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Monday, October 19, 2015

Movie stars' political opinions

Somehow we all seem to know where George Clooney, Susan Sarandon, and Matt Damon stand on the political spectrum. We know that Sean Penn was friendly with Hugo Chavez, that Alec Baldwin hates Republicans, that Pamela Anderson supports PETA, and that Jane Fonda is a former communist sympathizer.

How is it we all know these things, even if we don't want to? For some reason, movie stars are asked their opinion about political matters quite often, and they are rarely reticent about giving them.

Yet the requirements for being a "movie star" consist of being good-looking, and having a talent for mimicry. Neither of those attributes would necessarily make one's political opinion worth listening to.

And movie stars themselves are -- quite often -- some of the most narcissistic, needy, vacuous, temperamental, diva-like, uneducated morons around.

All of these traits are negatively correlated with having a calm, level-headed, rational, numerate approach to problem-solving.

So why do we listen to actors and actresses? And why don't we listen to people whose opinions might be worth something?

For instance, engineers. They understand how things work; and they know how to make things that are efficient and durable. I'm not talking about people like Steve Jobs, who took credit for a lot of other peoples' ideas, or Mark Zuckerberg, who essentially stole the idea for Facebook from those twins. I'm talking about, for instance, the guy who made the flat screen TV, or the guys who actually made those chips faster at Intel, or the NASA engineers who attended to all the details of the spacecraft which landed on Mars. These are all guys who do their jobs quietly, responsibly, and intelligently.

How do they feel about getting us more involved in Middle East wars, or gun control, or affirmative action, or the Pacific trade agreement? We should listen to them, not Susan Sarandon.

Or doctors. You need both brains and discipline to get the grades and MCAT's necessary to get into med school, and then get through four years of med school. If we want a brainy, disciplined foreign policy, we should listen to them. Not Sean Penn.

Or crossword puzzle constructors, who are able to fit things together in clever ways. Being a cruciverbalist is the sort of job that results in genteel poverty, but it still takes a lot of brainpower to make all those words mesh seamlessly.

Physicists, mathematicians, biologists, neurophysiologists, and chemists all understand the inner workings of things, and have a deeper understanding of how our world works on at least some level. Which means they probably have, on balance, a better sense of how things work at other levels as well.

The people who come up with the questions on standardized tests understand how intelligence works, and people who are interested in that subject are almost inevitably intelligent themselves. So their opinions on political matters will probably be likewise.

If we do want to hear what Hollywood has to say, let's listen to the screenwriters, since they're the real brains behind the movies. (It's not the directors or producers or actors.) But we'd have to interview them anonymously, so that they wouldn't have to be worried about being blacklisted by Hollywood by giving the wrong opinion.

But our media isn't interested in what engineers, or chemists, or mathematicians have to say. They prefer the rantings of a drug-addled, needy, insecure, self-righteous, hard-partying actors -- who happen to be good-looking, or at least were at one time.


High Arka said...

I would have agreed with this post at one time, but since then, I've met too many doctors, chemists, engineers, and mathematicians. To my horror, I found them to be essentially the same as movie stars, only lacking (1) makeup, and (2) celebrity. The variable(s) involved seem to be more about ethnicity and nationality than about "career choice."

Mark Caplan said...

Given all that, it's surprising that Ronald Reagan is the only film actor (such as he was) to have a successful career in politics in recent decades. Many actors and entertainers are highly political, but almost none enters politics.

John Craig said...

High Arka --
You're right, actually, people tend to basically justify their own ethnic self-interest. I thought about saying something about people's opinions not being counted when they were too obviously arguing purely for their own tribe, but a lot of people do this. And, now that I think of it, the most pathetic people of all are white Anglo liberals who argue against their own ethnic self-interest.

I actually thought of including investment bankers -- who are supposed to be smart -- as a group whose opinions should be included, but then I remembered all the discussions I had with them when I was on Wall Street, and decided, nah. So, yes, familiarity does breed contempt-for-opinions.

