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Monday, August 1, 2011

Who has the Right Answers for our Country—Liberals or Conservatives?

 We have all been watching the dysfunctionality of our government in Washington DC for the past few weeks.  It does seem as if there exists two Americas, one liberal America in heavily populous states and one conservative America in less populous states.  New York is legalizing gay marriage while many other states are outlawing abortion and taking union rights away.  In DC liberals push for increased taxes for the rich and conservatives fight to shrink government.  How do we explain the different value systems?  I have been reading the book by Michael Shermer called “The Believing Brain.”  In this book there is a chapter devoted to how people form political beliefs.   It talks about how our political beliefs are shaped by five ways we view the world.  The five areas are below:
1.       Harm/care, related to our long evolution as mammals with attach­ment systems and an ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others. We have evolved a deep sense of empathy and sympathy for others as we imagine ourselves in their position and what a situation would feel like if it were to happen to us. This foundation underlies such moral virtues as kindness, gentleness, and nurturance.
2.      Fairness/reciprocity, related to the evolutionary process of recipro­cal altruism, in which "I'll scratch your back if you'll scratch mine." This eventually evolved into genuine feelings of right and wrong over fair and unfair exchanges—a foundation that leads to such political ideals of justice, rights, and autonomy for individuals.
3.      In-group/loyalty, related to our long history as a tribal species able to form shifting coalitions. We evolved the propensity to form within-group amity for our fellow tribesmen and between-group enmity for anyone in another group. This foundation creates within a tribe a "band-of-brothers" effect and underlies such vir­tues as patriotism and self-sacrifice for the group.
4.       Authority/respect, shaped by our long primate history of hierarchi­cal social interactions. We evolved a natural tendency to defer to authority, show deference to leaders and experts, and follow the rules and dictates given by those above us in social rank. This
foundation underlies such virtues as leadership and followership, including esteem for legitimate authority and respect for traditions.
5.   Purity/sanctity, shaped by the psychology of disgust and contami­nation. We evolved emotions to direct us toward the clean and away from the dirty. This foundation underlies religious notions of striving to live in a less carnal and more elevated and noble way, and it emphasizes the belief that the body is a temple that can be desecrated by immoral activities and contaminants

            Liberals tend to be stronger in the first two areas and conservatives are stronger in the last three.  Our political beliefs may be inconsistent because our belief in one area may overrule our belief in another area.  The fact that in-group loyalty is stronger in conservatives than in liberals may explain why the Republican Party has more unity and consistent beliefs than the Democrat Party.  The “Republican Tent” is narrower than the “Democrat Tent” but more unified. Our paralysis in DC seems to be related to the fact that our political parties have become divided allow the conservative/liberal ideological lines.  Remember the liberal Republicans like Nelson Rockefeller and Charles Percy?  How about when the conservative Senators from the South were all Democrats? If you live in a small town you are probably conservative and in a city liberal. Go to church you are probably more conservative.  Higher educational level more liberal.  A woman more liberal, a man more conservative.  Generalizations but our experiences do form our political beliefs. If you want to take the test to see where on the political scale you score take the test.

              So who has the right answers for our country today, liberals or conservative? I am not going to try to answer that question because we probably all answer it based on our own political beliefs but I would wonder how the debate would be different if all of our elected officials knew they couldn’t run for re-election? Maybe doing what is right for the country might trump political ambition.

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