Thursday, October 9, 2014

Jason Weeden & Robert Kurzban's "The Hidden Agenda of the Political Mind"

Jason Weeden is a senior researcher with the Pennsylvania Laboratory for Experimental Evolutionary Psychology (PLEEP) and a lawyer in Washington, DC. Robert Kurzban is professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and founder of PLEEP. He is the author of Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, The Hidden Agenda of the Political Mind: How Self-Interest Shapes Our Opinions and Why We Won't Admit It, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Hidden Agenda of the Political Mind begins not with politics, but with sports:
In sports, the rules matter. And, crucially, different rules help some people and hurt others. Salary caps might help teams in smaller markets and hurt teams in larger markets. Race-based limitations might help second-tier whites and hurt top-tier African Americans. And there are countless other examples, of course. Raising the pitcher’s mound helps pitchers and hurts hitters. Requiring both feet in bounds for a catch in football hurts wide receivers but helps defensive backs. The foul-out rule in basketball hurts high-impact players but helps bench players get more minutes. Time limits in golf help speedier players and hurt slower players.

Unsurprisingly, athletes know where their interests lie and tend to support the rules that help themselves.
These paragraphs end our introductory section to chapter 5, which focuses on public opinion regarding the government’s role in helping (or harming) different people based on their race, religion, sexual orientation, the country they were born in, and so on – issues such as affirmative action, school prayer, same-sex marriage, and immigration. We use the opening section to ease into this material with sports analogies before beginning the difficult work of discussing topics about which many people (ourselves included) have passionate views. The middle of page 99 begins a section called “Back to Reality,” starting with the line: “In life as in sports, people fight over rules that help some and hurt others.”

While the previous chapter talked about sex and reproductive issues – abortion, birth control, pornography, premarital sex, and marijuana legalization -- chapter 5 talks about issues that relate to policies surrounding groups. The next chapter follows up with a discussion of issues relating to income redistribution and government safety nets.

Page 99 provides a nice overview of one of the big themes in the book. While many scholars focus on relatively abstract factors when discussing political issue opinions – ideologies, values, principles, personality features, and so on – we’re convinced that they often overlook the central fact that many issues present competing alternatives (in cases where there’s no such thing as neutral rules) that really do make some people better off at the expense of others.

We show that people’s particular issue positions are broadly predictable based on whether policies hurt or help them. This is true not only with issues relating to income redistribution, but also with issues where scholars rarely consider interest-based explanations, like abortion and marijuana legalization.

We understand, of course, that it’s not exactly polite to tell people that many of their cherished political positions are probably driven by self-interest. We add insult to injury by discussing psychological research indicating that people are fundamentally self-deceptive about being self-interested.

But, to return to sports analogies, our job as number-crunching social scientists isn’t to cheer on our own political team, but to analyze data and then call ‘em like we see ‘em.
Learn more about The Hidden Agenda of the Political Mind at the Princeton University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite.

--Marshal Zeringue