Flimsy Sanity: What determines your Political Leanings

Flimsy Sanity

In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule. - Friedrich Nietzsche

Sunday, January 14, 2007

What determines your Political Leanings

The Ideological Animal by Jay Dixit in this month's Psychology Today is a great read. The following are all quotes from the article.
We think our political stance is the product of reason, but we're easily manipulated and surprisingly malleable. Our essential political self is more a stew of childhood temperament, education, and fear of death. Call it the 9/11 effect. We tend to believe our political views have evolved by a process of rational thought, as we consider arguments, weigh evidence, and draw conclusions. But the truth is more complicated. Our political preferences are equally the result of factors we're not aware of—such as how educated we are, how scary the world seems at a given moment, and personality traits that are first apparent in early childhood. Among the most potent motivators, it turns out, is fear. How the United States should confront the threat of terrorism remains a subject of endless political debate. But Americans' response to threats of attack is now more clear-cut than ever. The fear of death alone is surprisingly effective in shaping our political decisions—more powerful, often, than thought itself.

Most people are surprised to learn that there are real, stable differences in personality between conservatives and liberals—not just different views or values, but underlying differences in temperament. Psychologists John Jost of New York University, Dana Carney of Harvard, and Sam Gosling of the University of Texas have demonstrated that conservatives and liberals boast markedly different home and office decor. Liberals are messier than conservatives, their rooms have more clutter and more color, and they tend to have more travel documents, maps of other countries, and flags from around the world. Conservatives are neater, and their rooms are cleaner, better organized, more brightly lit, and more conventional. Liberals have more books, and their books cover a greater variety of topics. And that's just a start. Multiple studies find that liberals are more optimistic. Conservatives are more likely to be religious. Liberals are more likely to like classical music and jazz, conservatives, country music. Liberals are more likely to enjoy abstract art. Conservative men are more likely than liberal men to prefer conventional forms of entertainment like TV and talk radio. Liberal men like romantic comedies more than conservative men. Liberal women are more likely than conservative women to enjoy books, poetry, writing in a diary, acting, and playing musical instruments.

University of Arizona psychologist Jeff Greenberg argues that some ideological shifts can be explained by terror management theory (TMT), which holds that heightened fear of death motivates people to defend their world views. TMT predicts that images like the destruction of the World Trade Center should make liberals more liberal and conservatives more conservative. "In the United States, political conservatism does seem to be the preferred ideology when people are feeling insecure," concedes Greenberg.

Jost believes it's more complex. The reason thoughts of death make people more conservative, Jost says, is that they awaken a deep desire to see the world as fair and just, to believe that people get what they deserve, and to accept the existing social order as valid, rather than in need of change. When these natural desires are primed by thoughts of death and a barrage of mortal fear, people gravitate toward conservatism because it's more certain about the answers it provides—right vs. wrong, good vs. evil, us vs. them—and because conservative leaders are more likely to advocate a return to traditional values, allowing people to stick with what's familiar and known. "Conservatism is a more black and white ideology than liberalism," explains Jost. "It emphasizes tradition and authority, which are reassuring during periods of threat."


  • At 4:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

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  • At 5:20 PM, Blogger Si's blog said…

    I want to be a thinking decision maker, not a liberal of conservative. No one can pidgeon-hole me.

  • At 7:17 PM, Anonymous RJ Adams said…

    This one deserves an essay longer than the original article, but I'll keep it brief:
    Dixit's description of a conservative fits that of a narrow-minded, tunnel-visioned, non-thinking, shallow nitwit who thinks America is the be all and end all, so ventures no further on vacation than perhaps Florida, and then only if he lives in eastern Alabama, southern Georgia, or the extreme south-west of South Carolina. He spends the rest of his time in front of the TV, or bolstering his shaky ego by listening to Rush Limbaugh. In short, the conservative is scared of his own shadow but would probably die, albeit screaming for mercy, before admitting it even to himself. He clings to the idea of religion and a personal God in the vain hope that after death he may be granted enough courage to live a more liberal and exciting existence in Eternity.
    As for the liberal, he has books, music, logical thought, and a joie de vivre the conservative can only dream of. His greatest asset is he believes Rush Limbaugh is the quickstep version of a well known Caribbean novelty dance. He has no need of a God, or a Heaven - he is already there.

    Well - fairly brief!

  • At 2:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

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