representation? Should we, should we have citizen assemblies? How would you in the teeth of what I think all of us widely see as rampant, polarization across Western democracies. Would your policy recommendations be, how do we deal with, and how do we take advantage of this, these political predispositions?
John Hibbing: Well, I’m not a big believer in a two-party system, but I do think multi-party systems are probably not the answer. Um, you know, there’ve been a lot of work done in blatantly multi-party system. Like Italy. Um, and they pretty much do end up lining up along. I kind of left high spectrum, even though they have different, I don’t know, different positions on how extreme they are. So I think, I think you’re probably not going to be able to solve the problem just by having a multi-party system. It would be wonderful if we focused on issues that did not cut to this core of insider outsider, identity, belonging, as kinds of things. You know, because as I said before, I think this is when politics is not quite as divisive. Um, so, you know, in the U S right now, there’s a lot of talk about infrastructure and we do see to a certain extent that there is some cross cutting cleavage on something like that. Um, so I guess I wish we would spend more time focusing on issues that maybe don’t immediately get. People’s kind of hackles up in terms of this, what I see as the bedrock, uh, divide between people on the left and people on the right. Um, you know, I guess. I don’t think there are really an, a solutions. Uh, but I do think there are ways of maybe mitigating. Uh, I think I wish we’d understand each other better. And that was kind of, that’s part of what I tried to do. Uh, when I wrote that book on Trump supporters, a lot of Trump’s supporters were angry with me. They said, you know, by simply engaging in that task, you’re somehow indicating that they’re flawed or, or they’re in need of explanation in a way that other people. Well, that’s not really my pitch. I think we’re all in need of explanation. You know, I think that we have this, uh, these fascinating differences, uh, even though it may be kind of one dimension, we have different positions on that dimension. And I would like to understand everybody. I think if we understood each other better, Uh, then we could talk to each other better if we really understood what was motivating people. Um, the right let’s say, um, then I think we might be able to make a little bit of progress. It’s not going to solve the problem, but I think this is probably the best we can do. There was a well-known study done about, um, environmental problems and, uh, catastrophes. And that the pitch was that they didn’t experiment with. Uh, talk to conservatives about this and painted it in terms of, uh, dangers and threats to the stability of society. And that actually made some headway in persuading them to take the environmental problem seriously, in a way that if you just say, look, you’ve got a moral obligate. To take care of the environment that doesn’t work at all. And so I think, I think if you try to get inside their heads a little bit, um, you know, this might at least allow us to communicate better than we do now. And the same in reverse, if people on the right, you know, right now they look up people on the left and they just say, well, they’re traders and they don’t really care about their country. Um, you know, I think that’s not true. And I think if they spent more time understanding each other, rather than thinking that the effort to understand is somehow flawed, we shouldn’t be doing that because it’s unfair to somebody. I think this is exactly what we need to do. Uh, and if we did that, you know, maybe we’d be a little bit more tolerant if you think of things like, um, You know, uh, attitudes toward gays. Um, it’s not really the, those people who think that your sexual orientation is, uh, environmental. They tend to be the ones who are less tolerant. You know, we just need to send you to a bootcamp to get that, uh, you know, reorient, you, reeducate you to get the gayness out of you. You know, that’s, that’s a dangerous attitude, more so than saying, well, we think there’s a biological basis. I think there could be something with regard to politics as well. You know, if you recognize that your opponent, uh, is, is just like that, uh, you know, maybe the problem here is we don’t want to be tolerant when it comes to politics, but I think that. Tend to make you a little bit more tolerant, you say, oh, but for the grace of God, go, I, you know, I’ve got these attitudes, uh, because of the way I was conceived and brought up and they have something completely different. So I guess, you know, I don’t pretend to have any solutions here, but I do think greater understanding and greater recognition of the depth of these things could actually be an advantage. Those people who are environmental determinants, I think those are the ones you really have to watch out for, you know, a mile a thought. If we just move people out of that, Uh, the cities and took them into the countryside that everything was going to be fine. Well, 20 million people starved as a result. So, uh, you know, that notion that we just need to shift the environment, uh, and everything will be fine, I think is really the dangerous one. I’ve worked with a lot of geneticists and I’ve never met one who thinks that, that, uh, genetics determines things. I mean, genes are just chemicals. If you put them in a test tube, they would just sit there until there was some kind of environmental stimulus geneticists realize that. So I’ve never been a biological determinants or genetic determinants. I have met lots of environmental. And so I think we need to worry about that as well. That’s not a healthy attitude. I think we need to have a sense of perspective about this,
Turi: John, what a fabulous place to, and, um, thank you so much for walking us through this very complex and fascinating, um, topic, which as you say, if, if we get it right, we may become a little bit more tolerant of the existence of the other side and learn that without them, the societies that we build would be considerably more for.
John Hibbing: I think so. Yeah. Sorry. I think I got up on my soap box a little bit toward the end, but, uh, yeah, so you had a very good summation right there.