Archive for December 12, 2010
Do you have any of those items somewhere near (or on) your computer? Then you’re more likely a conservative. At least that’s what this article says.
I think that’s really silly. I can either see or put my hand on any of the above from where I’m sitting, and I’m no conservative. Well, at least I think I’m not. Although the article also says
“A study of twins, for instance, has shown that a conservative or progressive orientation can be inherited, while a decades-long study has found that personality traits associated with liberalism or conservatism later in life show up in preschoolers…”
and I’m pretty sure that when I was a preschooler I exhibited all the character traits of conservatism. As a small child I was obsessively neat, fond of order, highly motivated and mistrustful of people I didn’t know.
(I distinctly recall hating the idea of Santa Claus. I didn’t want any fat stranger wandering around our house in the middle of the night, and lobbied strongly to have him leave the gifts in the barn where we could go and safely collect them in the morning.)
The article is really worth reading. Take a minute and skim it so we can all talk about it. Go ahead…I’ll be here when you get back.
The article’s packed full of interesting (albeit “conventional wisdom”) tidbits like this:
Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia, said…[he] was more inclined to see a person’s moral framework as a source of difference between liberals and conservatives. Most liberals, he said, think about morality in terms of two categories: how someone’s welfare is affected, and whether it is fair. Conservatives, by contrast, broaden that definition to include loyalty, respect for authority, and purity or sanctity. Conservatives have a richer, more elaborate moral horizon than liberals, Mr. Haidt said, because there is a “whole dimension to human experience best described as divinity or sacredness that conservatives are more attuned to.”
But apart from the generally accepted stuff, this article also reflects a certain self-critical approach that makes it unusual and fascinating. The writer feels there is an innate bias in not only the research itself but also the reporting of findings, since both the science and the journalism tend to be done by people with liberal leanings:
As for the present research, John Zaller, a political scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, said: “I am personally embarrassed by some of the leading work by psychologists on personality and conservatism. I take the data to be valid, but I feel the manner of describing it too often sets up conservatives to look bad.” Mr. Haidt, who agrees liberals and conservatives have distinct dispositions, still thinks bias is a problem: “Our own biases as researchers—because we are almost all liberal — make it difficult for us to understand the psychology of conservatives.”
Words really do matter. It makes a big difference, for instance, whether a researcher describes conservatives as “obsessive and fearful”…or “methodical and cautious.” Liberals can be either “lazy and careless” or “laid-back and happy-go-lucky,”…but the mildly pejorative terms in this kind of research really are, it seems, more likely to be applied to conservatives.
I don’t know how useful it is to apply labels like this to differing political views at all, though I am always fascinated by the issue of personality and politics, and whether political leanings are the result of nature or nurture. (I’m eagerly waiting for Monotreme to look at this in detail one day when he has time.)
One thing I do take issue with is the conventional wisdom that people tend to become more conservative as they age…or the old saying that “a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged by reality.” It is my observation and experience that people become more liberal as they age…because they evolve from the youthful approach of seeing the world in black-and-white. When I was young, my friends and I knew everything and were pretty adamant in our positions on abortion, capital punishment, welfare, gay marriage, the rights of biological parents, and other difficult societal issues. Now we are all wishy-washy and contradictory and see our world in shades of grey. Any political discussion eventually comes to down to somebody saying, “But then, on the other hand…”
After you’ve had enough life experience, all these abstract issues sooner or later become real-life problems, and the solutions veer more toward situational ethics than moral absolutes. And that, I believe, is a quintessentially liberal position.