Post No.: 0544
In many situations, there’s a tension between wanting to protect one’s own individual interests and cooperating or sharing for the greater good, such as wanting to pay less in taxes but understanding that public goods need to be paid for, or preserving the national interests versus opening up to globalisation. There are also tensions between sanctity or purity and personal liberty, such as protecting the sanctity of life versus protecting a female’s right to her own body, or being tougher with recreational drugs laws or relatively less strict with them. Very broadly, ‘rightwing’ versus ‘leftwing’ political stances highlight these tensions.
Furrywisepuppy conveyed the false stark dichotomy between people who support conservative and liberal political parties in Post No.: 0206, yet did point out some generalisations that should be understood as only generalisations i.e. they apply to their groups overall but may not apply to absolutely every single individual within them to the same degrees. Here, I just wish to add my thoughts on the subject too…
In US politics, and regarding taxation, Democrats generally care about people and corporations paying their fair share of taxes to serve the greater good, help the disadvantaged and correct for structural inequalities. Meanwhile, Republicans generally worry about socialist states that take money from hardworking people and corporations to give to lazy people or immigrants in the form of welfare or free education and healthcare. So conceptions of fairness and exploitation express in different ways for these two broad groups – but they both do care about fairness.
We signal our affiliation to our group(s) via what we wear, how we do our hair, what tattoos or car stickers we adorn, etc. – not just via what we say. We all care about our own teams and our loyalties towards them – but the question is who our teams are? It could be strictly our own country (nationalism), our own continent, or our own planet (a larger circle)? So loyalty and betrayal matters to all sides but the question is to whom and from whom.
Humans evolved as omnivores and so have a broader diet than carnivores or herbivores, and this diet is enhanced by experimentation. So humans have two competing motives here – neophilia (an attraction to novel things or an openness to new experiences) and neophobia (a fear of novelty or change). Political liberals tend to score higher in neophilia, and political conservatives tend to score higher in neophobia; and this applies not just towards new foods but new people, new ideas, different cultures, different sexualities, etc., which in turn shapes their moral and political beliefs. You can make a reasonable prediction that a person is likely to be politically conservative if she/he is generally tentative about trying personally unfamiliar foods.
Liberals are therefore more welcoming of variety and change, whilst conservatives are more cautious and care more about guarding geographic borders, personal boundaries and cultural traditions. The entertainment and creative industries tend to be filled with more liberal-leaning people because creativity and innovation are associated with openness rather than conservatism. So if you’re relatively open-minded, like to try new things such as new cuisines, then you’re more likely to be politically liberal.
Being open-minded, curious and experimental can be a huge risk. (Curiosity can apparently kill the cat – meow(!)) But open-mindedness leads one to seek more sources of education, and in turn to become more educated. Political conservatives are generally more the type to worry about experimenting and creating unintended consequences compared to liberal progressives. So purity and disgust matters to both sides but the extent of tolerance differs.
They also have a different perspective on what are considered risks – some conservatives will consider it a ‘slippery slope’ risk to allow even minor government interventions to be introduced to tackle a problem, while some liberals will consider it a far greater risk to not look after the environment, for instance. The dominant culture or religion of a country matters too – for example, both conservatives and liberals in the USA may generally find eating chicken feet or fish eyes disgusting, despite otherwise finding it okay to eat chicken or fish, even though these are eaten in many other parts of the world regardless of people’s political affiliations in those places. Both conservatives and liberals in the USA generally eat pork or beef though, when these aren’t allowed in other parts of the world with different prevailing religions. Beards come in and out of fashion, which influences whether they’re considered repellent or not. Contextual factors such as a sudden influx of refugees might also affect attitudes. So there’s more to it than just individual political stances – other cultural, religious and situational factors shape attitudes regarding what’s considered pure or disgusting too.
Opportunities will be lost if one isn’t open enough, but the costs can be high if one isn’t cautious enough. A liberal may be accused of having a ‘bleeding heart’ and a conservative may be accused of being ‘simple minded’. Both sides see their own side as the rational side, and the other side as the emotional, or even evil, side because everyone thinks that anyone who differs from them in their code of morality falls short of their own moral standards.
Liberalism generally generalises – as in if a person is liberal in one aspect then they’re likely to be liberal in other aspects too. And conservatism generally generalises – as in if a person is conservative in one aspect then they’re likely to be conservative in other aspects too. So, for example, in the US at least – if you know someone’s stance on homosexuality then you’ll, based on the probabilities, know their stance on guns, God, affirmative action (policies that favour particular groups in areas where they were historically excluded in order to bridge these inequities), universal healthcare and abortion too. This seems strange because some of those things appear totally unrelated.