Still, the point of the post is that people in the hard sciences are more likely to have come to their opinions logically, at least more so than actors. Actors seem to have lit upon their positions as a way of showing how "good" (read: political correct) they are.

John Craig said...

Mark --
True, I hadn't thought of that. Though actually, if you consider being elected governor of a state being "successful," you'd have to add Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura to that list. Neither was effective as a governor, but both were handicapped by oppositional state legislatures. Schwarzenegger was Republican, and Ventura actually won his election as a member of the Reform Party, so they, too, went against the grain in Hollywood.

Runner Katy said...

Wouldn't it be nice if the media would specifically ask (or poll and report with as much enthusiasm) the hard working men and women fighting in the wars for their political views/opinions and the middle class average American (of various races and careers)? I'd love to see that without any outside influence of wealth or fame.

John Craig said...

Runner Katy --
You're absolutely right, people who put their lives on the line for their country deserve to have their opinions heard. But there's a reason the media doesn't like to interview our soldiers and sailors and Marines: they're overwhelmingly conservative, from what I've heard.

High Arka said...

That's the traditional viewpoint, but consider what proportion of the enlisted soldiery is now "diverse," made up of non-Asian, non-Caucasian ethnic groups, women, and homosexuals. My anecdotal perspective from soldiers is that they are more "aggressive fiscal Democrats" and "proposition nation" than anything else, even if they are sometimes anti-abortion and pro-gun.

Years of affirmative action and pro-gay command appointments have had some of the old-style (actually conservative) military people giving up on the whole show. But again, that's just my anecdotal perspective.

John Craig said...

High Arka --
True, the military has shifted, and the brass kowtows to the reigning political correctness. And my view may be somewhat biased because I hear about the military from my son, who was in the infantry, and the combat sections of the military are still overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly high testosterone-conservative. (White boys who enlist tend to want adventure and the chance to prove themselves and so go into the combat positions; NAM's who enlist are generally looking for economic opportunity and will sign up for non-combat roles.)

In any case, even though the military has become diverse, the troops are still for the most part conservative. (I've heard that even blacks who enlist are far more likely to be conservative than the average black off the street.) Otherwise, why would the Obama administration have tried to implement that new regulation which made it harder for soldiers stationed abroad to vote (under the guise of making it easier for them to vote)? Don't ask me for the details on that bill, but I do remember hearing about it a while back.

Shaun F said...

John - somewhere I stumbled across this statement "People will do anything for those who encourage their dreams, justify their failures, allay their fears, confirm their suspicions and help them throw rocks at their enemies." It must have been some marketing device on how to manipulate people…ironically. Anyway, I think this basically explains why actors, shills and pundits are more prominent members in society beaking off. I've found the decent people in this world go about their business helping quietly those that they can. I liked the description of the movie star as needy, vacuous, and temperamental. I'll have to use that next time I rub shoulders with my diva like actor friend who plays (in real life and on stage) "The swell sensitive down to earth forty something guy that can identify with everyone cause he's all that and a good listener." BTW - I know a couple guys in hard sciences - PHD in Chemistry, and another Masters in Physics - oy. They may be logical with science and physics but I have yet to see it percolate over to their personal lives. Oddly they are quite stunted when it comes to learning - however, maybe my methods of teaching through allegory and metaphor aren’t what they are accustomed to and it jams there hardware. I agree with High Arka’s statement at 4:27 AM.

John Craig said...

Shaun --
I have to admit, on second thought I went astray with this post. I was more trying to make the point about movie stars' opinions being worthless, and used all these other people as contrast, but you and High Arka are right, there are a lot of flakes everywhere.

If the two scientists you know are that illogical outside their fields of expertise, I wonder if they might not be Aspies. I think there are a fair number of people who pass as regular old nerds who are in fact Aspies.

Highly Refined Pirate said...

