This is from Sean Last’s “Liberalism and Low Self-Esteem” (Truth Is Justice, March 10, 2016):
[S]tudies show that liberals have low self esteem and that causing low self esteem causes people to be more liberal. Research also shows that liberals have unrealistically negative views of the morals of conservatives and unrealistically positive views of the morals of liberals. And polling shows that liberals are far more likely to break social ties with people over politics. They are moral crusaders. The fact that liberals want everyone to know that they are liberal, that they seem to purposefully pick offensive views, their debate style, and the fact that being morally superior normally feels pretty good, suggests to me that the moral crusading and the low self esteem are connected. Liberals are liberal so that they can say that society sucks, so that they can say that they are better than everyone else, so that they can feel a little less shitty about themselves.
That’s the final paragraph of Last’s post. He supplies ample evidence for his conclusions.
I was led to Last’s post by John Ray’s “Liberalism and Low Self-Esteem” (Dissecting Leftism, April 17, 2017). Ray’s introductory notes include these observations:
I actually think that the needy egos have hopped onto a train that had already been got rolling by others: The haters. As the huge demonstrations against Trump show, Leftists are huge haters. And their hate is primarily directed at the society in which they live. They want to destroy it, in the delusion that they can create a better society. So anybody who wants to make America great is anathema to them.
A better society can indeed be created. From the industrial revolution on, society has become richer and kinder and more capable of improving human lives. But none of that was done by Leftist policies of expropriation and destruction. It was done by the steady accumulation of human wisdom and ingenuity that a capitalist society enabled and produced. Other societies did well only insofar as they copied capitalist societies.
So the hatred that Leftists have for the society in which they live is at best impatient and at worst blind….
[T]he most obvious source for a personality that is full of hate from birth onwards is psychopathy…. I go into details here
To summarize briefly, Psychopaths love only themselves and hate anyone who does not take them at their own high valuation of themselves and have no real morality or ethics whatsoever. They are masters of “faking good” — of saying things that they think will make them look and sound good regardless of any truth in it. They lie at the drop of a hat. So they are very shallow thinkers. Only the here and now exists to them. I think that is a pretty good description of most prominent Leftists. Getting principles or even consistency out of a Leftist is a mug’s game. They will say one thing one day and something else the next day. He/she will say anything that makes him/her look good on the given occasion. Obama’s 180 degree turn on homosexual marriage is a good example of that. Or Bill Clinton’s claim that Hillary was named after Sir Edmund, the Everest hero.
So that is where the needful ego guy comes in. He is not necessarily fully psychopathic but he shares the psychopath’s need for praise and ego boosting. He jumps onto the psychopathic train being run by prominent Leftists. I set out here the reasons why the Clintons, Barack Obama and John Kerry are clear cases of psychopathy.
All of this rings true to me. The staunch leftists of my acquaintance are hate-filled beings for whom “doing good” means using the the state to fulfill their power-lust.
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
Utilitarianism and Psychopathy
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Are You in the Bubble?
The Culture War
The Criminality and Psychopathy of Statism
Ruminations on the Left in America
The Euphemism Conquers All
Defending the Offensive
A Dose of Reality
The Pathological Urge to Regulate
Non-Judgmentalism as Leftist Condescension
An Addendum to (Asymmetrical) Ideological Warfare
Khizr Khan’s Muddled Logic
The Left and Violence
Four Kinds of “Liberals”
Beating Religion with the Wrong End of the Stick
9 thoughts on “Psychological Insights into Leftism”
I am sure this essay captures some essential truths about some leftists and some liberals. But there are, in my personal acquaintance, both leftists and liberals for whom this analysis is not obviously true — and some people on the Right who match the ‘psychopathyic personality’ description nearly perfectly.
The description of liberal/Leftists as low-self-esteem haters seems to fit pretty well the ignorant shrieking spoiled cry-baby brats on America’s elite campuses. But that’s only a section of the left-of-center spectrum.
Does it really apply to the unionized auto worker who wants a national health care plan, a higher minimum wage AND a strong military, who voted twice for Obama and then for Donald Trump?
Having read a lot of Left-and-liberal psychological analysis of conservatives — showing that we are more fearful, that we have shrunken anterior cingulate cortexes while having enlarged amygdalas, etc — I am very skeptical of anyone’s argument that “politics is a function of personality”, just as I am of the argument that “politics is a function of economic status”.
