Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Thursday, September 30, 2010

A REPLY TO WALLYVERR

One of the commentators ["Wallyverr"] asks a very probing question about the study of society. Has Social Studies outlived its usefulness, he [she?] asks, suggesting that Foucault, Habermas, and de Beauvoir, among other authors added to the core reading list, are not in the same league with the originals: Smith, Marx, Durkheim, Weber, et al. I actually had an elaborate answer to that question in the main body of my remarks at the Social Studies lunch, but in my first blog on the affair, I only reproduced the final portion of my little speech, the portion devoted to the Peretz affair.

Since I did not write any of this down, I must reconstruct what I said from memory -- and you will understand that it was crafted for the event, not as a general discussion of how to study society. Still and all, what I said expresses some thoughts that are apposite to Wallyverr's question, so I shall try to reproduce here what I said. Those who find this much attention to Social Studies too parochial can just take a break from this blog until I return to Sarah Palin and Christine Donnelly. [I see that Donnelly has been falsifying her educational resume. That always strikes me as just dumb, since it is the easiest thing to check. Probably better to claim that you are a Mafia informant in the Witness Protection Program.]

Leaving aside some introductory remarks, here, as best I can reproduce it, is what I said at the lunch, before turning to the Peretz fiasco.

"But why is it that the core readings in Social Studies have not changed for fifty years? [I actually had with me the original reading list from 1960-61]? I will try to answer that question with yet another story from the early days of Social Studies, but it will take me a moment to sketch the background, so bear with me.

"In the early '50s, a famous Swarthmore social psychologist named Solomon Asch did an experiment to study the effect of social pressure on belief and perception. [Asch published an article about his research in SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN. You can find it if you Google it.] Briefly, Asch put a small group of young college men in a seminar room and told them he was studying perception. In fact, only one young man was a real subject; the others were Asch's collaborators. Asch then showed the men two cards. On the first were three straight lines of very unequal length. On the second was one line, obviously equal in length to one of the three lines. He asked each student in turn which line on the card of three the single line matched. At first, as he went around the table, everyone gave the same correct answer. But then, as he showed them successive pairs of cards, everyone but the last to be called on [who was the real subject] gave the same obviously wrong answer. The first or second time around, the real subject, looking puzzled or troubled, gave the correct answer, but as the experiment continued, with everyone in the room giving a wrong answer, a significant percentage of the subjects -- more than a third -- started to go along with the group and give the wrong answer also. When Asch interviewed these men later -- the ones who had switched to the wrong answers -- some said they just did not want to "spoil the experiment." Some said that at first they thought everyone was wrong, but after a while they began to think something was wrong with their own judgment. And some even said that although the line chosen by the group looked unequal to the other line, when they looked closely they could see that it was really equal.

"The experiment was much commented upon, and everyone took it as distressing evidence of the effects of social pressure on conformity of behavior. But I was interested in another aspect of the experiment. It occurred to me that in order to perform the experiment, Asch had first to take a position on what the correct and incorrect answers were. Otherwise, he would just have statistics about shifting public opinion, which would reveal nothing about the distorting effects of social pressure. Well, obviously, you will say. After all, Asch needed simply to put a ruler down next to the lines and measure them.

"I first read the Asch experiment in the early Fall of 1960, just as Social Studies was starting. One day, in October, I ran into Barrington Moore on the street and we stopped to chat. [I had already explained that Barry and I co-taught one of the first Sophomore group tutorials that first year, and I spoke of what an extraordinary educational experience this was for me.] This was during the run-up to the 1960 presidential election in which John F. Kennedy was running against Richard M. Nixon. Everyone at Harvard was mad for Kennedy, of course. He was a Harvard man, his wife spoke French, and he had even won a Pulitzer Prize -- although we did not know then that Ted Sorenson had written the book for which he won the prize. I talked excitedly to Moore about the campaign, and said that I hoped Kennedy would win. Moore looked down his long, aristocratic nose at me and then said, 'There's not a dime's worth of difference between them.' Then he walked on.

"I thought that was just Barry being his usual contrarian self, but Kennedy got selected, and the first thing he did was to invade Cuba. The scales fell from my eyes and I realized Barry was right. Now, even back then, social scientists were doing a good deal of public opinion polling, but I thought, 'Wouldn't it be interesting for someone to do a study of why so many voters perceived Kennedy and Nixon as unequal when they were obviously equal?'

