A couple of weeks ago, I read about the current controversy regarding a new book by neuroscientist Adam Perkins called The Welfare Trait. I haven’t read the book but he essentially argues that certain personality characteristics predispose some people to certain types of aggressive behaviors and thus also predispose these same people to live off of welfare benefits (in England). Again, I haven’t yet read the book so I hope I’m not mischaracterizing it.
The argument of the book, however, is not as important as the reaction to the book. You see, welfare is a sacred object to the left--and yes, I realize the term “welfare” encompasses a number of different government programs that include direct cash assistance, food assistance, housing assistance, ect. Welfare, however, is not just about taking care of the needy. To the left, welfare hits all the buttons. Welfare is Big Government: It justifies redistributive tax policies, it touches on issues surrounding economic inequality and social justice, it touches on gender, single-parent households, and children, and in the United States, welfare also has overtones that touch on race and minority status. Leftist support for welfare is thus tied up in their beliefs about other issues that get connected to welfare.
Welfare is the Holy Grail of the left, however, because it also aligns with their sensitivities about care, fairness, and equality. People need help, families need help, kids need help.......and government welfare programs are the best way of helping. This is a principled argument to make.
Even so, because the left supports just about any program that can be called “welfare,” we see a full complement of leftist narratives surrounding welfare and welfare recipients. Sometimes these narratives are tied to facts and sometimes they are not.
So, knowing these motives, you can imagine the reaction when a book like The Welfare Trait is published. Here we again find examples of the intolerance of the academic left.
* An editor of Nature refused to allow the book to reviewed because she thought studies on the personalities of welfare recipients unethical.
* A sociologist asked to review the book refused because “personality,” in her words, is a “ capitalist construct.”
Today we just found out that the London School of Economics cancelled a talk that was going to be given by Mr. Perkins because of threats of violence. Yes, threats of violence.
It is well past time that scholars committed to open debate, free speech, honesty in scholarship and objective science push back against those who wish to silence voices and those who wish to restrict science only to the purposes they choose.
These are the voices of tyrants and what they promote is a form of intellectual fascism.
In protest I’m going to purchase a copy of The Welfare Trait.
John Paul Wright and Matt DeLisi
Professors of Crime and Criminology