Psychoanalysis 2.0

Throughout the post, "liberal" is used in the American sense of the word.

One of the great mysteries in the history of ideas is how something as whacky as psychoanalysis could become so influential. I think the main reason is that it's so much fun. You say you "accidentally" threw down that policeman figurine? You don't like authorities! And, by the way, you smoke cigars because you have penis issues! Think I'm wrong? Prove it!

If you've been following the Overcoming Bias blog for a while you will have noticed that (now sole) contributor Robin Hanson has recently been applying the concept of signaling a lot. The concept is certainly useful for understanding human behaviour. For example, if I've just met you and you mention that "that guy over there reminds me of a professor of mine at Harvard", I will suspect you mentioned that not because you found the observation so interesting, but because you wanted to signal you are so clever they let you into Harvard. Robin Hanson, however, has been applying the idea of signaling to cases in which its utility is not obvious.

He recently wondered:
Officially, the libertarian world view is equally distant from standard liberal and conservative political views. See for example, the World's Smallest Political Quiz, where liberals like social but not economic freedom, and conservatives like economic but not social freedom. In practice, however, libertarians hang out more with conservatives than liberals.
His explanation was that those who are respected by libertarians are more like those respected by conservatives than those respected by liberals. Developing this view, he explains the reasons behind people's worldviews. For example:
Conservatives support low taxes so that those who have worked hard for their money can show off the fruits of their labor and earn full respect for it.
At his blog, Andrew Gelman commented:
I don't think that showing off is anything like a basic conservative value, beyond the idea that people should feel free to show off if they want to. I think a more accurate statement would be, "Conservatives support low taxes because they think the market is more effective than the government at producing prosperity," or "Conservatives support low taxes because they don't think it's right for half of your paycheck to be taken away by politicians, which then gives these politicians power as they decide how much of this money to give back to you in the form of government programs."
To which Hanson replied:
I should say this was an attempt to identify the signaling persona behind common ideologies, not the conscious rationalizations people give.
By this he means, I have reason to believe, that we could say that the ultimate reason conservatives support low taxes is that they like the successful (to show off) in the same way that we can say that the ultimate reason for people wanting to have sex is because it increases inclusive fitness, whereas the "conscious rationalization" usually given is that it's fun.

Neither hypotheses based on evopsych reasoning nor those about nonconscious processes are unfalsifiable per se, but the many I have seen from Robin Hanson about signaling don't, as far as I remember, appear to imply anything that could be shown to be wrong. Done this way, evopsych reasoning just seems to be a modern, more scientific-sounding version of the old Freudian game of I know why you did that and you don't. Which does not seem like the best route to go down if you want to overcome bias. Quite to the contrary, in fact.

Bruce Bartlett, by the way, offers a pretty simple theory of why libertarians like conservatives better than liberals: because they are more like them. (Pointer)

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