"'Ah well,' you will say. 'To do such an experiment, the social scientist would have to be able to look beneath the surface appearances of society to the underlying socio-economic reality. AND THAT IS PRECISELY WHAT THE STUDY OF SMITH AND MARX AND DURKHEIM AND FREUD AND WEBER TEACHES US TO DO. Each of these authors, in his different way, goes beneath surface appearances to examine underlying social and economic realities. That is why those authors have been on the reading list for fifty years.

"But, you will protest, it is easy enough for Asch to determine whether two lines are equal or un equal in length. He just lays a rule down next to them and measures them. But to say that Kennedy and Nixon are equal, the social scientist must take a political or ideological position. Any such investigation is, as the French used to say, guilty. That is, it is inseparable from some ideological stance. How will we as students know what ideological stance to take?

"You are correct. And what is more, Smith and Marx and Durkheim and Freud and Weber cannot answer that question for you. I will give you an answer, by telling you another story, this time from my years teaching at Columbia. In 1968, as some of you will recall, the students occupied several buildings and brought the university to a screeching halt for two weeks. The next semester, I was teaching a course in which I was anguishing over my inability to find, in the text of Kant's GROUNDWORK OF THE METAPHYICS OF MORALS, an absolutely valid a priori proof of the universal validity of the fundamental moral principle, the categorical Imperative. After class one day, one of the students came up to talk to me. He was one of the SDS students who had seized the buildings, and I knew that he was active off campus in union organizing. 'Why are you so concerned about finding that argument?' he asked. Well, I said, if I cannot find such an argument, how will I know what to do? He looked at me as one looks at a very young child, and replied, 'First you have to decide which side you are on. Then you will be able to figure out what you ought to do.'

"At the time, I thought this was a big cop-out, but as the years have passed, I have realized the wisdom in what he said. I want [I now said] to direct these next remarks to the undergraduates who are here today. [There were maybe two dozen among the 200 people at the lunch]. As you complete your studies and go out into the world, you have a decision to make. You must decide who your comrades are going to be in life's struggles. You must decide which side you are on. Will you side with the oppressed, or with the oppressors? Will you side with the exploiters, or with the exploited? Will you side with the occupiers, or with the occupied? I cannot make that decision for you, and neither can Smith and Marx and Durkheim and Freud and Weber. All I can do is to promise you that if you side with the oppressed, with the exploited, with the occupied, then the next time you decide to seize a building, I will be with you."

Then I went into my little speech about the Peretz affair.

I do not know whether this answers your question, Wallyver, but it is what I said last Saturday.

16 comments:

David Sucher said...

This is a serious question, Prof Woolf.

Are you suggesting that giving up tenure at high prestige Columbia to accept tenure at lower prestige (but still very solid) UMass is a way of siding with the oppressed?

David Sucher said...

Coda.

You may have well felt that way (prior comment) back in 1971. And many other tenured professors at Ivy schools may have also felt that way.

All I am saying is that I hope you will see the humor of such a perspective.

Yes going from Columbia to UMass might be a bit surprising, though the physical environment for others, secure others, might be a big gain. But tenure at UMass shows that one is on the side of the oppressed? Sounds funny to me.

wallyverr said...

Thank you for reconstructing your talk of last weekend, which makes a very interesting companion to that of de Long's: his as an unusually broad-minded economist, yours as an unusually engaged moral philosopher.

The question of content is not merely one of parochial interest to Harvard. It seems to me that you could widen the Social Studies canon, along the lines of Chicago, Columbia and St Johns.

Or you could go down the route of the philosophy, politics & economics degree at Oxford, where undergraduates acquire some technical facility with formal price theory, formal methods of political analysis, and the methods of Anglo-American philosophy. (De Long's political economy degree at Berkeley may be another example.) But for this, Adam Smith is not enough economics, you need a focussed microeconomics course; Marx & Weber are not enough politics, you need a course like your own online one in formal methods; and Kant (were he included in Social Studies) is not enough philosophy, you need Quine & Wittgenstein etc.

