Politics have always fascinated me.
Not just the simplistic notion of the concept – following the political life and partaking in the presidential elections.
I was mostly fascinated by how the process of politics constitutes an amalgam of ideas, techniques, studies, ideologies and behaviors.
That fascination prompted me to pose questions of a certain depth:
- How does the political system work?
- Why do we so strongly believe and propagate the idea of democracy?
- What makes a liberal? What makes a conservative?
- Are libertarians and communists delusional utopists?
- What’s the purpose of political activists?
All these questions and many more emerged as a result of my undaunted desire to discover the truth about politics and form a concrete understanding of how the political world works and evolves.
This understanding formed the basis of my ideologies and hypotheses and created a deep interest in the mechanics of politics.
More specifically, I was interested in carefully analyzing the rules that govern them and I was eager to fathom the psychological underpinnings that triggered the voting decisions of each individual.
This last element especially – the psychological underpinnings – helped me disassociate my idea of politics as something intellectual and label it as something more psychological.
This psychological process, I endeavor to scrutinize today in an attempt to shed some light of reasoning in the political conundrums that we all face lately and also instigate a discussion with you, my readers, so we can maybe find out how deep the rabbit hole goes.
The article will be divided into the following sections:
- Identifying the spectrum
- Painting the picture
- The psychological underpinnings
- The verdict
Identifying the spectrum
Over time, political ideologies were formed according to the different socioeconomic structures of the era. In our modern political landscape, the two prevailing ideologies are liberalism and conservatism.
Liberalism is an ideology that is founded on the ideas of liberty and equality. The first recorded instances of the word liberal can be traced back to 1375 when it was used to describe liberal arts and the education associated with a free man. Across the centuries, the term was molded and employed by different political movements to exemplify ideas and policies that are associated with revolution and independence. It was adopted mainly by left-wing parties and was used as the basis that formed movements like the French Revolution and Socialism impacted the philosophies of Locke and Voltaire and inspired economists like Keynes. 1
Conservatism, on the other hand, is a more recent ideology that promotes the preservation of social institutions and hierarchies that support the stability of culture and civilization. It was first used by François-René de Chateaubriand in 1818 in an attempt to roll back the policies of the French Revolution. Conservatism is strongly related to traditionalism and what it is considered traditional in a given place and time. The ideology has ben adopted by right wing parties all over the world and has influenced politicians like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and economists like Milton Friedman. In the 20th century, traditional conservatism evolved and created branches like liberal conservatism and libertarian conservatism that attempt to combine conservative values and policies with liberal stances, but also religious conservatism and authoritarian conservatism that try to include religion and authoritarianism in the conservative principles.
Evidently, the two terms are used in various ways nowadays and it’s quite tricky to find a one size fits all definition. The ones suggested above try to touch upon the most definite characteristics of the two and provide a broad understanding of their underlying ethics and morals.
Painting the picture
Nowadays, although most of the aforementioned characteristics still constitute the backbone of the two ideologies, the unprecedented technological revolution has dramatically affected the behaviors and practices of its supporters.
Therefore, I would like to make an attempt to briefly describe the archetypes of the modern liberal and modern conservative as we see them played out in our everyday lives.
In contemporary America, liberalism is strictly correlated to the Democratic Party. Democrats are considered the proprietors of liberalism and they try to propagate the ideals that were evangelized by their liberal forefathers. Hence, the modern liberal is usually associated with the Democratic Party.
Gender equality, gay rights, protection of minorities, free speech, global warming, big government and a slight aversion towards capitalism and its doctrines 2 are the main positions that you will find in the agenda of the modern liberal.
The modern liberal is an open-minded person. He hates oppression and discrimination and advocates for open borders and the bashing of social inequality. The modern liberal reads Huffington Post and the Atlantic, but occasionally enjoys the articles of Slate and Salon. The modern liberal is a sensitive and sometimes a deeply emotional person.
Despite the gravity that the label liberal entails, there is paradoxical evidence that sometimes a liberal cannot live up to the expectations of that label. The modern liberal finds it quite difficult to accept opposing positions and reverts to characterizing people who disagree with his views as racists, bigots, homophobes and other graceful adjectives.
His aversion towards views that don’t reconcile with his beliefs makes him mad and aggressive. Because of his emotionality, he won’t make even the slightest attempt to understand the opposing view and will just reject it in a blunt and oftentimes authoritative fashion.
The modern liberal is a nice guy, but he is also a confused guy. In an age of high complexity, where the multitude of views makes truth really hard to define, the modern liberal gets lost and falls into the trap of cognitive dissonance that inevitably clouds his judgment. He sees that all the ideas he has been living and breathing for years need to be reconsidered to some extent and because he is afraid of being proved wrong, he chooses aggression over dialogue.
The modern conservative
In contemporary America, conservatism is strictly correlated to the Republican Party. Republicans are considered the proprietors of conservatism and they try to propagate the ideals that were evangelized by their conservative forefathers. Hence, the modern conservative is usually associated with the Republican Party.