However, what’s considered ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ doesn’t always stand still (e.g. IQ tests were a liberal idea but are now generally disliked by liberals, and what was conservative can become adopted by liberals, and vice-versa). This relationship also isn’t perfect (hence e.g. libertarians, who are conservative in some aspects and liberal in others) thus there’s a false assumption of ‘if you’re not in one camp then you must be in the other’. These associations and patterns may differ in other countries too.
So instead of a ‘conservative to liberal’ spectrum, some suggest a different set of measures – perhaps community measures such as hierarchy, authority and ingroup loyalty; autonomy measures such as harm and fairness; and divinity measures such as purity and sanctity. Yet even here, there are general patterns – principles of harm and fairness are more especially important to liberals compared to ingroup, authority and purity principles. These latter principles do matter but just relatively less so. Meanwhile, conservatives rate the principles of harm, fairness, ingroup, authority and purity more relatively evenly to each other. Libertarians could be said to prioritise harm (autonomy unless it harms) above fairness, ingroup, authority and purity principles.
Again, these are only broad brushstrokes, and like anything else that speaks about group-level comparisons, they don’t necessarily speak about ‘individuals compared to individuals’ but ‘groups compared to groups’ in an overall or average sense. Individuals within any large group aren’t usually completely homogenous and may exhibit some variance. Individuals, as well as entire cultures, can change over time too (e.g. not deeming interracial marriage repulsive anymore). The Democratic Party used to be clearly about helping the poor and working class but it’s currently more about the well-educated and ‘elites’, at least according to some perceptions. The Republican Party is usually pro-free trade but periodically pushes for protectionist policies. Factors related to nationalism, religion, race and education are why the poor can vote for conservative policies, even though liberal policies would be better for their healthcare, education and welfare. Perhaps what it means to be ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’ will be different in 50 years time?
A problem is that people’s political parties are like their tribes, where people – especially in a two-party system – often support the policies of their own party just because they’re the policies of their own party and they’re opposed to the other parties and therefore the policies of those rival parties. This is how those totally unrelated stances like on guns and abortion end up correlating. When we’re unsure of what to do, we have a tendency to follow the social proof or lead of our tribes. However, we’ll believe that it was all an independent-minded decision; yet when asked to point out specifics and to explain our arguments, we might struggle and cannot even precisely explain what our supported policies mean (e.g. stating that there’s too much immigration without knowing what the net immigration figures are or its net impact on the economy). When pressed to explain why something we’ve decided is morally right or wrong, we can flap and struggle to find reasoned reasons – this is perhaps reliable evidence that these decisions were based on gut feelings rather than reason. But maybe at least we’ll subsequently find reasons that support our beliefs, although via the lens of confirmation bias – which is a problem when coming up with our conclusions before the data or arguments.
Reason must be critical in order to be reasonable, but we must make the distinction between reasoning to come to a conclusion, and already wanting the conclusion we desire then trying to append reasons to justify it. It’s broadly like scientists versus lawyers – the former employ the higher form of reason I’d say. But the hardest individuals to judge whether we’re doing this is ourselves. (And it’s unfortunate that more politicians have a legal rather than scientific background.)
People can change their political stances though when they’re amongst a different peer crowd they want to fit in with, because of world events like a terror attack, through education and/or through more exposure to diversity, for instance. Another factor is that many of those who feel excluded will chance their vote on whom they perceive is the ‘outsider’ – someone who’s not part of the existing ‘establishment’. But although all improvement is change, not all change is improvement – things could be a lot worse than they currently are. And many of those who feel excluded will blame others, such as powerful yet hidden organisations, and will therefore be liable to believing in conspiracy theories. Then what happens is that believers of such things will end up being excluded for their beliefs, and so they’ll search for like-minded people to hang around with, who will therefore reinforce each others’ beliefs – which is a similar story with all other kinds of beliefs that are untethered to empirical reality.
Online social media, in particular, allows people to connect with others who share the same views, including extreme views, which reinforces them to make such views seem relatively normal and not extreme to those who share them. So whatever political philosophy we agree with, we’ve got to ask whom we are comparing to when we call ourselves or others ‘progressive’, ‘traditionalist’, ‘moderate’ or whatever? For example, neoconservatives in the US frequently accuse anyone who even merely hints at anything that sounds like socialism of being ‘communists’! One can be so extreme that one thinks that the middle is closer to one’s end of the spectrum.
Ideally, people shouldn’t consider themselves as ‘conservative party voters’ or ‘liberal party voters’ – just voters who read manifestos carefully, who research the background, feasibility, integrity or pros or cons of the candidates, policies and options, and will vote for whomever and whatever they believe will be the best option. But it’s easier to be tribal and to go along with whatever our ingroup says rather than do the hard personal research, thinking and listening to one’s ‘opponents’. It becomes about ‘one’s own side winning’ rather than doing what’s considered best for the country or world.