Another Adventure in Social Science

We’ll probably regret this, but it’s something we do from time to time — see, e.g.: Another Brief Taste of Social Science. We found this one at PhysOrg. Their headline is Muscular men prefer an unequal society. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis, and occasional Curmudgeonly interjections that look [like this]:

Men with large upper bodies [The brutes!] have a tendency to favour inequality in society and a limited redistribution of resources. This is the conclusion drawn by Professor Michael Bang Petersen and Associate Professor Lasse Laustsen from the Department of Political Science in a study published in the journal, Political Psychology.

Here’s a link to the paper, but all you can see without a subscription is the abstract: Upper-Body Strength and Political Egalitarianism: Twelve Conceptual Replications. Then PhysOrg says:

“The results challenge the belief that our political views are formed by logic and reason alone. Instead, our views seemingly reflect intuitions produced by a Stone Age mind,” says Michael Bang Petersen. [Gasp!]

After that shocker, they tell us:

The new study concerns humans, but takes a theoretical starting point in one of the most well-documented findings in the study of animals: Physical strength shapes the conflict behaviour of animals. If animals are larger and stronger than their rivals, they are prone to attempt to assert themselves in the struggle for status and resources. [Oook, Oook!] However, if they are weaker than their rivals, they are likely to withdraw from the conflict. According to the latest research results from Aarhus BSS, the same logic applies to modern men when they reason about political conflicts regarding the redistribution of resources in society.

The social science lesson continues:

This logic was adaptive under the conditions of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, as stronger men here would have been able to secure resources on their own. But it’s an irrational way of dealing with modern day political resource conflicts. Today, physical strength is highly unlikely to affect how big a share of society’s resources you are able to acquire. However, our data shows that physical strength nonetheless continues to affect men’s political attitudes toward redistribution,” says Lasse Laustsen.

Isn’t it horrible? Those who favor property rights and the free enterprise system are a bunch of savage John Wayne types, while those who have modern ideas about the distribution of resources are a wretched collection of dorks like Woody Allen. Let’s read on:

According to the researchers, the new results may explain the paradox of why some men with limited financial resources still favour financial inequality although they would, in fact, benefit from a greater redistribution of resources. “Our analysis suggests that these men expect to be able to rise in the hierarchy on their own. And once they reach the top of the hierarchy, an unequal society will increase their chances of maintaining that position,” says Laustsen.

They keep talking about financial inequality. We haven’t read Michael Bang Petersen’s paper, but we’re confident that the question asked wasn’t: Do you prefer inequality? The question was probably something like: “Should the government redistribute all property equally among everyone?” Relatively confident people responded “No,” while those who saw themselves as losers thought it was a good idea. The social scientists interpreted that to mean physical brutes favor inequality — a ghastly legacy from the Stone Age. Anyway, here’s another excerpt:

The study involves both men and women, but when it comes to women, there is no link between physical strength and political attitudes. According to the researchers, this complies with the assumption that our approach to modern politics is regulated by ancestral human instincts. Just like other male animals, men have used their physical strength to achieve status, while throughout evolution, women have developed other strategies that take their lower physical strength into account.

Here’s more:

The researchers believe that their results emphasise the value of involving animal behaviour and the theory of evolution in the study of political behaviour. “It’s important knowledge if we wish to understand how our political attitudes are formed. They are not just based on reason. Our intuitions are adapted to a different environment than the one we live in today. Our skulls house a Stone Age mind, and we need to appreciate that we are just one animal species among a host of others. Also in our approach to modern politics,” says Laustsen.

There’s more to the article, but we’ve had enough social science for today. Many of you will probably disagree with your Curmudgeon, but we’ve used to that. We’re going to go out, beat our chest like King Kong, and gather up some more resources.

Copyright © 2018. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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6 responses to “Another Adventure in Social Science

  1. So it’s okay that the top 10% in income control 75% of the wealth in the United States? Oh, and CEO compensation vs average hourly employee has gone from about 20:1 to 100:1 or more (as high as 400:1).

    I don’t think it is physical upper body strength at work, but then I haven’t published a study either.

  2. Steve Gerrard

    Yes it is okay. The people doing that are not being very nice, and it would be better if they were less selfish. But freedom means the right to be selfish, and goodness is only worth something if it is voluntary.

  3. “Those who favor property rights and the free enterprise system are a bunch of savage John Wayne types.”
    He said the reverse – those JW types tend to favour etc. The horrible thing is you not understanding the difference, even if this correct version already is pretty silly. But yeah, we’re used to you throwing your Enlightenment principles into the dustbin as soon as your ideological prejudices are threatened. You don’t want to know it of course, but this

    “Should the government redistribute all property equally among everyone?” was answered with a confident no in socialist utopias like the Soviet-Union. As a result in that country income inequality was higher than in the USA. So according to your illogic communists are not the losers. You are the one who should be more confident! May I conclude that was the hidden reason you voted Donald the Clown into the White House?

  4. FrankB is showing his ignorance. there was no such thing as a socialist utopia ANYWHERE!!! England or Sweden come the closest and they are not bad places to live! The USSR was a totalitarianism of the worst type, just as china is. They, as in the USA, enforce ‘peons work hard to make us few rich and powerful’. If my older self could talk to my younger self, I would encourage him to move to Sweden, because being a good person, and old & not rich makes ‘merica not all that great a place to be! Can’t even afford to die!

  5. The Economist publishes an annual ranking of most countries in a Democratic Index, and the 2017 ranking has a Wikipedia article. There are 19 countries which are rated as full democracies, and Norway, Sweden and Denmark are at the top, the U.K. also in the 19. BTW the US is rated as a flawed democracy. tied at #21.

  6. The question itself is heavily loaded. I suspect few people would really prefer that property actually be divided equally, since for most people that would mean sharing their own cut with people lower on the ladder. Considering the common resentment of tax money being collected to support, you know, those people via various social programs (and no, it’s not just a matter of race; plenty of people dislike paying Social Security taxes to support the elderly), any political candidate offering any such proposal would likely be overwhelmingly rejected at the polls.