Monday, August 9, 2010

The Difference between the Conservative and Liberal Mind

About three years ago, a scientific study was undertaken to examine some of the differences between the conservative and the liberal mind. One of the conclusions emerging from the study was that liberal people tend to be able to handle ambiguity and nuance better than conservative people, processing new information that might challenge some of their beliefs, incorporating that information and even altering their thinking on a subject as a result. Conservative minds, on the other hand, tend to adhere to beliefs and convictions despite evidence that call them into question.

I can't help but wonder if that might be at play in many of Conservative Government's policy decisions. For example, despite the fact that the abolition of the mandatory long form census is opposed by almost everyone, Stockwell Day insists he has only heard three complaints about it.

Many people insist that the Government's intractability stems from an ideologically-driven agenda, but I think it is legitimate to wonder whether an inability to incorporate new and contrary information might also be at work here.


Curt Doolittle said...

From what I can gather from the postings, I'm not sure this test demonstrates what the authors of both the study and the articles assume.

Conservatives have a longer time preference. (This is why they are happier than liberals, and tend to be wealthier.)

Because they have a longer time preference:
1) They are less likely to attempt to 'serve or satisfy' the immediate requests of others: lower empathy, longer (lower) time preference, greater pattern reliance (tendency to see the world through natural law.)
2) They are more likely to try to identify patterns and begin acting in anticipation, rather than simply reacting.
3) unless we know the male-female ratio and ages, we don't know if this test is simply an empathy or dominance test.

The same test would need to be run with time preference survey questions, and the male-female statistics would have to be included.

The more interesting question is, why liberals -- people with shorter (higher) time preference, and greater empathy -- tend to be less happy and less successful in life?

The reason conservatives are change resistant, is because:

a) they are inter-temporally pattern sensitive they are very reliant on forecasting, and significant pattern changes mean high cost of reorganizing patterns.

b) In natural law, and in Greek philosophy, and in the western mythic narrative, human HUBRIS is the primary warning. ie: they are skeptical.

c) Government is the repository of a great deal of power, and the most dangerous human hubris, and is most susceptible to the fashionable short term sentiments of human beings.

d) Conservatism, because it is the repository of the militial and commercial sentiments in western civilization is meritocratic in the sense that they accept established rules, and will operate within them.

There are plenty of people in the financial sector who are not conservative, but just selfish and voting to follow monetary opportunity.

The country is center-right (conservative leaning) and will always be so. This is for demographic reasons that have largely to do with the dominant class and culture of the people who occupy that particular geography.

Curt Doolittle said...

Structurally, conservatives have opposed both good and bad change. THe impact of women, catholic, and jewish votes, as well as the rapid third world immigration did accomplish exactly what they stated it would do. Whether that is 'good' or 'bad' is a matter of economics and preference. The conservative sentiment is to resist change until they see risk abandoned, then to adopt the new state of affairs as the 'conservative' position.

To a conservative who sees the rules established by the constitution (a classical liberal) or a conservative who adheres to the western tradition (a conservative) or a religious conservative, or a small business owner or craftsman (an economic conservative), or an investor (a financial conservative)the threat to the established political order, to which they feel they have made sacrifices and taken risks, these political 'innovations' are not 'goods'. They are 'bads'.

Because of the two party system, there are conservatives in both parties. People tend to be conservative or liberal on different issues. They self identify as liberal or conservative, for a set of reasons. And left-right political nonsense is almost always meaningless, because all elections are decided by a fractional portion the independents in the middle. The change in US voting patterns is almost entirely to the rise in young single mothers, immigrants and breeding rates of different social classes. Independents and conservatives are in roughly equal proportion, making up over eighty percent of the population. With liberals making up less than twenty. Despite our desire to the contrary, political sentiment is NOT rational: it is inherited from one's parents, and is largely a function of class, history and occupation.

Given the interpretation of this questionably meaningful study, it's easy to see that this is another example of why conservatives believe that hubris is alive and well.