Statue of liberty from Nick Byrd's "5 Responses to the "Liberals Aren't Inclusive" Complaint"

5 Responses To The “Liberals Aren’t Inclusive” Complaint

Liberals prize inclusivity. But liberals also criticize certain things — e.g., certain kinds of conservatism. So maybe liberals aren’t inclusive after all! Or so you’ll hear. Should liberals be inclusive of everything? Are they hypocritical if they’re not inclusive of everything?

1. Yeah, Liberals Sometimes Exclude Conservatives

Surely there is something right about the articles in question. I regularly witness liberals say disparaging things about conservatives. And some of this disparagement does not seem to be based on liberal principles (let alone on good arguments). Sometimes the disparagement seems to be nothing more than a “I just don’t like conservatives”. This kind of exclusion seems antithetical to liberal principles. After all, not liking some-one/-thing just isn’t a sufficient reason — liberal or otherwise — to exclude someone.

2. Exclusion Is Not Always Unjust

Importantly, not all forms of exclusion are unjust. Think about it. Liberals principles and evidence can lead one (validly) to the conclusion that something is bad. In that case, a liberal would be justified in excluding something. So if certain conservative ideas or practices turn out to be bad on this kind of analysis, then a liberal can exclude them.

For example, conservatives sometimes claim that allowing multiple sexes or genders to use the same public bathroom would cause various undesirable outcomes. I’ve asked these conservatives for compelling evidence for their claim. Alas, none of them have provided any evidence. And when I offer evidence against their claim, they flat-out reject that evidence.† So if you reject their claim about bathroom because it’s based on poor reasoning, then you are not violating liberal principles.††

The point is that even if liberals aren’t inclusive of everything, that’s not necessarily a violation of liberal principles.

3. Some Of The Claims About Oppression Are Hyperbolic

Some conservatives feel marginalized by liberals. For instance, a conservative academic who feels marginalized in the academic community recently said, “I am the equivalent of someone who was gay in Mississippi in 1950.”††† That is just laughable. However bad it is for conservative academics today, it is hardly “equivalent” to a gay person’s experience in the southern US in the 50’s. There are loads of important differences between the average conservative today and a gay person in the south in the 50’s. Were gay peoples’ identities, tolerated, embraced, and/or celebrated to the same degree that conservatives’ identities are today? Hardly. Were gay people supported by as wealthy, powerful, and popular a political party as today’s conservatives? Hardly. Were gay people represented in respected and powerful positions, popular television shows, and community events as much as conservatives are today? Hardly. You can probably spot other important differences. The point is that this claim about equivalence is ludicrous. The marginalization of gay people in Mississippi in 1950 is demonstrably worse than the marginalization of conservatives in academia.

4. Experience Does Matter

But let’s not just dismiss conservatives who feel marginalized. After all, it can be beneficial to investigate the causes of someone’s feeling marginalized — even if their sense of marginalization is hyperbolic. First, it would be surprising if their feeling were entirely inexplicable. Second, by investigating such feelings, we might reveal something interesting and/or useful. For instance, by revealing the causes of conservatives’ feeling marginalized by liberals, we could better understand political polarization in the US.

5. Hey Liberals, Conservative ≠ Stupid

Some op-ed articles accuse liberals of thinking that they’re smarter than conservatives.†††  First of all, whether liberals are smarter is an empirical matter. That is, it is determined by evidence.

Some Evidence

Admittedly, liberals can point to some evidence that liberals are smarter.†††† One study suggests that “social conservatives tend to be dispositionally less reflective, social liberals tend to be dispositionally more reflective” (Deppe et al 2015). Another suggests that “[h]ighly educated adults …are far more likely than those with less education to take predominantly liberal positions across a range of political values” (Pew Research Center). This sounds damning for conservatives, but lets’ consider a couple caveats.

Caveat #1. First, it is not clear that a handful of studies would support the idea that liberals are — always and everywhere — smarter. After all, the smarter group might change from context to context.

