A lesson in how to spot a Conservative - - The Australian Independent Media Network
Popular and well-known blogger Hillbilly Skeleton provides an entertaining synopsis on the recognisable traits of a Conservative.
Have you ever wondered what makes the conservative mind tick?
Come with me while we take that journey, through the cobwebs and
fustiness, to what lies at their core. I would say, ‘at their heart’ but
I wonder sometimes whether they have one! No, they do, it’s just that
it seems that it is generally about the size of a currant. Why is that
so? Let’s see, shall we?
I’m using as my touchstone for this exploration a paper from the ‘Psychological Bulletin of the American Psychological Association‘ Vol 129, No 3, 2003 entitled ‘Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition’ by Jost, Glaser et al. It makes for fascinating reading and if you are interested in reading all 37 pages of it it is here.
However, if you would like me to summarize, I would be glad to.
So, analyzing political conservatism as motivated social cognition
(how people think about, process and make sense of the people and things
in our world that form their views), the following traits have become
apparent when looking at the political conservative.
Their personality favours authoritarianism, dogmatism and the
intolerance of ambiguity. They have epistemic (to justify beliefs) and
existential needs for closure, regulatory focus and terror management,
and they manifest ideological rationalisations for specific types of
social dominance and justification of certain social systems.
Meta analysis confirmed that several psychological variables predict
political conservatism to varying degrees: death anxiety (possibly
giving us an insight into why people become more conservative as they
get older); system instability (could this explain why the Coalition
relentlessly exploited the destabilised Labor Party government and
sought to cause so much of it); dogmatism and intolerance of ambiguity
(explaining perhaps why Shock Jocks, where black and white are the only
colours they know and shades of grey just don’t come into their
commentary, are so popular with conservatives); lack of openness to new
experiences; inability to tolerate uncertainty; a strong need for order,
structure and closure (remember how the Coalition used to bleat
repeatedly about the ‘chaos and dysfunction at the heart of the
Gillard/Rudd government’ and how the electorate fell for it hook, line
and sinker, whilst at one and the same time that same government were
legislating far more successfully than Tony Abbott has been able to); a
low level of the ability to integrate complexity (3 word slogan,
anyone?); a fear of threat and loss (the Conservative Howard and his
fridge magnets as a constant reminder of the existential threat of
terrorism); and a negative self-esteem (from which a wellspring erupts
that sees a disproportionate number of conservatives, in my experience,
drawn to such private proclivities as Bondage and Discipline, and
Dominant/Submissive relationships, such as those found in hierarchical
religious structures and even manifesting itself in the Coalition’s
approach to Asylum Seekers).
The core ideology of conservatism stresses resistance to change and
justification of inequality and is motivated by needs that vary
situationally and dispositionally in order to manage all manner of
uncertainty and threats which they perceive. A fact which, you may note,
is taken advantage of by successful conservative politicians the world
‘Conservatism is a demanding mistress and is giving me a migraine.’
- George F. Will, ‘Bunts’
For more than half a century the hypothesis has been tracked that
different psychological motives and tendencies underlie ideological
differences between the political Left and the Right.
The specific study of the political Right began back in 1950 via
Sanford’s landmark study of authoritarianism and the fascist potential
in personality. This asymmetrical focus on right-wing authoritarianism
(RWA) was criticised heavily on theoretical and methodological grounds
by, among others, Eysenck, but it has withstood the relentless tests of
time and empirical scrutiny. A voluminous literature has facilitated the
comparison of cognitive (thinking) styles and motivational needs of
political conservatives with those of moderates, liberals, radicals and
A distillation of a political conservative thus comes down to, to
varying degrees of extremity, one who leans toward authoritarianism,
dogmatism, and intolerance of ambiguity, uncertainty avoidance, need for
cognitive closure(or certainty, or absolutes), and social dominance
orientation (SDO)-or needing to be top dog.
Which is to say that a case can also be made to say that such
asymmetrical (one-sided) study of the conservative may be dismissed as
an illegitimate, value-laden attempt to correlate general psychological
profiles with specific ideological beliefs.
On the other hand, you can also make the case, ‘Why not?’. Because it invites controversy does not mean it should be avoided.
However, what is also important to take into consideration is that
you do not fall into the trap of conflating the personal(ity) and the
political as the essential truth. Also, it needs to be considered how
much the influence of external situational factors has on the expression
of conservatism by a person. For example, could it not be the case that
people’s innate fear of Climate Change is what is driving them to
support doing nothing about it, for to acknowledge that we need to do
something is to confront the existential threat to our relaxed and
comfortable way of life which Global Warming threatens?
Which essentially guides us to a generally-agreed concept of what
political conservatism is. Specifically, that people embrace political
conservatism(at least in part) because it serves to reduce fear,
anxiety, and uncertainty; allows them to avoid change, disruption and
ambiguity: and to explain, order and justify inequality among groups and
individuals. This provides the framework which is built upon and worked
together in the mind of the conservative to reduce and manage fear and
Me? As a progressive, my motto is, ‘All is flux’ and thus you are
best served, and you best serve others in your community, the nation,
the world and our voiceless environment best by grabbing the tiger by
the tail and riding it as best you can, based upon gathering together
all the best evidence available as to how best to do so. I prefer the
view from there, as opposed to that from having my head in the sand any
Hopefully, however, you may now have more insight into why people who
are conservative prefer to chop the trees down, rather then make out
the differences between the wood and the trees.
On the non-theoretical side, we must also include that dog in the conservative race, ‘Self Interest’.