Evaluativism’s Victim: The Relationship to Ageism

Evaluativism is our instinctive irrational frustration with people who have values contrary to our own. It is irrational in the same way it would be irrational for a prosecuting attorney to wish the defense attorney stopped showing up at court. Evaluative diversity makes society more successful on average, which is good for everyone (see Evaluativism 101). Thus, in one sense, evaluativism makes victims of us all.

In another sense, however, evaluativism hurts certain individuals more than it hurts others. It creates conflicts, and certain people lose those conflicts. The people most likely to win–parents, teachers, bosses–are people with privilege. This is where evaluativism aligns with ageism (and perhaps other forms of discrimination).

Variance Components by AgeThe above graph from an article by Peter Hatemi and his colleagues in the July 2009 issue of the Journal of Politics show the results of comparing the political values of identical and fraternal twins separated at birth vs. raised together. Such twin studies tell us whether our values come from our genes, from siblings’ shared environments (e.g. parenting), or from something else. For example, if the values of identical twins are more similar than the values of fraternal twins, then genes must play a significant role. Such studies have been conducted for decades and confirm that genes play a significant role in all human behavioral traits–what’s different about this graph is that it breaks-out the results by age.

The surprise here is that the significance of the role of genes (i.e., the blue bars) varies by age. It plays a minor role until the mid twenties, but becomes the dominant factor by age 50. A similar pattern is found with religious values. The values of identical twins raised apart gradually become more similar as they get older, even if they do not interact with each other.

I asked John Hibbing whether this indicated that younger people are oppressed, and he thought “oppressed” might be too strong a word. Maybe it just takes humans 20-50 years to find themselves. Maybe older people are more stubborn. Maybe society is blessed that many 50-year-olds can remember what it was like to be on the other side of the fence.

On the other hand, we wouldn’t educate our populace by forcing people to experience other races, sexes, and disabilities. Even if society would be better for it, such education would put undue stress on students. Many homosexuals do know what it was like to exhibit a different sexual orientation, but we count that as oppression, rather than as education.

Furthermore, the alignment with genes is low for the old as well as the young. It is awfully suspicious that the pattern so closely matches the ages in which people lack privilege. In fact, Hetami found that alignment of one’s values with one’s genes happens in the early 20’s only for people who leave their parental home. This suggests that the parental home, rather than age, is the trigger–that the parental home provides a kind of brainwashing that temporarily blocks people from discovering their own values.

It turns out that oppression is so rampant that it would be naive not to blame it for this pattern. Shanto Iyengar had 1021 people judge applications for a scholarship. As expected, the result proved that judges have an irrational bias against resumes that included hints of racial minority, but it also proved that they have an even stronger irrational bias against resumes that show hints of an opposing ideology (e.g., President of the Young Republicans).

Through other tests in the study, Iyengar found that this bias is instinctive and more of a hate bias against opponents than an affinity bias towards people with similar values. Young homosexuals are advised not to come-out to their parents until they are financially independent; given that parents, teachers, and bosses instinctively favor children, students and employees who exhibit their own values, it seems equally advisable for the underprivileged to temporarily adopt the values of their oppressors.

As mentioned at the top of this article, evaluativism is irrational. Parents, teachers and bosses who suppress evaluative diversity by discouraging the expression of contrary values handicap their families, companies and nations, thus ultimately shooting themselves in the foot. Ideological opponents are extremely valuable. Causing opponents to temporarily abandon their values is not equivalent to taking years from their lives, but it does greatly diminish their value to society. In that sense, evaluativism is foolish in the same way as slaughtering one’s workforce or killing endangered species.

To compensate for their instinctive evaluativism, authorities should create cultures of appreciation by demonstrating a commitment to learn about evaluative diversity. We should do this for our own sake, but also out of compassion for the underprivileged who are especially victimized. Hatemi’s results appear to exemplify intersectionality–where the intersection of two kinds of discrimination (in this case, evaluativism and ageism) produce a whole new kind of oppression (divergence from genetic predispositions). This should make us ask to see twin studies broken-out by race, class, gender, and sexuality as well.

What makes the intersection with ageism special may be that ageism is so widely experienced. All adults can recall being young, and many would resist subjecting themselves again to the authority of parents, teachers, and bosses. Hatemi’s results further warn that those who enjoy privilege now are likely to lose it in old-age. Evaluativism seems to be something we cannot avoid forever, unless, of course, we address it before we find ourselves on the receiving end.