I don’t need you, I can’t buy you, I can’t hurt you…

Here’s an interesting scientific paper about Palestinians and Israeli settlers. The experiments asked each group questions intended to judge how willing they were to compromise. Then, they asked the questions again, but threw in a side-offer, for example of economic aid or third-power security guarantees.

Interestingly, all the groups split into two identifiable types; some weren’t happy to compromise but thought they could do so, some rejected any compromise outright. The really significant result, however, is that the no-compromise group responded very badly to the offer of a side payment – it just made them angrier and more intransigent. Only a dramatic sacrifice of symbols by the other side would induce them to change – exactly, as it happens, the sort of thing the compromise group wouldn’t think of doing for fear of what the non-compromisers would say.

I wonder if it would be possible to re-analyse the results using Robert Altemeyer’s tests of social authoritarianism and dominance? It feels intuitively right; more formally, an intense concern with symbols and symbolic norms would seem to be very similar with the obsession with the preservation of hierarchical norms Altemeyer identified among his authoritarian subjects.

It also fits with a lot of the language of extreme conservatism through history; the idea of the corrupting nature of compromise and of democracy, especially of parliaments, and its opposite, the cult of the decision embodied in the leader, has been around since the counter-enlightenment.

This does, of course, point out a deep ambiguity – we admire principle but also reasonableness, which must mean the ability to ignore it.

Further question; remember Chris Lightfoot’s analysis of the Political Survey results? Chris selected the statements from a survey which maximised the variance in the population’s answers to them and used these to summarise the results on two axes. This is one of the axes:

  • Sense Statement
  • agree Prisons are too soft on criminals
  • agree The UK should withdraw from the European Union
  • disagree Most immigrants are beneficial to the UK
  • agree Some crimes are so serious that the only proper punishment is the death penalty
  • disagree It’s more important to rehabilitate criminals than to punish them
  • disagree The government should give more aid to poor countries
    agree National law should always override international agreements and European directives
  • agree Working people pay too much tax
  • disagree The cost of living in the UK should be allowed to rise in order to fight global warming
  • agree The government is mostly interested in helping itself, not ordinary people

The people surveyed broke by vote into two well-specified groups on this axis; one encompassed the Labour, Liberal, Welsh and Scottish Nationalist, RESPECT, and Green voters, the other the Conservatives, BNPers, ‘kippers and Veritas voters (if any measure of them can be considered statistically significant). Now, I would suggest that for a lot of the latter group, the last but one question isn’t really a stereotype-rationalist one about negotiating costs and risks but an identitarian one about not being a *refined shudder* greenie, which means that only the tax one can be considered as a question of compromise.

  1. hardindr

    Alex! This is the Scott Atran paper I mailed you about months ago! Welcome to the party! Anyway, Atran also has a talk posted on youtube about this! The links to the other videos are listed in the “video reply section.”

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