So the Social Studies approach to content could find itself squeezed between the broader Columbia/Chicago "great books" approach and the second "multiple methods" approach. Or perhaps not; any selective programme within an already very selective university will doubtless find takers, a point de Long makes in passing.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

No, David, I am not suggesting that going from Columbia to UMass is siding with the oppressed. Give me a break. As I indicated, I am an academic through and through, not an organic intellectual. The point of my remarks was to convey, autobiographically, my discomfort with the distinctive character of the Ivy League in the US. I felt the same thing in South Africa, where I am more comfortable at the University of Durban Westville [now merged with UNatal] or The University of the Western Cape than at the University of the Witwatersrand or the University of Cape Town. I am quite conscious of the fact that, for forty-four years, I was a tenured professor, either at Columbia or at UMass, and therefore enjoyed an economic security and freedom that in this day and age is usually available only to those who are independently wealthy [which, in a sense, I was, save that I could not will my annual paycheck to my children.]

I would have thought that after posting well in excess of 1000 pages of material on my blog in the last six months, readers would begin to have some sense of the degree to which I have, in my old age, achieved some measure of self-awareness.

What I did NOT do is rest comfortably in my secure tenure [and now, in secure retirement] while telling the rest of the world that it should submit to the rigors of the market, regardless of how devastating that might be. Much of today's economics profession does just that.

As I say, give me a break!

LFC said...

Wallyverr:

You have an incomplete picture of the Social Studies program. Most students take at least an introduction to contemporary 'mainstream' economics, so their exposure to economics is not limited to Smith and Marx; and some students, depending on their particular interests and focus, do acquire some familiarity w/ 'formal' methods.

Social Studies 10, while the core course, is not the whole program (it is a one-year course; students have three years [from sophomore year on] of coursework), and the program is set up to give students some flexibility to design their own courses of study around their particular interests. I would suggest you go to the Social Studies website and read the details.

This is not to say that there is not room for improvement, change or re-thinking along the lines you suggest; but would you criticize any academic program -- say, Oxford PPE -- on the basis of having read two blog posts (even two thoughtful blog posts, as here in the case of DeLong and Wolff) and without having read PPE's own description of its approach and program? If you wouldn't criticize PPE without having read its self-description, then you should extend the same courtesy to Soc. Stud.

P.S. A formal review of the Soc. Stud. program was undertaken in 2005 and some changes were made. The program is now considerably more structured and coherent in terms of the overall requirements than it was, say, 30 years ago.

David Sucher said...

Well Professor, I hope you understand if it would be natural to connect the ideas (Columbia to Umass as a way of siding with the oppressed) by the manner in which you brought them up. (I hope you do agree with me that it is a funny idea and good for a satire on the sixties.)

But if I am wrong I thank you for the clarification; and sure I will you a break if you give me one: I have never read your blog or even heard of you but a few days ago. So there would be no good reason for you to expect anyone to be familiar with your 1000 pages,

That's one of the issues with blogs: people come into a discussion long after it starts and it's inevitable that some will not be aware of everything the writer has written.

luke's mother said...

Thanks for this post!

Two questions stemming from the post:

1.) Since they were mentioned, do you have any opinions on Foucault, Habermas, and Beauvoir?

2.) Would you someday do a very basic blog post on how one might conduct a study of society? Which texts and authors to consult, questions and methods, etc. It would be greatly appreciated for those with little knowledge of the topics.

Thank you!

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I have never found Foucault or Habermas interesting, but that is a purely subjective response. de beauvoir is an important figure in the modern Women's movement, and is surely worthy of reading on that account.

The second question is a very, very large one. I would have to give that a great deal of thought. I would not want it just ot be a reading list of good texts -- that is easy. There are more than enough to last a lifetime. I would want to organize it in some coherent fashion. Let me think about it.

akapital said...

Professor, your closing remarks remind me of the movie ending to Grapes of Wrath. That's good stuff.

I believe many of those writers of social studies would agree that social theory acts as a sort of corrective function to ideology. Social theory is not itself without bias but is equivalent to one of those dissenters who emphatically states that the lines are not equal, even when they are.

That function is just as integral to the group dynamic.

Wojtek said...

A very interesting piece, indeed. I really enjoyed your blog. However, I find a slight problem with your argument in your "reply to wallyverr" - how does one define who are the oppressed and the oppressors? To illustrate with a simple example: a Latin American immigrant working menial jobs in the US and stalked by anti-immigration vigilantes comes home and finds that his wife is taking a class at a community college instead of waiting for him with the dinner. When she comes home, he gives her a thorough beating to teach her a lesson that her role is to serve her husband. Is this immigrant on the oppressed or the oppressor side?

