The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Stuff political scientists like #4, political psychology edition — calling you stupid, but not to your face

June 2, 2011

Lest I be accused of shielding myself from satire…..

Political psychologists are a kind of political scientist. Or maybe they are a kind of psychologist. In truth, no one really gets to know them very well. That is because political psychologists think everyone is stupid.

Political psychologists think you have never made a good decision in your life. For instance, if 600 people are going to die of a terrible disease and you are given a choice between a health program that will 1) surely kill 400 and save the rest or 2) will have a one third probability of saving 600 people but 2/3 of killing everyone, you will prefer the first. You don’t think very hard, do you? Those are the same. But if you have a third option of surely killing 400 people you will choose both #1 or #2 over #3. It’s the same, too, moron. Political psychologists explain that people are risk-averse in the domain of gains. They have never been to Vegas.

It is not your fault though, political psychologists will tell you. Your brain is simply too small to handle the complex calculations that occur in even day-to-day life. Instead you rely on “cognitive shortcuts,” which is another way of saying that you don’t try very hard. You are lazy as well as being stupid.

Political psychologists have a name for these shortcuts – “heuristics.” This is just a way for political psychologists to make fun of you in front of your face because they know you have no idea what that word means. This enables them to laugh at you in your very presence. Political psychologists are like the mean, popular girls in high school who invite the ugly girl over for a slumber party in order to make fun of her all night. So it goes without saying – do not attend a political psychology slumber party.
Don’t worry, though. You are in good company. Political psychologists will tell you that even great statesmen make terrible mistakes all the time. It is very unfortunate that we have never elected a political psychologist to lead our countries. We could have avoided the Bay of Pigs and World War I.

Political psychologists, in contrast, are very smart. Much smarter than you. They know more about the political beliefs of college sophomores than anyone else in the world. Even more than college sophomores. This is because political psychologists have trick ways of figuring out what you yourself don’t even know about yourself. If you are not sure if you are a racist, ask a political psychologist. They are also able to give precise estimates about how people will make decisions in windowless rooms while playing negotiation games against a computer. This is the key to the unlocking of the secrets of the human mind – no natural light.

Political psychologists also enjoy figuring out why you are such a fascist. What the rest of the world calls being conservative, political psychologists call “right-wing authoritarianism” or “social dominance orientation.” They have devoted years to investigating the root causes of these pathologies. You are uncomfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity. You have a need for cognitive closure. You don’t trust others. You are greedy. Liberals are free of these symptoms and deserve no study. Never knowing what you think, being hopelessly naïve and giving your kid’s inheritance to the kids selling candy bars door-to-door need no explanation.

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Rathbun is a professor of International Relations at USC. Brian Rathbun received his Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of California, Berkeley in 2002 and has taught at USC since 2008. He has written four solo-authored books, on humanitarian intervention, multilateral institution building, diplomacy and rationality. His articles have appeared or are forthcoming in International Organization, International Security, World Politics, International Studies Quartlery, the Journal of Politics, Security Studies, the European Journal of International Relations, International Theory, and the Journal of Conflict Resolution among others. He is the recipient of the 2009 USC Parents Association Teaching and Mentoring Award. In 2019 he will be recognized as a Distinguished Scholar by the Diplomatic Studies Section of the International Studies Association.