Kelleys Theorem of Human Nature
by John M. Kelley
What the recent November Texas constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage that passed by 76% showed is that there is a hard-core Bush voter that is immune to reality. Only 12% of the registered voters actually voted, which means that only 9% turned out in response to a huge get out the vote effort. Unfortunately this small committed base that Lincoln identified (ғyou can fool some of the people all of the time) is enough to swing the outcome of an election. Add that to a disinterested uncommitted middle, a minority mix of committed ideologues (fiscal republicans, libertarians, corporate exploiters) and you have the Republican majority.
How this translates to votes is the craft of various election consultants, candidates, pollsters and pundits. The mistake of the Democrats has been to listen to the poll following consultants who try to second guess the polls without really looking at what motivates the answers of the pollees. Consultants are following the confused middle not providing positions to lead them. For that we need to look at what determines individual human nature, a combination of intelligence and mental health. These are the factors that determine how people get, perceive, analyze and use information and consequently how they vote. One of the huge mistakes most people make when they read polls is that they think of all people as basically the same. They forget basic statistics. One of the principles I have always fallen back on when the world seems really depressing is something I came up with while daydreaming in a graduate statistics class in 1975 which I call KelleyԒs Theorem of Human Nature.
Distributions in any population follow a bell curve. Intelligence, mental health, height, weight all follow a bell curve. Even if the whole population gets obese it will still follow a bell curve of 50% in the middle and 25% distributed on each side of it. You see the bell curve isnt measured in the success or failure of the trait only by the average. So KelleyҒs Theorem of Human Nature says that following the law of the bell curve will yield a clue to the nature of humans.
First lets talk about Intelligence Quotient. It doesnҒt matter whether IQ is a totally accurate measurement of intelligence or not, it is the way we pass out privilege and opportunity in the education system and consequently for life as well. It is a measurement which does measure the ability to abstract. This is in all likelihood somewhat skewed by life experience but does provide us with some ability to measure intellectual ability, and guess what it follows a bell curve. Normal intelligence is from 90-110, in other words 50% of the population when tested falls between these two scores. 25% falls below and 25% falls above.
Now what normal intelligence says is not that you are particularly creative, inquisitive, analytical or possess any real level of higher thinking skills, it just means you are average. With respect to abstract information (understanding things that cant be comprehended with the five senses such as ideas) the average person has the ability to do that by pairing the abstract information with symbols such as numbers. This allows people to be manipulated by repetitive pairing of concrete internal feelings of abstract origins with symbols associated with unrelated causes i.e. fear-terrorists-Iraq.
In other words average intelligence means in human beings is that you can complete the tasks of a structured job, keep a checkbook, find your way to work, can be reasonably expected to learn from your concrete experiences to apply that information to the same situation next time. In other words you can be expected to find a comfortable rut and stay there. It also means that when you encounter problems that you canҒt understand (like complex abstract paradigms) you are easily swayed to believe in superstitious, illogical and incorrectly interpreted causal relationships.
Now the 25% below that normal (from 89-0 IQ) cannot even successfully do those things. The 25% above normal (spread from 111-200 IQ) have an exceptional ability in those areas. In the area of abstraction, that means that they can predict future events from similar events not just the same events. They have the ability to perceive complex abstract data and manipulate it freely in their minds, testing it against various potential realities and outcomes. So only 25% of the people can consistently perceive, interpret, analyze and process abstract information like ideology, economics, history, advanced mathematics, philosophy, scientific theory, etc. That means that 75% cannot.
Now lets talk about mental health, it also follows a bell curve with the 50% in the middle being ғnormal. What does normal mean in mental health? It means that you donԒt have any mental health condition that interferes significantly or prevents you from normal functioning. In other words, you can get up on time, go to work, focus on your work throughout the day without going postal on your colleagues, go home after work get along at least marginally well with your spouse and kids. You may be neurotic (have unrealistic fears) but not enough that it prevents you from working or causes you to act violently. It also means that you know who you are, where you are and what year it is. It does not mean that you are especially insightful of why you behave the way you do, understanding your feelings and their connections to your actions, to particularly understand the motivation or actions of other people or anything other then to just get by.
Now 25% are below this meaning they are not normal, they are not mentally healthy enough to function at a basic level. They may have been born with chemical imbalances, been damaged by traumatic life events, substance addiction, mental or physical impairment, or raised without being taught successful emotional coping skills. They have almost no insight to the cause of their problems and almost universally blame others for their circumstances. On the opposite end of the scale are the 25% who are above normal in terms of emotional health. They maintain a healthy balance between their interests and others and understand that interaction, they usually have a deep understanding of what there purpose is and feel content with their role in life and most of all have a keen sense of what is within their sphere of influence and exert their efforts there.
Now here is the kicker, they are not necessarily the same 25% as the 25% who are more intelligent then normal. This is where childhood rearing, life experiences and opportunity come into play. In all statistical likelihood only 10% of the people are both mentally healthier than normal and more intelligent than normal and guess what, none of them probably want to be CEOs or political leaders. Given that fact it truly is amazing the world runs as well as it does! As James Fenimore Cooper said “The tendency of democracies is, in all things, to mediocrity.”
What Does This Have to do With Winning Elections?
What this means is that probably only 10% of the population can intelligently and consistently examine the issues and what they mean to them and vote for their long term interests. I think we can trust that most of these people vote even if for no other reason then the intellectual exercise although there are some who may logically avoid the whole thing on the honest evaluation that it doesnҒt make any difference. In all probability the 21% who are not even registered are so mentally or emotionally disabled to not be able to participate. Of those who do vote most vote on 1) what they believe are their best concrete short term interests; 2) what their fears are; 3) some combination there of. Out of the almost 175,000 people who did register only 70% of them voted, so lets assume that the other 24% of the voting age people who were registered but didnҒt vote were too confused, hopeless or angry with the choices presented to bother. It is difficult to say they were apathetic if they bothered to register. That leaves 55% who voted, most of who fell into the average range of our hypothetical scale of combined mental health and intelligence, lets look at them.