I do not mean to be flippant here, but I do question your assertion that "taking sides" is a mater of personal choice, or at least a choice of a kind that you face when a flight attendant offers you a "beef or chicken" dinner. I think that this choice is predetermined by person's cognitive disposition, or to use another metaphor, by his/her brain's hardware (neural connections & chemistry.)

There are many ways to argue that position, but the one that I offer here is based on my personal observation. As an immigrant from the "other side" of the Iron Curtain (when it was still shiny) I observed a baffling phenomenon among fellow FOBs (freshly off-the-boat.) Many of them were former Communist Party members who jumped the ship for one reason or another. Other were members of the opposition, which by definition was anti-Communist, and were either kicked out of the country or left voluntarily to avoid actual or anticipated unpleasantries. However, upon arriving on this side of the pond, a very peculiar switchover took place: the ex-Communists became raging Republicans, whereas the ex-anti-Communists became liberals and lefties. Obviously the relationship was not perfect, it probably explained no more that 50% of variance - but in social science that is a big chunk of variance.

I was baffled by it for a while, but then I figured that these people had some internal compass telling them which side to choose. That compass told them where the authoritarian or the anti-authoritarian sides were in any particular part of the globe, and based on these readings, their set their bearings.

If it sounds too much like a page from the "Authoritarian Personality" it should, but I would also like to add that, unlike Adorno et al., I do not think it is the matter of early childhood training or societal influences, although these probably explain sizable chunk of variance too. I think it is the mater of how the brain is hardwired. Some people have a naturally low tolerance for ambiguity or uncertainty (which has probably something to do with the functioning of amygdala) while others naturally thrive in ambiguous and uncertain situations. There are probably many other that are in between. The former naturally seek social environment that - like a crutch - helps them deal with their fears of ambiguity and uncertainty. This draws them toward authoritarian ideologies, religious doctrines, and social settings. The latter, by contrast, avoid such setting like a plague and seek ambiguous wishy-washy social environment (the arts, left wing politics in the US, schmoozing, etc.) This is the "internal compass" that helps them choosing sides as they go through their lives.

So the bottom line is that for many people the choice which side they take is made the day they are born, albeit some may make it deliberately by "crossing to the dark side" because of the persuasive force of money, or perhaps by simply following their significant others. But I do agree with you, that those choices -if this term is appropriate here - determine how people think. After all "being determines consciousness."

Wojtek said...

A very interesting piece, indeed. However, I find a slight problem with your argument - how does one define who are the oppressed and the oppressors? To illustrate with a simple example: a Latin American immigrant working menial jobs in the US comes home and finds that his wife is taking a class at a community college instead of waiting for him with the dinner. When she comes home, he gives her a thorough beating to teach her that her role is to serve her husband. Is this immigrant on the oppressed or the oppressor side?

I do not mean to be flippant here, but I do question your assertion that "taking sides" is a mater of personal choice. I think that this choice is predetermined by person's cognitive disposition, or to use another metaphor, by his/her brain's hardware.

There are many ways to argue that position, but the one that I offer here is based on my personal observation. As an immigrant from the "other side" of the Iron Curtain (when it was still shiny) I observed a baffling phenomenon among fellow FOBs. Many of them were former Communist Party members who jumped the ship for one reason or another. Other were members of the opposition, which by definition was anti-Communist, and were either kicked out of the country or left voluntarily to avoid actual or anticipated unpleasantries. However, upon arriving on this side of the pond, a very peculiar switchover took place: the ex-Communists became raging Republicans, whereas the ex-anti-Communists became liberals and lefties. Obviously the relationship was not perfect, it probably explained no more that 50% of variance - but in social science that is a big chunk of variance.

I was baffled by it for a while, but then I figured that these people had some internal compass telling them which side to choose. That compass told them where the authoritarian or the anti-authoritarian sides were in any particular part of the globe, and based on these readings, their set their bearings.