Most of these studies are based on a narrow sample of humanity (both temporally and geographically and socially) and ignore the difference between correlation and causation.
For a relatively — I stress ‘relatively’ — objective look at this issue, readers may wish to consult http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2011/09/07/your-brain-on-politics-the-cognitive-neuroscience-of-liberals-and-conservatives/#.WPSuy6K1uUk
And, yes, the general observation that it’s the wealth created by societies which are basically capitalist — but only ‘basically’, no purely capitalist society has ever existed — that allows genuine advance in human well-being is clearly true. (Although the growth in wealth and knowledge is only loosely coupled to an increasingly-humane social/political system, as the Nazis showed us.)
The Old Left understood this, by the way. The Communist Manifesto includes extravagant praise of capitalism, and Marxists argued for socialism NOT because it was ‘fairer’ but because it would be far more productive than capitalism. They’ve gone quiet about that claim in the last fifty years, but it used to be their central argument.
But … there is still a huge amount of room for reasoned argument about to what extent the state should intervene in the pure free market to alter what would otherwise be less-than-desirable outcomes.
Thus the (true) observation that a close-to-free market in the economy produces far more wealth over time than a close-to-planned economy does not say anything yet about whether, for instance, we should have compulsory social insurance, free-at-the-point-of-consumption social services (like education), and so on.
Why is this important? It’s important that people on the Right don’t fall into simplistic ‘feel-good’ analyses of the world that prevent us from understanding it. Leave that to the Left.
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The publication of this comment was delayed because it contains a link, and so was caught by my very tight spam filter. I’ll reply at length later. In my reply I’ll address the article to which the link leads. I skimmed the article and quickly spotted some serious flaws in the descriptions of liberals and conservatives. Perhaps I’ll devote a post to the comment and the article.
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To add to this discussion, John Ray’s understanding of psychopathy couldn’t be more flawed. If he’d said “narcissist” instead of “psychopath” and “narcissism” instead of “psychopathy,” I’d at least agree that he was able to delineate between narcissism and psychopathy – but, given what he wrote, I’m positive that he can’t. Psychopaths’ emotions are, for the most part, dialed down very low, so they don’t have “need for praise and ego boosting” or, more generally, suffer from low self-esteem. The article doug1943 supplied in his comment corroborates this in stating that psychopaths’ amygdala (being one area of the brain that’s implicated in emotional arousal) is smaller than the average person’s. Kevin Dutton and neuroscientist James Fallon would be better authorities on psychopathy.
Now to THIS, “liberals are far more likely to break social ties with people over politics,” I say yes! I’ve seen studies that have been saying this and it corroborates with my experience. However, I understand there’d be individual differences and exceptions on this matter within each political camp despite any group differences that may exist.
This is a quick reply to you and Doug1943, which I hope will lead to further discussion. I gather from Wikipedia that there’s some overlap between psychopathy and narcissism. This is from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychopathy:
The dark triad is discussed here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_triad. Again there’s similarity between narcissism and psychopathy:
The adjectives are different but they paint similar pictures of the two conditions. So, while a psychopath’s brain may (or may not) be somewhat different than a narcissist’s brain, with respect to the amyglada, there seems to be a lot of behavioral overlap, as I understand the conditions.
Of course, as Doug1943 points out in a different connection (degrees of leftishness), there’s probably a broad spectrum of psychopathic and narcissistic behavior. The point of all this is to suggest that John Ray may not be wrong to call leftism a manifestation of sub-clinical psychopathy (http://jonjayray.com/psycho.html).
Of course, not all leftists are psychopaths (sub-clinical or otherwise). As Doug1943 suggests, a lot of the people who adhere to or identify with left-wing parties and movements do so because they want something in particular and believe that the left-wing part or movement can deliver it, or protect it. Prominent among such things are Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, minimum wage, and various programs and policies meant to “empower” groups that have been “marginalized” (same-sex marriage, affirmative action, diversity in university admissions, etc., etc.).
I’ll defer a detailed reply to Doug1943’s comment for now, but I must make a few observations about the article to which he linked. First, it’s hard to square the purportedly greater emotionalism of conservatives with the obviously over-the-top emotionalism of the screeching leftists who are not prominent on so many campuses.
