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Unread July 31st, 2006, 12:50 AM
Margaret McGhee Margaret McGhee is offline
Join Date: Jan 2006
Posts: 271
Default Is Psychological Conservatism or Liberalism Inherited?

Todd asked this question several weeks ago at which time I made a guess that it was possible but not likely. The question was spurred in part by my reference to the infamous Jost, et al study: Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition

Since then I have found myself revisiting that question - looking for more evidence pro or con. One thing I have noticed in that regard is the tendency for succeeding generations to often have opposite tendencies along that divide. My parents' generation seemed much more conservative than mine. I was a twenty-something hippy in the sixties where most of my cohorts seemed to share my opposition to the war in Viet Nam and many of my parents' generation's conservative values.

My son's generation seems somewhat conservative compared to mine. Today, many in the generation below his have joined a largely volunteer army of youngsters not too worried about the morality of what they are doing. They are into the signing bonuses. Those that were wealthy enough not to join the military seem to be all about gettin' more of that green stuff socked away. I sometimes kid my 43 year old son by asking him where I went wrong - as he doesn't even smoke pot.

Although I haven't seen any studies on this succeeding generation switchover tendency, which is evidence against the heritability of these factors, I'll bet there are some. Perhaps some of you with access to science libraries might attach me a file or two if you see something notable. It would be appreciated.

Another thing I've noticed is a tendency for persons who were strongly conservative or liberal when young - to switch over, perhaps more than once, during their lives. This also seems to argue against the heritability of these tendencies.

Although I'm still disinclined to think that these things are highly heritable I suspect that there is a heritability to one's tendency to have strong ideological identity beliefs - either liberal or conservative - in their lives. That is, I think some people need to experience their lives with a lot of constant and strong emotional inputs from their identity beliefs - while others seem to not need that so much - or even purposely avoid that. And that need does sometimes seem to be common in family descendants. It even seems strongly cultural. Arab and Latin cultures seem to me to carry a lot of that tendency, for example.

Of course, this could just as easily be the result of the environment a child grew up in. Again, I wonder if any studies have been done on this. Probably not as I don't think this identity-belief intensity factor is even recognized as a useful mental variable in psychology as far as I know. (No doubt because identity beliefs are not either.)

Just to be sure you know - I don't in any way think my musings on these things have any scientific value.

I thought of all this while I was watching the interview with Osama bin Laden's ex-bodyguard on Sixty Minutes tonight. He had spent a dozen years, mostly in Afghanistan, never more that a few feet from the leader of al-Queda. This man now lived a quiet life as a devout Muslim in Sudan and was intensely certain he was on the divine path of righteousness. He had a sparkle in his eyes and a calm assurance of his own virtue in his voice - he knew he was living according to his god's wishes. He seemed to derive great emotional satisfaction from that. I had no doubt he could still slash an enemy's throat in a second and be absolutely certain he would go to heaven for it. It was hard not to admire him in some ways.

They also interviewed a retired CIA agent who had spent most of his career searching for Osama. He didn't seem nearly as engaged in the righteousness of his own life - which I also interpreted as him not being as happy in his life. I imagined that his greatest emotional kicks in life probably came from some commercially packaged fake-reality thing like the Superbowl. But, maybe I was seeing what I expected to see.

In any case, it allowed me to get a glimpse of what many Islamists describe as the utter moral decay of the west. From the emotions conveyed in the interview of these two arch-enemies in real life - I could see how Osama's retired bodyguard could have that view of the world - a view that seemed so obviously true to him that there was no question in his mind.

Perhaps the Vikings who glorified killling and war and shaped their culture around those strong conservative male values were happier humans than most of us are today, even though they lived much shorter and more brutal lives than we do. Or, maybe cultural and personal happiness is a constant that tends to find its median level in whatever place and time we humans find ourselves - no matter how brutal or idyllic. I'm sure people did not sit around at the turn of the 15th century despondent that TV, jet airliners and Viagra hadn't been invented yet.

I was just wondering if anyone else here thinks about these wierd things - that seem to raise interesting questions for evolutionary psychology.


Last edited by Margaret McGhee; July 31st, 2006 at 10:32 AM.
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Unread August 1st, 2006, 09:59 AM
Fred H. Fred H. is offline
Join Date: Jul 2004
Posts: 483
Default Re: Is Psychological Conservatism or Liberalism Inherited?

Is Psychological Conservatism or Liberalism Inherited?
Some of us just see the larger picture a bit more clearly, and/or evolve more than others. For example, my son for a time seemed to be buying into some of the leftist crap that he apparently picked up at college. But recently, having to spend more time and energy surviving in the real world, the kid is starting to pull his head out of his ass—he’s beginning to sound more like me, except that he’s smarter, more creative. He's gorgeous. I expect that one day he’ll rule the world.
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Unread August 1st, 2006, 03:22 PM
Margaret McGhee Margaret McGhee is offline
Join Date: Jan 2006
Posts: 271
Default Re: Is Psychological Conservatism or Liberalism Inherited?

My own experience is that nature dishes out our problems somewhat randomly - in that nature does not favor problems that are best solved using either a psychologically liberal or conservative view of the world.

Some problems yield best to one or the other of those - most yield best to some judicious combination. Choosing which requires intelligence and an open mind. And it requires that both conservative and liberal problem solution strategies are seen as tools in the toolbox - not as identity beliefs in someone's mind.

If one approaches all problems in life using either a strictly conservative or liberal viewpoint - at least half of those potential solutions wouldn't work very well and would make things worse.

OTOH they may make the people involved think they were being true to their worldview or their religion or their political party or some such nonsense. And that itself can create positive emotions of fulfillment from fellow true-believers - even when the solution itself turns out to be a total disaster.

There are psychologically conservative neo-cons in Washington today convinced that they have created a great opportunity for change in the ME. When it all crumbles around them - as it is doing now - they will claim that Bush just didn't follow through with enough belief in the righteousness of their ideology. They will soon be out of power - either due to elections or nuclear disaster - leaving the grownups to clean up the mess if any of us are still alive.

Margi's psalm: Goddess bless the true-believers - as they will create the tons of shit that the rest of us will have to shovel.
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