I think it is the mater of how the brain is hardwired. Some people have a naturally low tolerance for ambiguity or uncertainty (which has probably something to do with the functioning of amygdala) while others naturally thrive in ambiguous and uncertain situations. There are probably many other that are in between. The former naturally seek social environment that - like a crutch - helps them deal with their fears of ambiguity and uncertainty. This draws them toward authoritarian ideologies, religious doctrines, and social settings. The latter, by contrast, avoid such setting like a plague and seek ambiguous wishy-washy social environment (the arts, left wing politics in the US, schmoozing, etc.) This is the "internal compass" that helps them choosing sides as they go through their lives.

So the bottom line is that for many people the choice which side they take is made the day they are born, albeit some may make it deliberately by "crossing to the dark side" because of the persuasive force of money, or perhaps by simply following their significant others. But I do agree with you, that those choices -if this term is appropriate here - determine how people think. After all "being determines consciousness."

Wojtek said...

A very interesting piece, indeed. However, I find a slight problem with your argument - how does one define who are the oppressed and the oppressors? To illustrate with a simple example: a Latin American immigrant working menial jobs in the US comes home and finds that his wife is taking a class at a community college instead of waiting for him with the dinner. When she comes home, he gives her a thorough beating to teach her that her role is to serve her husband. Is this immigrant on the oppressed or the oppressor side?

I do not mean to be flippant here, but I do question your assertion that "taking sides" is a mater of personal choice. I think that this choice is predetermined by person's cognitive disposition, or to use another metaphor, by his/her brain's hardware.

There are many ways to argue that position, but the one that I offer here is based on my personal observation. As an immigrant from the "other side" of the Iron Curtain (when it was still shiny) I observed a baffling phenomenon among fellow FOBs. Many of them were former Communist Party members who jumped the ship for one reason or another. Other were members of the opposition, which by definition was anti-Communist, and were either kicked out of the country or left voluntarily to avoid actual or anticipated unpleasantries. However, upon arriving on this side of the pond, a very peculiar switchover took place: the ex-Communists became raging Republicans, whereas the ex-anti-Communists became liberals and lefties. Obviously the relationship was not perfect, it probably explained no more that 50% of variance - but in social science that is a big chunk of variance.

I was baffled by it for a while, but then I figured that these people had some internal compass telling them which side to choose. That compass told them where the authoritarian or the anti-authoritarian sides were in any particular part of the globe, and based on these readings, their set their bearings.

I think it is the mater of how the brain is hardwired. Some people have a naturally low tolerance for ambiguity or uncertainty (which has probably something to do with the functioning of amygdala) while others naturally thrive in ambiguous and uncertain situations. There are probably many other that are in between. The former naturally seek social environment that - like a crutch - helps them deal with their fears of ambiguity and uncertainty. This draws them toward authoritarian ideologies, religious doctrines, and social settings. The latter, by contrast, avoid such setting like a plague and seek ambiguous wishy-washy social environment (the arts, left wing politics in the US, schmoozing, etc.) This is the "internal compass" that helps them choosing sides as they go through their lives.

Wojtek said...

A very interesting piece, indeed. However, I find a slight problem with your argument - how does one define who are the oppressed and the oppressors? For example: a Latin American immigrant working menial jobs in the US comes home and finds that his wife is taking a class at a community college instead of waiting for him with the dinner. When she comes home, he gives her a thorough beating to teach her that her role is to serve her husband. Is this immigrant on the oppressed or the oppressor side?

I do question your assertion that "taking sides" is a mater of personal choice. I think this choice is predetermined by person's cognitive disposition, i.e. his/her brain's hardware.

One way to argue this position is my personal observation. As an immigrant from the "other side" of the Iron Curtain I observed a baffling phenomenon among fellow FOBs. Many of them were former Communist Party members, while others were in the opposition, which by definition was anti-Communist. However, upon arriving on this side of the pond, a very peculiar switchover took place: the ex-Communists became raging Republicans, whereas the ex-anti-Communists became liberals and lefties. Obviously the relationship was not perfect, it probably explained no more that 50% of variance - but in social science that is a big chunk of variance.

I was baffled by it for a while, but then I figured that these people had some internal compass telling them which side to choose. That compass told them where the authoritarian or the anti-authoritarian sides were in any particular part of the globe, and based on these readings, their set their bearings.

I think that some people have a naturally low tolerance for ambiguity or uncertainty (which has probably something to do with the functioning of amygdala) while others naturally thrive in ambiguous and uncertain situations. There are probably many other that are in between. The former naturally seek social environment that - like a crutch - helps them deal with their fears of ambiguity and uncertainty. This draws them toward authoritarian ideologies, religious doctrines, and social settings. The latter, by contrast, avoid such setting like a plague and seek ambiguous wishy-washy social environment (the arts, left wing politics in the US, schmoozing, etc.) This is the "internal compass" that helps them choosing sides as they go through their lives.