The author of the piece, Andrea Kuszewski, then stoops to some rather biased characterizations; for example:
First, the writer’s obvious bias is that change is good, which is really rather a stupid thing to believe. It all depends on what the changes is and what effects it will have. Second, conservatives aren’t for stability for its own sake, but because — like good scientists — they believe that the null hypothesis (the status quo) holds true until they see strong evidence to the contrary. That is, they actually rely on evidence, not emotion — and it’s unthinking emotion that often fuels leftists. The global warming scare is a perfect example of this.
Which leads me to Chris Mooney, the Discover staffer who commissioned the piece. Mooney (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chris_Mooney_(journalist)) is the author of such books as The Republican War on Science and The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science — And Reality. There’s a whole lot of psychological projection going on there. Most anti-scientific activity these days is on the left. In addition to the over-hyped and poorly understood subject of AGW (rife with pseudo-scientific charlatanism), there’s IQ (which leftists like to disparage while claiming at the same time to be more intelligent than conservatives), the Keynesian multiplier (a mathematical con game), guns and crime (how are those strict gun-control laws working out for Chicago?), biological differences between men and women (quite real and wide-ranging), the effect of the minimum wage on unemployment (leftists like to cite the one study out of dozens that shows little or no effect), and on and on.
I’ll stop for now, in the hope that this will incite replies by L.P. and Doug1943.
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See my reply to L.P.
Thomas, you might also look at Borderline Personality Disorder and Dependent Personality Disorder because what John Ray describes also resembles those too. There does tend to be what you call co-morbidity between the DSM clusters such that cluster A “disorders” overlap (Paranoid PD, Schizoid PD, and Schizotypal PD); cluster B (the anti-social group) – Anti-social PD which may soon be regarded as separate from Psychopathy, Narcissism, etc; and cluster C – Dependent PD, Avoidant PD, etc.
What this means is that if John Ray’s description does point to, say Dependent PD instead then it’s not likely to be conflated with either Narcissism or Psychopathy. On the other hand, in cases where Narcissism and Psychopathy overlaps, John Ray’s description still describes Narcissism and *not* Psychopathy – see what I mean? (Red is a warm color, blue is a cool color, but the warm color that contributes to purple is still red, not blue.) That’s why, I think John Ray’s description is wholly inaccurate.
In any case, it’s probably best to steer away from what Psychopathy is and is not for the moment because this category is being debated among experts currently and may be due for revision – in particular because even experts conflate Anti-social PD (ASPD) and Psychopathy. I’ve lurked the Psychopathy board of Quora for awhile and I’d say the majority of the diagnosed (take this with a grain of salt since anyone can lie) have politically right-wing views. This doesn’t mean right-wingers are psychopaths or horrible people of course. Even neuroscientist James Fallon found that he’s wired as a Psychopath through encountering his own brain scan but, since he’s a productive member of society, he’s what is called a Pro-social Psychopath – see his book, “The Psychopath Inside.”
By the way, I too recognize some inaccuracy in Andrea Kuszewski’s article because my life experience has taught me that leftists are the more emotionally sensitive ones, on average. On the other hand, this “Those with the ability to maintain low emotional arousal and have high cognitive control are generally better at handling conflict in the moment, plus tend to be the least permanently affected by trauma in the long term2. They tend to be more adaptable to changing situations (or have a higher tolerance for complexity), and have what we call cognitive flexibility.” describes me even though I’m not a leftist (so either the article is wrong here or I’m an exception).
A quick reply to your final paragraph. I, too, fit the description of low emotional arousal and high cognitive control, and I’m certainly not a leftist. A big part of the problem here (and in general) is definitional. Leftists are statists who seek control of others in order to advance a certain agenda. But there are also right-statists, whose agenda is generally the opposite of the left-statists’ agenda. Right-statists are often wrongly called conservatives. They are not conservatives, who prefer to rely on the institutions of civil society, not the state. But the mislabeling allows leftists to get away with calling conservatives anti-scientific and emotional, when they’re really talking about their kindred spirits: right-statists.
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What I’d also add to his categorization of people being either pro-change or pro-stability is that there is a lot of perceptual subjectivity here. If those of us who want to *change* some things back to the way they had been before, isn’t that still being pro-change in that way?
In fact, I’d characterize the right’s youth movement as having fostered out of a sense of rebellion against the left (which is being perceived as the establishment – the stability agent here as they want to hold onto their alteration of the culture).
I agree with you. Changing things back to the way they were is pro-change, in that it’s an attempt to make things better. A good example is the originalist movement in constitutional jurisprudence — stripping away unconstitutional, authoritarian laws and precedents to get back to the libertarian roots of the Constitution.
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