Tag Archives: Conservatism

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.


Norman Coordinate!

I watched the 3rd Republican debate with great amusement. As comedy it was pretty entertaining I must admit. But as a rational debate of public policy it was pretty sad. Beyond all the usual comments about their performance art, a few things jumped out at me.

First, you may have noticed that all the candidates seemed eager to step over each other to scramble to the top of the Bernie Sanders bandwagon with rhetoric about how all of the money has been sucked out of the middle class and into the hands of the ultra-wealthy. Ok, they’re right there even if they’re finally now saying this only because the Tea Party Conservatives agree with Bernie on this.

However whenever asked about the possibility of expecting any more from the ultra-wealthy they are all quick to point out that “you could take all the wealth from the rich and give it to the poor and it wouldn’t make a dent in the wealth inequity.” Now, I’m confused. If as you say the ultra-wealthy have all the money, all the money the middle class used to have when they were an actual middle class, then how is it possible that the wealthy could not make a dent in the wealth gap? Something seems fundamentally illogical here.

Then there was another example. On many occasions they insisted that we absolutely, positively must free business from all those terrible, crippling regulations that force them to do things, you know like produce safe and ecologically responsible products. Or you know, like pay living wages.

But then when asked what they will do when businesses run amok and put their own profits ahead of the social good, as they do more often than not, the answer these candidates give is “that’s no problem because we have or should pass regulations to guard against that!

NormanI’m confused again. Remember the “I Norman” episode of Star Trek? The one where Kirk and Mudd defeated the logical, well-meaning robots by forcing them to try to process illogic until their circuits fried? The robots cried out to their central computer Norman for help processing these contradictions with the plea “Norman Coordinate! Norman Coordinate!

I feel a lot like Norman trying to process Conservative logic.

The wealthy have all the money but they have no money but regulations are bad but regulations protect us but we must eliminate regulations but we must institute them but the poor must pay but the poor have no money but the bible is the source of economic knowledge but the bible says anything but the bible says nothing but… Norman Coordinate! Norman Coordinate! Illogical Illogical! Shutting down!

So, if we ever encounter a planet of ultra-powerful robots dedicated to saving us from ourselves, we only need to send some Conservatives out to explain their public policy positions and those poor logical robots end up with their circuit boards fried like Norman and me.


Apparently the candidates got the message that you can’t claim that we need to end all evil regulations at the same time that they say that regulations are the remedy to corporate excesses. This time, Ben Carson said:

“Well, I think we should have policies that don’t allow them to just enlarge themselves at the expense of smaller entities.And I think this all really gets back to this whole regulation issue which is creating a very abnormal situation.”

So apparently regulations are bad but policies are good. But don’t we need regulations to enforce policies? Norman Coordinate!