Wojtek said...

Two comments:
1. How does one define who are the oppressed and the oppressors? Suppose a Latin American immigrant working menial jobs in the US comes home and finds that his wife is taking a class at a community college instead of waiting for him with the dinner. When she comes home, he gives her a thorough beating to teach her that her role is to serve her husband. Is this immigrant on the oppressed or the oppressor side?

2. I don't think that "taking sides" is a mater of personal choices. This choice is predetermined by person's cognitive disposition, i.e. his/her brain's hardware.

Let me illustrate this with my personal observation. As an immigrant from the "other side" of the Iron Curtain I observed a baffling phenomenon among fellow FOBs. Many of them were former Communist Party members, while others were in the opposition, which by definition was anti-Communist. However, upon arriving on this side of the pond, a very peculiar switchover took place: many ex-Communists became raging Republicans, whereas many ex-anti-Communists became liberals and lefties.

My explanation is that people have some internal compass telling them which side to choose. That compass tells them where the authoritarian or the anti-authoritarian sides were in any particular part of the globe, and based on these readings, their set their bearings.

I think that some people have a naturally low tolerance for ambiguity or uncertainty (which has probably something to do with the functioning of amygdala) while others naturally thrive in ambiguous and uncertain situations. There are probably many other that are in between. The former naturally seek social environment that - like a crutch - helps them deal with their fears of ambiguity and uncertainty. This draws them toward authoritarian ideologies, religious doctrines, and social settings. The latter, by contrast, avoid such setting like a plague and seek ambiguous wishy-washy social environment (the arts, left wing politics in the US, schmoozing, etc.) This is the "internal compass" that helps them choosing sides as they go through their lives.

Wojtek said...

A very interesting piece, indeed. However, I find a slight problem with your argument - how does one define who are the oppressed and the oppressors? For example: a Latin American immigrant working menial jobs in the US comes home and finds that his wife is taking a class at a community college instead of waiting for him with the dinner. When she comes home, he gives her a thorough beating to teach her that her role is to serve her husband. Is this immigrant on the oppressed or the oppressor side?

I do question your assertion that "taking sides" is a mater of personal choice. I think this choice is predetermined by person's cognitive disposition, i.e. his/her brain's hardware.

One way to argue this position is my personal observation. As an immigrant from the "other side" of the Iron Curtain I observed a baffling phenomenon among fellow FOBs. Many of them were former Communist Party members, while others were in the opposition, which by definition was anti-Communist. However, upon arriving on this side of the pond, a very peculiar switchover took place: the ex-Communists became raging Republicans, whereas the ex-anti-Communists became liberals and lefties. Obviously the relationship was not perfect, it probably explained no more that 50% of variance - but in social science that is a big chunk of variance.

I was baffled by it for a while, but then I figured that these people had some internal compass telling them which side to choose. That compass told them where the authoritarian or the anti-authoritarian sides were in any particular part of the globe, and based on these readings, their set their bearings.

I think that some people have a naturally low tolerance for ambiguity or uncertainty (which has probably something to do with the functioning of amygdala) while others naturally thrive in ambiguous and uncertain situations. There are probably many other that are in between. The former naturally seek social environment that - like a crutch - helps them deal with their fears of ambiguity and uncertainty. This draws them toward authoritarian ideologies, religious doctrines, and social settings. The latter, by contrast, avoid such setting like a plague and seek ambiguous wishy-washy social environment (the arts, left wing politics in the US, schmoozing, etc.) This is the "internal compass" that helps them choosing sides as they go through their lives.

Magpie said...

Prof.

I’m sure you’ll find the article below interesting.

Which Nations Conform Most?
An account of Stanley Milgram’s experiments from 1962, in which Norwegians and Frenchmen were separately subjected to synthetic group pressure
December 1, 2011 |By Stanley Milgram
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/milgram-nationality-conformity/?WT.mc_id=SA_printmag_2011-12

Note that the researchers, among other things, studied the effect of peer pressure, in the shape of group feedback on dissenting opinions produced by the experimental subjects.