Cinnamon Stillwell

I’m the West Coast Representative for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum that focuses on Middle East studies. I was a political columnist for (San Francisco Chronicle online) from 2004-2008. I've written for the American Thinker, Frontpage Magazine, Family Security Matters, Accuracy In Media, Newsbusters, Israel National News, The Jewish Policy Center, J-The Jewish News Weekly of N. CA, Intellectual Conservative and many others. More info at

Friday, January 12, 2007

Further Thoughts On Psychology Today's "9/11 Effect" Article

Last week, I posted an item about a Psychology Today article titled "The Ideological Animal" (now fully available at the website). The article purports to explain what motivates those of us who made the post-9/11 shift from left to right and it uses my story, as well as the discussion group I started, the 9/11 Neocons, as an example.

As I indicated at the time, I have no serious complaints about the article's take on me, which I found to be generally fair. Mostly, I objected to the inaccurate use of the term "pro-war rallies" to describe my days as a counter-protester at leftist rallies. By doing so, the author, Jay Dixit, missed an opportunity to shed light on the sort of negative behavior exhibited by the left (anti-Americanism, anti-Zionism, anti-Semitism) that helped solidify my political transformation.

I also expressed some doubts as to the objectivity of the conclusions reached in the article that I now wish to elaborate on. In short, like most psychological studies and articles examining political persuasion, conservatives are made out to be the bad guys, while liberals come off as enlightened beings. This may be because, nine times out of ten, such "studies" are conducted by liberals and are biased from the start.

Indeed, the Psychology Today article makes use of one particular 1969 study, that of leftist U.C. Berkeley professors Jack and Jeanne Block, which has been roundly debunked in the rightwing blogosphere. Michelle Malkin and The Volokh Conspiracy provide a sampling of the criticism and it isn't pretty.

My own anonymous tipster actually knew some of the people engaged in conducting the Berkeley study and describes them as "flaming Berkeley multi-culti liberal moonbat types who set out to prove from the get-go that conservatives were inferior." So much for scientific objectivity.

The Psychology Today article's central thesis, that the move towards conservativism is based on fear of death, is questionable at best. When a true threat to one's self, family, community, country and civilization exists (i.e. Islamic fascism) and he or she responds by wanting to fight that threat, I'd call that engaging with reality, not simple fear of death. And isn't the instinct for self-preservation based on a fear of death? It would seem that those who think themselves and their civilization invulnerable are the the delusional ones, not those who understand human nature and mortality and act accordingly.

Finally, the article's closing paragraph indicating that if one is simply encouraged to "think rationally" none of this political shifting (presumably to the right) would be required, is not only silly, but insulting. It was just such rational thinking that led me to reject the left and embrace those (most of whom, it turned out, were on the right) that fully understood the dangers of Islamic fascism. If it's irrational to want to fight against the great totalitarian threat of our day, then count me in.

Other conservative-leaning bloggers have weighed in on the "9/11 Effect" article and reached similar conclusions. Red State Kids provides a hilarious (and accurate) take on my story in "Want Conservative Minded Kids? Then Scare Them to Death." Radio Nerd discusses "Why Conservatives are the True Bedwetters" and Yave Begnet isn't sure he's fully on board for the "Fear of Death" thesis. I'll add more links as I find them.

Cross-posted at Kesher Talk.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Steven Pinker in his book The Blank Slate argues convincingly for the existence of a built-in "human nature," basic evolutionary behavioral attributes that we all share. One of those attributes, also possessed by most other animals, is the capacity for fear.

Fear is what has kept us alive as a species for hundreds of thousands of years. Fear is an essential component of the survival of most advanced species.

But not all animals have fear. They've evolved in an environment where there were no predators. Take for example, the dodo, a flightless bird on Mauritius. It had no fear of any other creatures, because nothing preyed on it. So when humans arrived (in the 16th century), the dodos just sat there and allowed themselves to be slaughtered for food by the invaders. Other animals on the island -- those that evolved to experience fear -- scurried away when hunted. The result? The dodos went extinct, while the other species survived.

Fear is not a pathology, as these pseudo-scientists purport. Fear is a natural and essential component of human nature. The absence of fear is a pathology. It could thus be argued that those "conservatives" who got that way because of "fear" are in fact the psychologically healthy ones, and the ones that will insure our common survival. The fearless "liberals" will end up like the dodo. Our only challenge is to make sure that they don't take us all down with them.

Saturday, January 13, 2007 12:19:00 PM  
Anonymous jeremayakovka said...

I very much appreciate your follow-up to the PT story. True to professional (and blogging) form, you're taking the discussion one step further....!

* the sort of negative behavior exhibited by the left (anti-Americanism, anti-Zionism, anti-Semitism) that helped solidify my political transformation: this speaks for me, too. Big time.

* explaining conservatism as having a "fear of death" is laughable! Adopting conservative views has more to do with cherishing life -- a stable, productive, law-abiding life -- as it has been handed down to us by tradition. People who cherish life are uniquely qualified to brave death (when the time comes), no?

* The built-in UCB psych bias brings to mind Daniel Flynn's Why The left hates America. There Mr. Flynn documents the bias in some post-WWII sociology that produced studies showing, e.g., that the United States was allegedly a latent or potentially fascist society -- which the Left has gotten incredible nihilistic mileage out of for 3 generations now and counting.

Thanks for the links to further post-9/11 articles! I'll read them and blog at length on the subject in the coming week.

Saturday, January 13, 2007 3:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...those who think themselves and their civilization invulnerable are the the delusional ones..."

I'm another left-to-right case, although I moved over about 15 years before the WTC attack. You neatly summed up a major component of my world-view right there. Thank you.

Monday, January 29, 2007 11:25:00 PM  

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