Discover more from Joseph Bronski
Is everything liberal?
Things are more conservative than talking-points indicate
Richard Hanania is releasing a book called The Origins of Woke. He wants it to become a “cultural phenomenon” and “the definitive history that future generations will look to in order to understand the insanity that gripped American institutions starting in the early 2010s and arguably peaked in 2020.”
Ultimately, Hanania dreams that this book will become famous and lead to the downfall of civil rights legislation.
I absolutely support this goal and I encourage everyone to buy the book. As such, I am going to promote it by reviewing the central ideas of it. I know its central ideas insofar as his book is actually sourced from a series of essays he wrote in 2021. It probably is sourced from them, as the book’s cover page alludes to the ideas laid out in those pieces.
We will start with the first in the series, Why is Everything Liberal?
Is everything liberal?
In the first article of his series, Hanania claims that “almost every major institution in America that is not explicitly conservative leans left.” By “explicitly conservative”, I take it he means conservative think-tanks whose business is simply “being conservative”, otherwise he has stated a tautology.
Hanania wants to immediately move onto attempting to explain why this is. There’s just one problem with this: he hasn’t actually measured how “liberal everything is.” Before you explain something, you need to measure what you want to explain, so that you know how much of it your explanatory variables can explain. For example, later in the article he talks about how 2016 election donations were 60% Democrat, 40% Republican. But if institutions are 90% Democratic, differences in donations can’t explain all of the left skew in institutions.
Instead of actually having data showing how liberal everything is, Hanania cites a few news articles. One, for example, says “Leaders of 145 companies wrote a letter addressed to the Senate, asking for it to pass background checks and a strong red flag law.” Does this mean corporations are totally liberal? Let’s suppose all of those companies are Fortune 500 companies. This would suggest about 145/500 = 29% of Fortune 500 companies are liberal. This is strangely consistent with data showing that about 31% of top executives are liberals. It seems like, as stereotypes suggest, companies lean conservative, not liberal.
What other institutions are there? Maybe the military?
Oh, they’re conservative too.
Portland, a super liberal area, have more conservative than liberal police. The police aren’t woke! Seems like a pretty major institution to me.
What kinds of institutions does that leave? Let’s see, we looked at the economic institutions, the violence institutions … we mostly have political institutions and schools left over.
What do you know? Exactly 52% of US states currently have Republican governors! Just recently, the federal government was completely conservative, and now it’s partially liberal! It seems to flip every few years.
It seems like a lot of powerful institutions, the corporations, governments, police, and military, all lean slightly conservative. Why is everything so conservative? This isn’t a trick question, liberals ask this all the time. Why do Democrats always win the popular vote, but everything is so conservative?
And everything is pretty conservative. AOC wants to build low income housing in your backyard. Liberalism is YIYBY. Conservatism is NIMBY. She wants single payer healthcare. Keeping your doctor is conservatism. She wants total student loan forgiveness and free college. Not paying for other people’s degrees is conservative. You’re living in a conservative country, compared to what the wokest want.
This is probably because everything is so conservative. Except for one kind of institution. This institution is the underdog. They rely on the others for their security and income. The heads of the economy and the government are rich and famous. The generals are admired and respected. The heads of the last kind of institution are poor and powerless compared to them.
Why are professors so woke? Hanania argues that everything is so woke because liberals care more. We know everything isn’t woke, but that academia is woke. Are professors woke because the woke care about politics more?
Do liberals care more?
The idea that caring about politics more can make liberals want to be professors more should sound weird. By definition, professors in completely scientific fields have nothing to do with politics. If a field is completely scientific, it only reports truth. If professors are slaves to the truth, they cannot be personally powerful. Maybe the truth can be powerful, but they are only its servants. Only in fields where the results are not completely truthful can professors even hope to assert personal political power. Only then do they have wiggle room to fudge the results.
Obviously, chemistry, mathematics, and physics are highly scientific fields where any deviation from truth gives little sway over the political process, yet they skew heavily Democratic. This suggests that Democrats are flocking to academia for some reason other than political activism.
Even many of the humanities which don’t even pretend to have anything to do with the truth of the natural world (to the point where many in the field embrace an explicitly relative “epistemology”), have nothing to do with politics. Does Art History influence policy? English literature? Music? Foreign languages? No, yet these are as Democratic or more as environmental science, political science, and economics.
In fact, if you rate political importance and then try to predict how liberal a field will be, you get nothing. In my ratings, I said economics and political science were the most important, followed by things like psychology, sociology, anthropology, and climate sciences. Then comes history and biology, and after that at the least politically important level, extremely hard-scientific or politically-irrelevant artsy stuff like physics, chemistry, mathematics, computer science, art history, and English language.
So it would seem that liberals don’t become professors more because they care about politics more. If they did, we would expect them to differentially target fields like political science and economics. But they don’t. As many flock to mathematics as economics, and as many go to psychology as foreign languages. Rather, the best predictor of field politics is average GRE math score, followed by percent female.
I have also already covered the claim that liberals flock to academia because they are all installed with Cathedral theory, the idea that academia is the sovereign power in society. Academia is not very powerful. One billionaire has more power than 37,500 communist professors. One does not go into academia for political reasons naturally, and there was no way to coordinate communists with an unnatural idea to the contrary. They go into academia at higher rates by their nature, but that part of their nature is not a part that “cares more” about politics.