By definition they recognize symbols as concrete expressions of abstract concepts but lack the ability to fully abstract theories, problems and consequences. They also harbor a range of neurotic behaviors from mild to moderate that they lack the insight to release themselves from. The primarily copy others solutions, rarely accomplishing original thinking. On top of that they live in a world where they are inundated with a deluge of media information, news/views and demands while living in an ever-increasing stream of technological change. In the background is the ever-shifting financial ground of the impacts of modern capitalism.
Isolated from traditional social structures such as family and community that help people process such information they have to fall back on their own limited capacity to understand and interpret events. When faced with this situation they will select consistent sources of information so as to avoid the cognitive dissonance that is the natural result of conflicting information. They will also tend to select the information, which gives them the most concrete, immediate and simple explanation for their discomfort given to them by someone with apparent authority. As H.L. Mencken said,Ҕ for every problem there is a simple solution, usually wrong.
This ability to understand representative abstraction while lacking more complex insight to its meaning is key to dismantling one of the great misperceptions of capitalism, that rich people are smarter. Money is basically a concrete symbol for wealth and power. You donԒt have to be above average to be rich. You just have to understand that you have to bring more in than expend. It doesnt mean that you understand the long term consequences of your actions on yourself or others, especially if those consequences are in some abstract future. Conscience in oneҒs own interest as opposed to some externally imposed guilt structure is very abstract and can get in the way of financial accumulation, while the seduction of imaginary power of money seems very concrete.
When it comes to religious beliefs this mix of fear and concreteness explains the main argument between religious and non-religious as well as inter-religious battles that are going on today. Religion is a mix of three things philosophy, mythology and superstition. On the left you have a mix of atheists, agnostics and many of the mainline churches who rely on philosophy to guide them. Concerning Christianity this means they focus on the philosophical teachings of Jesus as a way to conduct their life. They tend to believe that people are basically good. They have no or little attachment to the mythology of the miracles, the virgin birth, the resurrection or any of the Old Testament. They think of the after life as insurance at best. Some are non-religious believers while some attend church for the reassurance and ritual to renew their personal commitment. They understand the ritual and the mythology of the church as symbols.
Then there are the superstitious and fearful. They think that people are born bad. They believe in being savedӔ that all non-believers will go to hell or heaven, the divinity of Jesus, past and present miracles, most believe in the rapture, the second coming and the Bermuda Triangle. They cannot separate the symbols from the realities and are easily manipulated by people who know how to adjust the mythology and symbols to accomplish their own selfish ends. Elmer Gantry knew this used it to exploit people while Pat Robertson may just be popular because he reflects the same basic misunderstandings of the world..
Now guess which ones are concrete, fear based thinkers and which ones are not. Pretty clear huh? Now remember most fall somewhere in between and the platform and message needs to be crafted with that in mind.
Now because the middle 50% has a mix of both of these characteristics they will look for leadership and when they dont find it they either wonҒt vote or will vote what they think will take care of their financial interests and reduce their fears. The war on crime, the war on drugs, the war on terror, the Republicans have mastered war on stuff for propaganda purposes all the while the real war has been on working people. One of the reason Bush even got close to winning two elections is that this great confused middle saw him as one of them and all indications are they are right, Bush is a concrete, superstitious thinker who doesnt understand the abstract realities behind the rhetoric and symbols. The other problem was that the Democrats did not offer any clear alternative solution to the two main worries of this group, financial and personal security except warmed over Republican positions. This group for the most part wants to do the right thing, they just need to believe that someone is offering them that path.
The other thing the Republicans have managed to do is to create the supporting mythology around the symbols. Reagan ended the cold war, Republicans are tough on crime, the Republicans are the tough guys, Viet Nam was lost because of those cowardly protesters. The Democrats are still trying to live off from the mythology of the New Deal. They have failed to develop and advance their own mythology as champions of the workingman and the oppressed to counter the competing images.
Does this mean that Democrats can never win an election; no it does mean that big changes have to occur though. They have to pursue class issues as a way to unite people behind a positive philosophy and whether in a religious or secular manner espouse that philosophy while pointing out the short and long term financial interests to people in this group to gain their votes. When you ask people if they are liberal only 18% say yes, but ask about helping poor people, universal education & healthcare, providing for reasonable pensions, helping everyone to find work you get an overwhelming majority that supports those ideas. People are already there on philosophy they just need someone ready to challenge the corporate control and articulate that philosophy in a way to attract religious and non-religious people alike.
Last but not least, the left must be humble. The perception of many is that the Republicans are right when they call the left elitist. As Ayn Rand, darling of the right said “Mediocrity doesn’t mean average intelligence; it means an average intelligence that resents and envies its betters”. Too often the leftҒs leadership talks down to people about what their own best interests are without asking them. That is because the union, civil rights and other populist leaders are shut out of the process and not seen as the face of the party. In many cases the candidates have been separated from the party structure by corporate contributions. Taking the leadership away from the corporatists and bourgeoisie liberals and returning it to the common peoples own emergent leadership is the only chance of success of offering truly progressive alternatives to their concerns and winning elections. Until then Ill just have to rely on KelleyҒs Theorem of Human Nature to get me through.
John M. Kelley is a teacher, philosopher, writer, artist, political activist, singer of ballads, rebellious Irishman and agent for change who worries daily about the world he is leaving for his grandchildren. His blog is at http://www.mytown.ca/johnkelley