When you ask those capable of making informed decisions (i.e. professionals with higher education) you notice that they are far from identifying with conservative views.

I will quote a response I noticed at Quora that pretty much sums up this rationale.

Clint Law wrote:
"...With that said, I've seen scientists (mostly physicists due to my background) that run the gamut of positions on social issues, economic policy, foreign policy, etc.

The one near universal trait that leads to liberal voting tendencies is:

Introspection and communication. Scientists, by nature, are willing to consider the possibility that they are wrong and engage in open discussion with those of differing viewpoints. Even if your are very conservative by nature, if you are also introspective and open, it is harder to accept many of the policies of the modern US conservative movement (again, I'm referring mainly to isolationism, war-mongering and religion-based government). Even if you agree with some things in principle (e.g. abortion is wrong), it becomes increasingly hard to support forcing these beliefs on everyone as you fully understand the views and supporting rationale of others."

John Craig said...

Highly Refined Pirate --
True enough, as many of the other commenters have pointed out, professionals vary in their political opinions. But it's interesting that the "conservative" positions you mention are at odds with the positions this blog takes, and are actually not universal conservative positions. First, "isolationism" and "war-mongering" are close to being diametrically opposed. It's the neocons, who are generally despised by the paleo-cons, who've been the loudest voices agitating for war in the Middle East. If a true conservative doesn't want to go to war, he's called an isolationist; if he does, he's called a war-monger. If a liberal doesn't want to go to war, he's called a man of peace; if he does, as with Clinton's years-long bombing of Iraq or Obama's escalation of the Afghanistan War, nobody calls him a war-monger. As far as religion-based government, again, a more-or-less-libertarian blog like this one is not for that, but yes, there are definitely Republicans who are against abortion, and there are even a few who don't want evolution taught in the schools. But I would say that the more modern "religion" of equalitarianism which demands that we all ignore group differences and attribute any difference in accomplishment to white racism or to sexism has a much more deleterious effect on society. Okay, maybe it's a stretch to describe that as a "religion," but given the way its True Believers adhere to it, it might as well be. And as far as "forcing these beliefs on everyone," just look at the way that anybody who veers from this equalitarian orthodoxy is at risk of losing his livelihood if he should utter any apostasy.

Highly Refined Pirate said...

For some reason you make Egalitarianism sound like a bad thing. I'm not sure if that was your intent. All humans are equal and should have the same opportunities and rights. That's the basis of human rights. Though the difference in accomplishment is a real thing, backed by solid evidence. Does that mean that other groups are more prone to engage in illegal or dangerous activities because of "genetics"? No. It means those living in the fringes of society (mostly minorities) will be more prone to crime than those raised with a good education and stability (mostly white). If you are raised in the ghetto, it doesn't matter wherever you are black or white, you are likely to have a troubled life.

Those who believe in the so called "group differences" tend to be short-sighted and lack knowledge on the history of human civilization. Wasn't civilization born in the middle east? Mesopotamia? The cradle of western civilization were the Greeks, heavily influenced by the cultures of the near and middle east. Both the Romans and the Greeks looked down upon the Gauls, the Celts and the Germanic tribes (ancestors to what is considered now as "white people" in the United States) as uncivilized savages, with their "foreign customs" and false gods. Were they right? No. Moral relativism is the key word here. No group, no religion, no society, no culture is better than the other. It's all a matter of perspective.

We are all human beings, but some people tend to forget that.

John Craig said...

Highly Refined Pirate --
You're putting words in my mouth. I never said that we shouldn't be equal in the eyes of the law, or that we shouldn't have equal rights. Nor did I suggest that we're all human beings. But what we have right now is a society in which anybody who is aware of group differences and points them out is considered a thought criminal.

