Wednesday, March 22, 2006

A Theory of Comparative Whininess

From an article in the Toronto Post:

Remember the whiny, insecure kid in nursery school, the one who always thought everyone was out to get him, and was always running to the teacher with complaints? Chances are he grew up to be a conservative.

At least, he did if he was one of 95 kids from the Berkeley area that social scientists have been tracking for the last 20 years. The confident, resilient, self-reliant kids mostly grew up to be liberals.

The study from the Journal of Research Into Personality isn't going to make the UC Berkeley professor who published it any friends on the right.

The study seems like the usual crap that passes for in-depth pyschological research Berkely-style so far as I can tell from the article I read. But what would be interesting is a comparison of the whininess exhibited in adulthood by the conservatives in the sample versus the liberals. If the recently reported happiness gap is indicative, it would seem that liberals might be more whiney adults on average, since lack of happiness cannot possibly be their own fault when it says right there in the Declaration of Independence that the Government should provide for their pursuit of happiness.

As far as whiney personalities go, let me play armchair psychologist for a moment, and offer up a theory based upon my admittedly limited parenting experience, and more importantly based upon having avoided any formal training in the psychology of personality development. Do you want a kid who doesn't whine? I'll tell you how you get one. You give the kid everything he demands, and shield him from all the consequences of his own behavior. If he wants candy for breakfast, serve it up. If he wants to stay up until midnight watching TV, make sure you get him HD. If (assuming our subject is in Berkely), he wants a hit from your bong at the tender age of 12, don't be judgmental, and more importantly don't be stingy. You never punish him, criticize him, or express any disappointment.

If you choose the opposite course - to set limits and hold a kid accountable for errant behavior, expect to hear a good deal of whining. Learning that there are certain constraints in the world is a tough lesson, and none of us really want to learn that lesson, but the whiney kid is probably learning it at an earlier age.

My bet is that the self-assured Berkely first grader is shielded from that lesson for a long time, and that it never sinks in. His whining begins when the world, rather than his parents, sets out to teach him. He had no limits in the carefree happy days of childhood - and now all of the consequences he suffers as an adult for irresponsible behavior are not viewed as necessary consequences - instead they are viewed as consequences that stem from the formerly whiny classmates who are now meanly cutting off his welfare. That formerly whiny classmate, in contrast, knows from the get-go that you can't always get what you want, and that fact comes as no surprise to him upon reaching adulthood. So he doesn't wine when life reinforces a lesson he already knows well.

Undoubtedly, most liberals are themselves not the recipients of government largesse, and some would have even been taught life's lessons early by responsible parents. But I would argue that they seem to hold the view that if this lesson somehow escapes others in childhood, it is partially the government's role to make sure they don't have to learn it the hard way, or even any way, in their adulthood. That view is motivated by an implicit assumption that certain people cannot learn to become responsible for themselves, even if faced with some serious consequences. You have to believe something like that to think that a government handout alleviates, rather than prolongs, misery. Liberals of this stripe, for example, would never parent in the same way they would govern.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


Can you offer more concrete examples of liberals' lack of respect for personal responsibility? It's a charge that I've never really understood.

For example, the argument for universal health insurance does not rest on the idea that people can't take care of themselves. It instead posits that the forces of supply and demand will, it turns out , choose a market price that is beyond the means of a significant percentage of the population. Liberals assume that those without health insurance are rational agents, doing the best they can, but facing an income constraint. Universal health insurance would just loosen this constraint, and minimize the needless deaths of thousands of our fellow citizens.

Meanwhile, some conservatives seem to believe that it's the government's job to protect heterosexual couples from officially sanctioned gay relationships. Apparently this recognition would cause thousands of heretofore solid marriages to collapse in deceit and acrimony. How about giving straight couples credit for their ability to withstand this onslaught, by taking personal responsibility for the state of their own marriage?


2:56 PM  
Blogger Professor Vic said...

"The study seems like the usual crap that passes for in-depth pyschological research Berkely-style so far as I can tell from the article I read."

You know, this sort of swipe at a scholar whose result you don't like is just ignorant. You have no basis for your accusation other than you don't like the idea that you might have been a whiny kid.

In fact, the study's author, Jack Block, is highly regarded in the field. Begun in 1968 at UC Berkeley by Jack and Jeanne Block, the "Block Study" has generated some of the richest data in the field of developmental psychology.

If you're interested in how life unfolds--how we become who we are--you really have to follow people from early childhood into adulthood," says UCSC associate professor of psychology Per Gjerde. "This study is unparalleled and provides a rich research and training resource for our students." The project has been funded by the National Institute of Mental Health every year for more than 25 years and has generated more than 100 research papers, some of which are classics in their fields. (Source: University of Southern California Review)

But apparently in Hatch's world all research is crap if you don't like the result.

3:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The real way to stop a kid from whining is to give him Chartreuse at an early age. I don't know if she will grow up liberal or conservative, but you won't hear any whining.

4:24 AM  
Blogger pbryon said...

I don't have access to the article, but I'd love to see a definition of "whiny."

Is Hatcher proving the study by whining about studies that come out of Berkley?

6:06 AM  

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