Hierarchy, free market, competitive capitalism, private enterprise, gun ownership and rejection of abortion are the main positions that you will find in the agenda of the modern conservative.
The modern conservative is a person who likes rules and wants to make sure that the rules are just and that they are followed. He doesn’t like high taxes and he doesn’t like the big welfare system. He owns a gun, believes in hard work and in the self-responsibility of the individual. The modern conservative watches Fox news and reads The Wall Street Journal, but occasionally enjoys the articles of Breitbart and the videos by Infowars. He is a moral person that supports the idea of family and tradition. He likes the idea of the American dream and he is proud of being born in the country of endless possibilities. 3
One could argue that the modern conservative lacks sensitivity and empathy. When he talks he seems very serious and sometimes arrogant. He is capable of controlling his temper but at the same time, he won’t find it difficult to insult you and belittle you if your views don’t match. There are instances where you can see a sense of deep humanity in the views of the modern conservative, but then he utters something completely cringe-worthy and you forget that those instances even occurred.
The modern conservative is a nice guy, but he is also a confused guy. In an age of high complexity, where the multitude of views makes truth really hard to define, the modern conservative gets lost and falls into the trap of authoritarianism that inevitably clouds his judgment. He sees that all the ideas he has been living and breathing for years are getting traction again and his enthusiasm for the reestablishment of a lost regime makes him think that his ideas are the only reasonable solution out there.
The psychological underpinnings
There are two aphorisms I have heard that hold a significant amount of truth in them:
- If you were raised in a conservative household you will most probably become a liberal and vice versa.
- If you’re not a liberal at 20 you have no heart, if you’re not a conservative at 40 you have no brain.
Those are great aphorisms and depict quite accurately the human condition and the psychological and ideological fluctuations of the average voter.
Our family, our experiences and our transition from an irresponsible to relatively more responsible organism, as we grow older, 4 forge to a certain degree our outlook towards politics.
In order, however, to establish a somewhat solid understanding of why those aphorisms hold some truth, we need to attempt to paint a rough picture of the psychological background of a hypothetical liberal and conservative voter.
This picture will illustrate the reasons behind their behaviors and beliefs and help us eventually realize that politics is nothing more than a psychological game that seeks to exploit and expose the weaknesses and experiences of simple human beings.
A psychological analysis of a hypothetical liberal voter
Let’s assume that the average liberal voter was raised in a conservative household. Let’s also assume that this household was primarily a patriarchal household because conservatives are in favor of patriarchy. He or she had most probably an oppressive and distant father that failed to create a strong connection with him or her and as a result, he or she developed feelings of dislike towards him. When the kid lacks a father figure he or she looks elsewhere to find the connection, direction, and protection the father is supposed to provide. The mother will be there and still be supportive but she will not have much influence on him or her because the father will overshadow her.
The case for her is quite interesting and includes usually two alternatives. The first alternative is that she will be strictly confined within the limits of her household in order to be protected from what is perceived by her parents as a hostile and dangerous world. She will grow up scared and maybe antisocial. Her situation won’t favor her ascend on the social ladder and by rebelling against her family she will seek to find a boyfriend and later on a husband who can represent everything her father isn’t – presumably one with liberal inclinations.
The second alternative is that she will look for connection, direction, and protection in her friends and TV or Internet idols and revert to behaviors that these people find cool. Usually, such behaviors include: a sexualized and falsely interpreted feminine image that usually accepts promiscuity and infidelity as the norm, smoking, alcohol and occasional drug use and probably if the person is interested in cultivating intellect, wrong interpretation of ideas and ideals promoted by liberal authors and intellectuals. While growing up, she will face the responsibilities of adulthood and most probably look back with regret at what happened during her childhood. She won’t take responsibility for those events and she will accuse her family and conservatism of the situation. She will embrace liberalism because it is the opposite of conservatism.
He will also look for connection, direction, and protection in his friends and TV or Internet idols. The thing with him, however, is that he is not a girl. If he hasn’t developed the necessary social skills required in order to be accepted in juvenile social circles, his peers will most probably reject him as socially awkward. This rejection will create feelings of hatred inside him and he will most probably blame his father for this. He will look for redemption elsewhere. Usually video games, books or other guys like him. Especially if he feels that his father mistreated him he will classify himself as a victim and develop an aversion towards any form of mistreatment.
If he likes reading books he will grow fond of liberal philosophers and writers and will make sure to use their ideologies as a dogma in order to rationalize irrational challenges he faces in the real world. If he doesn’t like reading books, he will grow up and look back at the events from his childhood and realize that some of his current problems should be accredited to his family. He will embrace liberalism because it is the opposite of conservatism.
A psychological analysis of a hypothetical conservative voter
Let’s assume that the average conservative voter was raised in a liberal household. Let’s also assume that this household was primarily an egalitarian household because liberals are in favor of egalitarianism. He or she had most probably a distant relationship with both parents because the egalitarian mindset they tried to adopt didn’t really work out. Egalitarianism, although ideally aims to empower the woman, what it usually does is that it masculates her and emasculates the man. People fall victims to the misinterpretation of this concept and instead of enjoying a perfectly egalitarian relationship, they suffer the consequences of an irresponsibly defined concept.
