Friday, 4 January 2013

Unlocking the Liberal Mind – Introduction

I’ve undertaken a more long term project looking at some of the dynamics of the Liberal Mind. As I have a full-time job as well as other responsibilities I’m not in a position to write the whole thing at once. I therefore propose to publish a section at a time. This is the introduction where I will set out my aims, give an overview of the territory I’m venturing into, and counsel my readers to prepare for the long haul.

Over the last 10 years I have educated myself about the nature of Islam and have become distinctly alarmed both by its incursions into the West and the increasing evidence of radicalisation both at home and abroad. That in itself is bad enough but what has exasperated me almost as much is the continued blindness of so many people in the non-Muslim world. They continue to make assumptions about Islam that bear no relation to reality; they continue to defend a political position which takes absolutely no account of Islamic doctrines or of the many instances of behaviour inspired by those doctrines. This attitude which encompasses people on the political left, the political right, and the political centre is what I mean by the Liberal Mind. It’s liberalism in a broad sense: the habits of mind which originated with John Locke and the British empiricists, encompassing as they do both a theory of society and an approach to knowledge; habits of mind that were built upon by utilitarianism (seek the greatest happiness of the greatest number) and the progessive movements of the 19th century; Thomas Paine and the rights of man; the Founding Fathers of the American Constitution; culminating in such achievements as the abolition of slavery, the emancipation of women, the fairer treatment of minorities, all underpinned by a belief that societies could progress by better education for all, tolerance of diverse viewpoints, respect for empirical evidence rather than clerical or academic authority, and so on.

Liberalism in this sense constitutes what Thomas Kuhn called a paradigm. It’s an all-encompassing set of ideas as to what is possible, what is knowable, and the best means of achieving progress in human affairs; in short, it provides the context in which all things, including human life, are to be understood. This mode of thought and living has hitherto been adamantly opposed to all forms of tyranny, oppression, inequality, ecclesiastical dogma, and social forces that can be broadly described as reactionary (that is, wanting to turn back the tide of liberal progress). And yet, today these liberal forces are unable to bring themselves to oppose the most reactionary, tyrannical, oppressive, non-egalitarian, and clerically dogmatic force on earth today: Islam. Why is this? That is the question that I hope to shed light on.

I have drawn primarily on well-tested insights from psychology using such areas of research as: attitude formation and prejudice, cognitive processes such as memory and perception, moral psychology, cultural and evolutionary psychology, and studies of social influence. I use these to explore why and how the Liberal Mind has become “locked”; why it has become incapable of looking facts in the face and adjusting its attitude and behaviour to address a considerable threat to the very values it claims to espouse. Why is it that when you tell a liberal that you are concerned by the spread of Islam that they are more likely to see you as the problem rather than Islam? Why is it that a liberal will avoid finding out about Islam, except from sources approved by such bastions of liberal thinking as The Guardian?

Be prepared for a long haul. I have to lay down a lot of groundwork in psychology before I can apply the insights of psychology to the question at hand. In the next section I'll look at some aspects of the psychology of perception for this is important for our understanding of how we see the world - both in terms of our physical environment and the social environment. By the social environment I mean the whole global social world which is not your individual self.

Go to: Part 1 - Perception


  1. Anecdotally I've noticed that women are significantly more likely to be liberal / progressive / leftist. (I've read stats which bear this out also). I wonder whether this has an evolutionary explanation - with women less inclined in-group loyalty...? Jens Cuthbert

  2. ... if this observation is accurate it implies that, wherever there is universal suffrage,this mindset is destined to prevail ( - sooner or later and however briefly). Jens