The Traits that Spawn Conservatism

There are a large number of important personal and social policy issues upon which liberals and conservatives completely disagree. I have to consider whether all of these seemingly unrelated positions are merely symptomatic of more fundamental underlying personality differences.

I submit that conservative worldviews arise from three primary character traits: dogmatism, selfishness, and fearfulness.

The first basic personality trait is the degree to which you are a situational or a dogmatic thinker. Liberals tend to be situational, weighing and balancing the nuanced competing ethics of a given situation. Conservatives tend to be dogmatic, enforcing strict, simplistic rules in accordance with their moral beliefs. Liberals are frightened by what they regard as mindless dogmatism, while conservatives view situational ethics as a dangerous lack of moral principles.

The second fundamental trait that influences our worldview is selfishness. Conservatives are essentially selfish in putting their self-interest and their beliefs first, whereas liberals tend to more strongly respect differences and emphasize the public good with the view that “it takes a village.”

Their third important trait is fearfulness. It is fearfulness that drives the conservative need for guns, for an insanely large military arm, and fear of immigrants and those unlike them.

Since the real motivations for conservative positions (dogmatism, selfishness, and fear) are not things that conservatives can acknowledge in themselves, they must come up with other rationales for their positions. This causes conservatives to vilify intellectualism and ridicule facts. It forces smart conservatives to defend their dogmatic, selfish, and fearful positions with stupid arguments. Smart people put forth stupid arguments to defend a selfish, anti-social culture of guns. Smart people put forth stupid arguments to defend a belief in god, to defend pro-life legislation, rampant militarism, economic Darwinism, and trickle-down economics.

Smart Christians like Ken Ham make stupid arguments to support their creationist beliefs. Ham insists that everything in the bible he agrees with is literal, while everything he disagrees with is figurative only (see here). Similarly, smart conservative supreme court justices claim that the Constitution must be interpreted literally when it supports them, but when it doesn’t support them they insist in an “original intent” interpretation that always happens to support their conservative views (see here).

The result is that we hear a lot of falsehoods and specious arguments in defense of a wide range of conservative positions that are all really rationalizations of dogmatism, selfishness, and fear.

Now wait a second, you may say. While conservatives may disagree with us liberals, they are simply good, well-intentioned people with sincere differences of opinion as to what is best for everyone. They sincerely believe their pro-life activism saves lives, that more guns are the solution to gun violence, and that a strong military prevents wars. You shouldn’t disparage them with negative characterizations of dogmatism, selfishness, and fear.

I would be inclined to believe that as well. However, we have a disturbing “tell” that suggests otherwise. The fact that conservatives deny global climate changes signals to us that they have not simply reached a differing conclusion on this issue. The facts are so overwhelming on this, that their denial can only be driven by strong underlying traits, particularly selfishness. They simply care more about being able to burn all the fossil fuels they want, make all the money they want today, and heck with tomorrow for the entire world. Since few are willing to claim that CO2 is actually good for the planet, the others simply deny, deny, deny.

The fact that conservatives can deny facts and rationalize their denial of climate change makes it likely that all their other arguments are similarly driven by underlying traits including dogmatism, selfishness, and fear. Their denial of climate change suggests that conservatives do not merely reach different conclusions given the information they are exposed to, rather they limit their information and formulate rationalizations to defend their dogmatism, selfishness, and fear. Climate change tells us that these traits are strong in conservatives, and those traits cannot help but drive their positions on other important issues as well.

If we liberals wish to push back on these critical issues, we need to stop debating specious and shifting secondary arguments and start to deal more directly with these fundamental character drivers.

 

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