At my website, I’ve discussed on a number of occasions some of the differences between conservative and liberal philosophies. I do so with the understanding that the differences both extend beyond and have as foundations psychological bases which themselves are structurally different. Biology starts us off from different places emotionally and psychologically. From there, our experiences and relationships add to the mix. We’ve passed “complex” and have now moved into whatever comes after that.
The broader argument is that ideological differences between right and left have psychological roots: stability and hierarchy generally provide reassurance and structure, whereas change and equality imply greater chaos and unpredictability.
[W]e consider evidence for and against the hypotheses that political conservatism is significantly associated with (1) mental rigidity and closed-mindedness, including (a) increased dogmatism and intolerance of ambiguity, (b) decreased cognitive complexity, (c) decreased openness to experience, (d) uncertainty avoidance, (e) personal needs for order and structure, and (f) need for cognitive closure; (2) lowered self-esteem; (3) fear, anger, and aggression; (4) pessimism, disgust, and contempt; (5) loss prevention; (6) fear of death; (7) threat arising from social and economic deprivation; and (8) threat to the stability of the social system. We have argued that these motives are in fact related to one another psychologically, and our motivated social–cognitive perspective helps to integrate them….
Our review of the evidence indicates that there is consistent and relatively strong support for the general hypothesis that a specific set of social–cognitive motives are significantly related to political conservatism. Almost all of our specific hypotheses were corroborated. (links/citations in the original)
At first glance, at least of the view characteristics listed above seem rather harsh and not especially complimentary. It’s understandable that some would push back against those findings and/or suggestions. Surely many would argue that these are not attributes which can be applied to all conservatives in all instances. That’s no doubt true.
But when considered in the context of political behavior, notably among those on the far-right, the descriptions above certainly find ample confirmations in a wide variety of actions and policy proposals. Mother Nature is a difficult foe to combat.
The point here is not to criticize or condemn those for whom these psychological traits clearly find a home. A hope [ever the idealist!] is that recognition of these descriptions in some of their own actions may offer at least some conservatives the chance to examine the value and benefits of their actions with an eye toward changes they might consider more advantageous to them personally.
It’s also important for those of us on the left side of the divide to at least recognize that some of what drives conservative thought and policy is part of their inherent makeup. That doesn’t eliminate responsibility for the consequences of their actions. But it does open up the possibility that in our dealings with them, added insights and information about what makes them tick might help us find different ways of sharing our own motivations in ways that resonate more clearly with their own.
From there, it may be a shorter step to allow for better, more meaningful, and ultimately more mutually beneficial dialogue. That might even be a good thing!
Given the ever-widening divide and the dimmer prospects for finding methods to bridge our differences and work together rather than in opposition, every little bit of added knowledge and perspective can only help. The challenges we face in the years to come won’t go away, nor will they shift into neutral while we iron out our differences in order to find solutions and adaptations.
The sooner we deepen our understandings of the complex and inter-related motivations of the human psyche as they apply to our political differences, the sooner we can put an end to the bomb-throwing and begin working to a more prosperous and mutually beneficial future for us now, and for our children later.
We could do worse….
SOURCE: Dana R. Carney, John T. Jost, Samuel D. Gosling, and Jeff Potter, "The Secret Lives of Liberals and Conservatives: Personality Proﬁles, Interaction Styles, and the Things They Leave Behind," Political Psychology 29 (2008): 807-40
** SOURCE: Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition by John T. Jost Stanford University; Arie W. Kruglanski University of Maryland at College Park; Jack Glaser University of California, Berkeley; Frank J. Sulloway University of California, Berkeley.
Psychological Bulletin Copyright 2003 by the American Psychological Association, Inc. 2003, Vol. 129, No. 3, 339–375