Caveat #2. Second, these data are correlational. So we should not conclude that being more reflective or more educated causes liberalism — or vice versa. The data is consistent with the possibility it that there is no direct causal relationship between reasoning, education, and political ideology. So it doesn’t follow from this evidence that conservatism is necessarily or intrinsically less reasonable than liberalism.

Bad Evidence

Another (less scientific) reason someone might think that liberals are smarter is selective anecdotal evidence. After all, it is pretty easy to caricature conservatives. A short quote or video of a conservative saying something stupid will do. But that would be poor evidence for that claim that conservatives are generally stupid. We say a lot of things. And some of what we say is stupid. The difference between us and politicians is how much of what we say gets recorded. Unlike me, much of what politicians say is recorded. So it’s easy to find instances of politicians saying stupid things. But saying a few stupid things on the record doesn’t entail that someone is stupid. After all, a more representative sample of what someone says might show that they can say very (VERY) smart things.

The Point

For these reasons, it simply doesn’t follow from the evidence that conservatives are necessarily, intrinisically, or even generally stupid or that liberals are necessarily, intrinsically, or even generally smarter.

Conclusion

Some conservatives are very (VERY) intelligent and conscientious. Indeed, I am grateful to some of these conservatives for challenging some of my unreflective assumptions. But we have to recognize that even these smart and conscientious conservatives argue compellingly against many conservative tropes — e.g., climate change denial, evolution denial, Christian hegemony, white nationalism, military expansion, etc. In other words, both liberals and conservatives can reject various conservative views via shared principles and values. So when liberals reject [insert a conservative view here], it isn’t necessarily hypocritical.

 


† Of course, people, in general, disregard evidence. Liberals do it too. For example, you might hear a liberal say — despite a lack of sufficient evidence — that gun carrying causes _____________ or that genetically modified food is necessarily ______________.

†† LaBossiere, M. (2016, May 13). Arguments for Bathroom Bills. [Link]

††† Kristof, N. (2016, May 7). A Confession of Liberal Intolerance. The New York Times. [Link]; Rensin, E. (2016, April 21). The smug style in American liberalism. Retrieved May 9, 2016. [Link]

††††  Gross, N. (2016, May 13). Why Are the Highly Educated So Liberal? – NYTimes.com. The New York Times. [Link]

 

 

References

Deppe, K. D., Gonzalez, F. J., Neiman, J. L., Jacobs, C., Pahlke, J., Smith, K. B., & Hibbing, J. R. (2015). Reflective liberals and intuitive conservatives: A look at the Cognitive Reflection Test and ideology. Judgment and Decision Making, 10(4), 314–331. [PDF]

Pew Research Center. (2016). A Wider Ideological Gap Between More and Less Educated Adults. [Report]

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Nick Byrd

Nick is a cognitive scientist studying reasoning, wellbeing, and willpower. When he is not teaching, in the lab, writing, exercising, or relaxing, he is blogging at www.byrdnick.com/blog

4 thoughts on “5 Responses To The “Liberals Aren’t Inclusive” Complaint”

  1. In your post you write “The point is that we can criticize conservatives (and liberals) and/or their ideas without thereby unjustly discriminating.” But then, in your conclusion you write we can justly exclude people on the basis of epistemic and moral standards regarding “climate change denial, evolution denial, meat-eating, Christian hegemony, Donald Trump, etc.” Of course this does not follow, excluding people from things like jobs or scholarships or getting good grades based on their politics is very different from criticizing political ideas, and is unjust in many contexts.

    1. This is helpful. I should have been more clear. I did not mean to imply that we can exclude any instance of conservatism from any domain. I only meant that there are serious criticisms of certain instances of conservatism that might make these instances (or particular conservatives) ineligible for inclusion in a certain domain. And – so the claim goes – there wouldn’t necessarily be anything unjust about such exclusion, even to a liberal who values inclusivity. In short, I did not mean to endorse all of the forms or bases of exclusion that you mention. (I’m not sure I did, but perhaps I should have been more clear nonetheless).

      Thanks for your comment, Wes!

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