And I love the way you put genetics into quotation marks, as if they make no difference. One of the most obvious genetic differences is between men and women: men have more testosterone, and are far more prone to violence. And there have been tests in which people who are given testosterone supplements become more violent. Would you deny that? Is the difference in violent crime rates between men and women just a social construct? Likewise, blacks have more testosterone than whites, and are also more prone to violent crime. The statistics bear this out, and it's not a matter of prejudice or racism, it's just a fact. Whites who were brought up during the Depression didn't have murder and rape rates anywhere close to today's rates of crime in the ghetto.

It's the people who try to paper over group differences who are short-sighted and lack knowledge of the history of human civilization. Nobody denies that the Middle East, where agriculture first appeared, was the cradle of civilization. And Europe, by the way, is where the industrial revolution took place. But what does that have to do with current IQ differences between Europeans and sub-Saharan Africans -- who are clearly not the same race as the Mesopotamians.

I'm glad you're a moral relativist and see no difference between a Muslim culture which demands that girls not be allowed to go to school, be forced to wear burkhas, and have their clits cut off, and Western civilization, which demands one of those things. The real sin, after all, would be to notice or point out any of those differences.

Highly Refined Pirate said...

I said I wasn't sure if that was your intention. I didn't mean to offend or put words in your mouth. Back on topic:

Of course genetics make a difference, just not the way you are trying to twist it. So what about the whites of the Germanic tribes and the Vikings. There is a bulk of evidence of their infamous brutal acts, sacrifices and terrible deeds in ancient records. Was it genetics then? or social conditioning? What about the holocaust? Trying to exterminate an entire ethnic group must mean something, no?

So now you bring the IQ differences to the table. So apparently if you raise a bunch of black kids in a WASPie home, send them to an Ivy League then you won't expect them to be of any worth, because you know, inferior genes. Blacks have nothing to do with Mesopotamians, but people from the middle east do, and they are heavily discriminated, along with Latins (which many are 100% european white btw) and to some extent the jews.

Moral relativism doesn't mean you approve what they do. It means you have a world view perception other than your own self-centered self. I wonder what people in the Middle East think after America went there to get their oil and bomb their cities. We shouldn't look through a one way glass.

John Craig said...

Highly Refined Pirate --
Fair enough, you did say you weren't sure if that was my intention.

But how am I trying to "twist" genetics?

The difference between different groups is not that some are capable of mass brutality and others are not; every single ethnic group in human history has committed atrocities somewhere along the way, the Germans are hardly alone on this score, though they are often held up as singularly evil. Every group has murder, rape, and cannibalism in its past. The difference between groups is that some are more capable of civilization and functional democracies than others.

Interesting that you would bring up adopted children. In fact there have been extensive studies on that subject and they have found that adopted children inevitably have IQ's more in line with their biological relatives than with their adoptive families. This is true for both interracial and intraracial adoptions. And by the way, I would never say that someone is "not of any worth" because he has a lower IQ.

The larger point: liberals always seem to assume that if someone says that because there are group differences in IQ, then that is the same as saying that the lower-IQed group is "worthless" or "not human" or something along those lines. I've never used the word "inferior" to describe any group, and there's no morality imputed to a lower IQ, if you take a look at this blog you'll see I write about sociopathy quite often, and I talk about smart sociopaths as often as I do dumb ones. (Both are equally evil.) But neither is the question of IQ differences a morally-weighted one; it's a scientific one. What you do with that information may have moral consequences, but the scientific answer is either true or false, not good or bad.

If I were to say that blacks are better sprinters than whites -- as a cursory glance at the Olympic results would make clear -- that does not mean I'm saying that whites are "inferior people." It's merely an accurate conclusion that any open-minded and clear-thinking person would come to. Likewise with other traits.

As far as moral relativism, what you said earlier -- that "no group, no religion, no society, no culture is better than the other" -- is interesting. I take it by this that you don't think that the Muslims are any worse for their attitude toward women. Or that Nazi Germany, which you referred to in your most recent comment, is any worse than any other society. I guess it is, after all, good to "have a world view perception other than your own self-centered self."