Academia is woke in part because of the influx of women. But that only explains part of the GRE math correlation. There’s something more — less rigorous fields are woker compared to highly mathematical fields independent of the amount of women in them. Now, controlling for math, the most overwhelmingly Republican field is engineering. Perhaps, for some unknown reasons, conservatives are more results oriented, while liberals are less pragmatic, and prefer fields more divorced from the “real world,” where mathematical theory is more “real world” than Art History and engineering is more “real world” than mathematical theory and pure natural science.
Research should look into why academia is so liberal, but it seems like it isn’t because “liberals care more about politics.” It also doesn’t seem to be because of IQ, as the IQ distribution is pretty much the same between liberals and conservatives.
Next, Hanania cites some evidence that seems to be more directly related to caring about politics than being a professor is. This is political funding, protest attendance, and personal intolerance of political enemies.
Hanania mistakenly cites evidence of Trump Derangement Syndrome in claiming that liberals care more about politics. They don’t. The spending odds ratio by party is only 1.034. However, you see massive spending spikes during Trump campaigns for Democrats. They really hate Trump. They don’t care about politics more, in general.
That leaves protest attendance and personal intolerance towards political Others. A number of things could cause these phenomena. Among them are age, sex, and racial skew. Conservatives tend to be older white men. Younger, less white men tend to riot more, hence larger “protest” size. Women tend to be pickier in social relationships in dating, hence liberals are less willing to date conservatives than vice versa.
As for protest attendance, it could be age, race, and sex differences, as well as some unknown (to me at the moment, at least) innate personality difference. But if you average across domains of political activity, 29.8% of Republicans were engaged in the last 5 years, and 32.3% of Democrats. That’s only a 1.08 odds ratio. That could only explain a 52/48 tilt in favor of Democrats in institutions.
In the first article in his series on the origins of wokeism, Hanania makes bold claims but doesn’t back those claims with sufficiently bold evidence. Instead, his evidence is lacking and seems to be mostly contradicted by more appropriate data.
If there is one general mistake in his article, being overly reliant on weak, unexplained evidence. Hanania rarely analyzes his charts – many are misleading and upon further scrutiny do not say what they seem to say at first glance. For example, the charts on professions donating to liberals more than conservatives. They seem to say liberals care more, until you consider the Trump effect, historical data, professions not included in the chart, etc. If Hanania practiced writing about the data he shows a little more, he might catch these things.
Sometimes, Hanania had no evidence for his claims, as opposed to weak evidence. For example, he never showed evidence that everything was woke. This is a vital part of the picture Hanania presents: everything is woke because the woke care more in general, by their nature, and thus engage in politics more at the highest levels, causing over-representation. But this picture is inaccurate. Recent spending shows a Trump effect. General spending is roughly equal between camps. Institutions lean conservative except for academia. Liberals are louder, but when you average out political behavior over the past 5 years, conservatives engage about as much, and get better results given they dominate governments with less popular vote, they dominate the military and police, and they dominate the corporations.
A better picture is this: roughly consistent with mutational load theory, that the right half of the political distribution dominates relative to the left half, because the right half is more functional. The left half only dominates the most dysfunctional, pointless, and powerless of the major institutions: academia. Leftists engage in louder, more non-logical political-looking behavior, with less results, probably owing to a mixture of mutational load associated traits, which as Hanania remarks, include being less happy, more mentally ill, and less likely to start families. The right half of the political distribution engages in more efficient and effective political behavior.
I believe three sources of confusion may have made Hanania’s narrative in this article appealing to readers: 1) the idea that there are no based institutions 2) Cthulu swims left 3) wokeness seems very In Your Face.
The first is probably best explained by civil rights law proximally (a point I seem to agree with Hanania on) and the fact that “conservatives” are not based; rather, something like a <5% far-right segment is based — there are also no LGBTP+ Marxist DaddyFur institutions, as this is the <5% far-left. There are conservative institutions, in fact my own research suggests conservatives are approximately as likely as liberals to say they fear losing income if they publicly flipped their views.
The second point is explained by dysgenics. At any point, the mean drifts left, but the left half of the political distribution is less functional and less powerful than the right half. This is consistent with our observations — the left is underrepresented in institutions, they are more dysfunctional, people are less functional now than in the past, and they are more left. However, blank-slatist theories need the left half to be more powerful, because it doesn’t make sense for the underdog to linearly claim victories over decades if not centuries if they are less powerful than the right half.
The third point is explained by woke dysfunctionality and Trump Derangement Syndrome, which we can more stylishly call the Trump Effect. A Trump Effect is theoretically distinct from liberals naturally “caring more” at any point in time. Symmetrically, there was also an Obama Effect, as Hanania wonders where the Tea Party went. These back-lash effects seem to be general, temporary, somewhat unimportant (in that unless they get violent they don’t really change the distribution of power) environmental phenomenon.
It is more accurate to say, based on the evidence, that everything is relatively conservative. Everything is not liberal, and this fact undermines the very point of Hanania’s article. Where leftists do dominate, there is little evidence that they do so because they “care more about politics.” The best evidence indicates that conservatives and liberals are almost equal in their general caring factor. The woke behavioral differences that Hanania points out are, therefore, better explained by the Trump effect, demographic differences between the woke and the non-woke, and higher mutational load among the woke.
I predict that, due to these weaknesses, in his book, Hanania will tone down this part of the theory, in favor of playing up what I think is the better part of the analysis, the history and proximal utility of civil rights legislation in feeding wokeness.
Joseph Bronski is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.