Monday, October 26, 2015

Mural by Squishypuss
The question I keep coming back to, and which was discussed on and off all of last week, was how can otherwise intelligent persons still vote Republican?

Last week, I wrote that evolutionary psychology tells us that as a species, we tend to react to threats that are direct and personal, and conversely tend to ignore threats that the non-specific and impersonal.  We also tend to react to dangers that are proximal and imminent and to behaviors that we personally find disgusting.  

My observation is that conservatives tend to react even more viscerally to these kinds of threats than do liberals.  To be sure, liberals get themselves all worked up over some things, things that might make a conservative scratch their head and wonder, "With everything else going on, you're upset about that?"  But conservatives react to name-calling and insults, those direct and personal attacks by specific other persons, much more emotionally than do liberals, and reaction or over-reaction to demonstrators, both foreign and domestic, to name-callers, and to slanderers seems to drive a lot of their decision making.

NYU's Jonathan Haidt may have an explanation,  Comparing the values of conservatives to those of liberals, based on extensive interviews, polling, and profiling, Dr. Haidt notes that a core value of conservatives is loyalty to their own peer group.  This value, labeled loyalty/betrayal, is manifested by standing with one's own group, family, and nation.  Liberals share this value as well, but at a much lower level in their list of core values than do conservatives, who rank it near the top.

So when conservatives see a video clip of a group of demonstrators in the Middle East burning an American flag and chanting "Death to America!," it's a serious affront to their peer group.  They see specific people making specific threats at their specific peer group.  Loyalty demands a response, and while liberals might shrug off the imagery - or feel guilty about the accusations as conservatives accuse them of doing - conservatives post comments on web pages, call in to talk shows, and shout at Town Hall meetings that the demonstrators must be stopped or that the offending nation must be bombed. "They're a threat to everything we hold dear," they claim.  "They hate us for our freedoms!" 

Loyalty to one's peer group, while not a bad thing in and of itself, can appear as intolerance, racism, or xenophobia when taken to an extreme, and conservatives' value of loyalty to their own kind might appear as any of those three to others, depending on how the peer group is defined.  If it's defined based on their political beliefs, or their sexual orientation, or their level of affluence, it might appear as intolerance to others.  If it's defined by their race, it might appear as racism.  If it's defined based on nationality, it might appear as xenophobia.

To the outsider, the conservative's sense of loyalty might appear as any of those traits, and when the outsiders call the conservatives intolerant bigots, or racists, or xenophobes, that in turn triggers the conservatives' reaction to defend their peer group and turn against the accuser, which triggers more accusations by the outsiders, and so on as the wheel of karma keeps spinning around and around. 

Of course, I could be completely wrong about all of this, but these are the things I think about when I think about these things.

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