Self Help Now: A community blog

Dr. Jacqueline B. Sallade offers ideas for maintaining your mental health.

The Intolerant True Believer

Written by Dr. Jacqueline B. Sallade, Community blogger | May 25, 2014 3:05 PM

How is it that briliant, superintelligent people, professors and scientists at the forefront of their fields of study, can make stereotypical, even bigoted, assumptions about others? These others have different opinions, especially in politics and religion. For example, a renowned science author asks a friend, "How can you be Republican?" He asks, "Isn't it true that all Republicans don't care about the poor and only want to stay rich?" Another famous intellectual, an historian, challenges his Democrat friends with the question, "Don't you realize that you're all hypocrites who want social programs but don't want to pay taxes?" Then, there's the bright chemist who completely loses his temper if someone doesn't vote his way, believing that the opposite political party from his is so prejudiced that there's no room for justice and fairness there. He never listens to the opposing views of people, even ones who aren't extremists. Or  takethe corporate executive, Ivy League all the way, who can't accept that religion may make sense to many people, even if it doesn't fit into her logic.

It seems easier to accept this tunnel vision in people who aren't so high-achieving and well-educated. However, less technically-intelligent people aren't necessary more narrow-minded. In fact, often, they don't feel such an urgent need to defend their positions and prove themselves right by ignoring others views. Sometimes, they are as rigid as their intellectual counterparts, though.

I think intolerance is not correlated at all with intelligence. It's an emotional block. I think these people's identity gets tied in with political or religious or philosophical beliefs from particular training or from association with people they respect or  from a strong past experience. Then, it becomes very important to defend those beliefs in order to retain that sense of self. For example, in college, one of the above-mentioned super-intellectuals learned that liberals are better, more generous and open-hearted and smarter than conservatives. He learned that conservatives are bigoted and selfish. No logic or observation entered into his teaching or thinking, even though history doesn't prove to be so clear and bimodal. Even though the variation within any group is greater than the variation between groups, a statistical commonality, he must believe he is right to feel good about himself. When someone he likes has different beliefs, it challenges his own self-image. Could he be wrong? No way.

 The  conservative intellectual, trained in childhood by his parents, believes that liberals are overly emotional, nonthinking idiots who enable people to be lazy and greedy and want to control people in a big way. His stereotyping goes along with love and respect for his hard-working, moral parents and he doesn't feel up to defying them with careful study and logical analysis. The super-religious person, a true believer, who feels saved and pure from childhood or early adulthood on, doesn't want that safe self challenged. The atheist, who only found coolness and freedom with the crowd that rejected her parents' rigid religion,  can't fathom religion openmindedly.

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