Monday, January 11, 2010

Characterizing conservatives and liberals

I've talked several times about my belief that many personality traits, including religiosity and conservatism/liberalism are biologically based. Some combination of genetics, epigenetics, and peer influence molds our physical brains to where our minds either do or do not believe in god and do or do not believe in government welfare to poor people.

This morning I may have had an epiphany (unless it's just mental heartburn). I was reading one of the several political blogs I read regularly, and it was quoting some conservative woman saying she was under attack by the media, and some conservative man saying he was under attack by the liberals. It's not by any means original that modern conservatives, certainly the ones who become politicians or TV personalities, are characterized by believing (or at least by saying) they are under attack. They are easily offended. 

And it occurred to me that this could be the fundamental difference between conservatives and liberals (understanding that, as I said before, conservatives vary among themselves, so let's say the difference between genetic conservatives and genetic liberals) is the fear of attack (and reacting to an attack) versus expansiveness. 

If it's genetic, then having both conservatives and liberals was probably advantageous during during the period the two types evolved. I speculate that, during the period when we were more often prey than predator, liberals were the ones who found new food supplies and invented the tools, and conservatives were the ones who made sure the food didn't rot and that we weren't killed by lions. Later, the liberals were the ones who traded with other groups and brought in foreign technology, and conservatives were the ones who made sure the walls were solid and the foreign technology was sharp. Within a family, when the issue of whether to share food with other families came up, maybe liberals thought they had plenty to share, and conservatives were more concerned about running out.

What one would need to do is relate this allegedly fundamental characteristic to modern political issues, cases where the differences between conservatives and liberals amount to fear of attack (and fighting back) or not.

Fiscal conservatism is easy. Liberals think we have enough money do do everything we need to do, and conservatives think if we spend too much now, it will damage our economy and be hard to pay back later. The extreme version, common now, is a refusal to consider any new taxes for anything, period, and if we propose to expand Healthy Families, that is said to be a step toward destroying their America.

The recent health care debate would seem to fit into this, too, but it's hard to say how much of the rhetoric was serious and how much just made up to hurt Obama based on corporate interests and the madness of crowds. What does fit is that conservatives, at least the ones on TV, assert they are being attacked by proposals to offer health insurance to more people. One hears people paid to opine on TV say that their country is being taken away from them. 

I see the same difference in when and how to use military force, when and how often to use the filibuster, how to fight terrorists, and how to react to global warming. This last one is odd. You'd expect conservatives to be up in arms about this threat, but they claim they are being lied to (attacked?), instead, by liberal scientists who want to destroy our way of life. 

I need to think more about this and to relate it to Jane Jacobs. That's going to be a long post, so I've been putting it off, but she posits a way to divide people into two groups that makes sense to me and seems to have application to modern politics.

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