Are There Other Options? Pt. 6

Specifically, [the need for closure] fosters the tendency to seize on information that affords closure and to freeze on closure once it has been attained. The need for closure, whether varied situationally or measured dispositionally, has been associated with tendencies to engage in social stereotyping … to resist persuasive influence … and to reject opinion deviates. *

In matters of either great complexity or broad impact, a quick turn to the familiar and/or latching on to the first bit of evidence arguably supportive of one’s position—in the process dismissing any other information—and/or jumping to “premature conclusions” carries a certain amount of risk. Of course, it’s far and away an easier strategy to put into play, but still….There are times when those tactics are both wrong and entirely counter-productive if resolution is an objective. Shocking, Right?

The likelihood of making matters worse increases exponentially the greater and broader the subject matter. That also seems fairly obvious, although it’s just as obvious that it isn’t stopping the partisan wars from continuing at an accelerated pace. Reducing complexities to simplistic conclusions has some advantages and reduces dissonance, but if effective and enduring problem-solving is the objective, this falls woefully short.

Creating more problems by denying the current state of affairs or trivializing the details in favor of buttoning up the issue is probably not a wise choice, yet we seem conditioned to do just that much more often than we should. Perhaps a pause might be in order right about now? [We’ll certainly be doing us all one gigantic favor if we take that pause and ask ourselves—and then carefully consider—What Happens? if the Trump machine prevails.

The researchers found that being intolerant of ambiguity is associated with such conservative characteristics as unwavering certainty and strong loyalty to particular people and positions. Conservatives don't feel the need to jump through complex, intellectual hoops in order to understand or justify some of their positions. They are more comfortable seeing and stating things in black and white, the researchers concluded….

There’s a certain logic to all of this, if we understand that fear of change is one of the core foundations of conservatism. Regardless of the changes being proposed or imposed, the comfort of the familiar resonates more deeply with those inclined to conservative thought and principles.

But if those principles are likewise causing harm, the question which those of us on the Left want to desperately to ask is: Are you not paying attention? Right-wing extremists in particular, of course, but also a large segment of others presumably reasonable and rational conservatives ignore complexity at their peril. That makes it everyone’s problem. The failure to appreciate that complexity leads to the very outcomes they fear and object to the most.

How does the fear of change, and the corresponding unwillingness to consider new information or perspectives, merit greater loyalty than one’s own well-being—now and in the future? We’re presumably dealing with a lot of rational and intelligent adults, so how do those more basic fears outweigh the risks entailed in choosing to stand where they are in the face of so much evidence suggesting greater harm?

There aren’t many of us who actively seek out information or circumstances sure to create discomfort and anxieties, but … welcome to life! More information is usually a good thing if one is hoping to actually resolve a certain state of affairs. Is anyone denying we have more than a few issues on the table which would benefit from a bit more consideration?

That the information might not be all sunshine and roses is a given, but getting past that—possessed with the full range of facts and perspectives—will in the end make solutions more meaningful and enduring.

Perhaps a good first step is to become more aware of our various tendencies. Knowledge is also a good thing, and the more we possess, the better our chances of both avoiding knee-jerk anxieties and putting to bed whatever the current problem might be. Then, we can move on to the next one!

Conflicts and challenges and debates and their brethren will keep on showing up, but wouldn’t it be of greater benefit and more advantageous if they didn’t keep piling up on top of one another?

Adapted from a recent blog post of mine

* Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition by John T. Jost Stanford University; Arie W. Kruglanski University of Maryland at College Park; Jack Glaser University of California, Berkeley; Frank J. Sulloway University of California, Berkeley. Psychological Bulletin Copyright 2003 by the American Psychological Association, Inc. 2003, Vol. 129, No. 3, 339–375

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