Fear makes man unwise in the three great departments of human conduct: his dealings with nature, his dealings with other men, and his dealings with himself. Until you have admitted your own fears to yourself, and have guarded yourself by a difficult effort of will against their myth-making power, you cannot hope to think truly about many matters of great importance . . . . - Bertrand Russell
Conservatives are not invariably phobic; instead, extremely fearful people—those above the threshold for clinical diagnosis—who are very rare (<0.3% of the sample), are almost always conservative [Link to PDF]
As I discussed in last week’s entry, that the typical conservative personality is more sensitive to threats of all kinds and thus more likely to displays of fear as a result is not in and of itself an unkind conclusion offered by the substantial body of research on the subject. We’re all wired in different ways, for one thing. Certain common attributes often fit neatly into larger categories, for another, and so patterns and relevancies help define us.
Our political identities are no less important than any other important component of our individual personalities. The ever-increasing levels of polarization, conflict, and antagonism directed at our political opponents makes that quite clear … not that this is such a good thing.
What we do with and about our unique and collective traits is another story. That’s where problems begin.
Evidence accumulates almost daily now how anxious and fearful a certain segment of the population has become in recent years. The cultural and political changes for those already pre-disposed to an aversion to great change have been unsettling for them to say the least.
That’s not a great secret to conservative leaders both in government and in the media. Ratings and votes translate into dollars and power, and one need not be an Einstein to realize there is considerable motivation in preserving that “beneficial” state of affairs.
The easiest way to promote their self-interest is to keep loyal followers properly agitated and anxious. If that requires a healthy dose of embellishment, so be it. If facts must be cast aside in favor of imaginary nonsense [“death panels” anyone?] to preserve that state of affairs among supporters not especially inclined to obtain either confirmation or alternative perspectives, so much the better.
It has played itself for many years [read the decades-old “Why I Am Not A Conservative” by F. A. Hayek, or the acclaimed “The Paranoid Style in American Politics and Other Essays” by Richard Hofstadter to appreciate the long history of the tactics and their effects on citizens], and until or unless followers revolt, it will continue largely unabated.
That’s not a good thing for any of us. The longer the strategy is employed and the more disinclined conservative voters continue to be about broadening their understanding of issues and/or consideration of both tactics employed and their consequences, the more polarized we will become. [Progressives should also consider broadening their acceptance of other viewpoints, of course.] As is true in most cases where those in power are entirely unwilling to let go of what they’ve gained at others’ expense, that eventuality is not much of a concern.
As long as they remain in positions of authority and accrue the majority of political and financial benefits, skirmishes far below their perches atop the hierarchy won’t matter. Why suggest policies to address fears and concerns which might diminish their gains if stirring the pot preserves their status and at little or no cost?
Hell of a system! We can lament it, criticize it, attack it, or try any other methods which come to mind. What we have to absolutely must not do, however, is to turn off the lights on those behaviors and outcomes, resigning ourselves to perpetual conflict and more dismantling of our social, cultural, and community bonds.
That of course is what those in power wish for. Let’s be sure the political genie is out of favors to be granted them.
Adapted from a recent blog post of mine