Obviously, in such an environment, friction between the parents will be a perpetual reality and very often the man will become submissive and lose interest for both his wife and eventually the family. 5 The child will not be able to properly distinguish the right role model and because of an unstable relationship with the parents, he or she will look for connection, direction, and protection elsewhere.
In the event of an absent father figure and a dominant mother figure, she will perceive her mother as cruel and her father as weak. In that case, things aren’t very dissimilar compared to the case of the girl from the conservative household. Her chances, however, of reverting to the second alternative, as suggestive above, are higher because in an egalitarian household things are maybe a bit looser and it will be easier for her to get influenced by unhealthy social groups while seeking protection, direction, and connection. If she doesn’t, she will look to find conservative boyfriends in order to fill the gap that her weak father never managed to fill.
The case for him is a very idiosyncratic one. The fact that the father is absent and the mother is dominant doesn’t necessarily suggest that he will grow resentment towards liberal values. This will be determined by the relationship he will establish with the mother.
If the mother chooses the rough path and tries to dominate him as well, he will also grow weak and this will affect his views towards liberalism. As an adult, he will seek shelter in the empowering views of conservatism that promote the male dominance model. He will grow fond of the figures that dominate the conservative movement at the time and will try to be just like them in order to survive and flourish in a somewhat liberal-centric society.
If the mother is supportive and helps him develop a respectable amount of confidence, he will be more appreciative towards liberal values. The fact that the father was absent, though, might sporadically awaken him a slight sympathy towards conservative values when he sees conservative men exhibit behaviors that he would like to see in his father.
Please, before you start forming wrong assumptions, I want to attest that I only tried to scratch the surface here. I could write a small book on the topic where I could also consult the opinions of psychologists, sociologists, philosophers and possibly neuroscientists. This brief scrutiny was based on articles read, views formed and conclusions made after lengthy interactions with various figures concerning the subject matter.
There are certainly a lot of liberals and conservatives that were raised in liberal and respectively conservative households, but those households are somewhat rare because they are more stable. That is to say that the parents really cared about their children in their own way and consequentially affected their political preferences. As I mentioned before, the child is always in search of a person to look up to. If the parent invests in the child’s development, the child will most probably adopt their ideologies and beliefs.
There are also households that are even more extreme than the ones described above and affect even more profoundly the ideology of the child. Extreme leftists like social justice warriors and extreme conservatives like the alt-right fall in that category.
The point is that due to the extreme absurdity encircling the political life and the instability that it is causing to our social life we need to finally start a discussion and openly express our opinion on those matters.
Awareness is our ally here and with awareness we have something tangible to work with. Understanding the underlying issues of such a dangerously combustible affair can help us deal with it in a mature and conscientious way.
Moreover, apart from childhood, there is another huge factor that affects our judgment whenever we engage in ideologies and arguments concerning political matters. That factor is ego.
We live in the age of ego worshiping and the idea that someone will challenge or attack our views becomes deeply enraging. Our ego is such a fragile entity and we will do whatever it takes to protect it and nourish it. Without it we are nothing. Without it, we lose the sense of self and we feel marginalized. We are like big babies trying to balance between attention seeking and point-proving.
In that absurd world, reason, logic, and morality have no place. And whenever those elements are not included in the equation of an important social issue the chances of reaching a reasonable conclusion are microscopic.
I don’t really know if there is a solution to this extremely complicated situation. Since I was a teenager I was mostly affiliated with liberal views. 6 Today, after a lot of reading I find meaning in conservative and also libertarian views. There is no universal truth out there because we never tried to establish one. We have a vague sense of morality and of what is right and wrong, but this can only take us so far. We try to evangelize ideas like freedom of the individual, freedom of speech and the non-aggression principle, but we rarely take the time to realize how those ideas are interpreted by various individuals around the world. 7 Maybe we aren’t ready to establish a universal sense of morality because this is something so complex that our minds cannot really process at this point in time. 8
For now, what I know is that history is the best teacher. And what history has shown is that in times of uncertainty people and their fragile egos tend to revert to the extremes because reason and balance are nowhere in sight. The extremes are always louder and the ones that are getting most of the attention.
This article was an attempt to do something that only a few people do. Draw your attention away from the extremes and focus it where balance is.
Because life is balance.
Everything around you is balance.
You are balance.
And funnily enough, by finding your balance you will inevitably bring balance in an extremely unbalanced world.
p. s. Don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter to get our articles in your inbox on a weekly basis. It is awesome, free, easy to unsubscribe and some great resources will wait for you once you confirm your subscription.
If you are tired of discussing and reading about politics and want to take a break from the political life, I would suggest investing time in your social and communal life.
Humans are social animals and we evolved in a way that allowed us to thrive only when we are part of tribes.
Political parties are exploiting this fundamental need to make you feel that you are a part of them.
However, this tribal feeling can be reclaimed only by working on cultivating skills that can help us meet more people and try to establish a great connection with them.
During the last month, I spent my time in Berlin, where I met many awesome people and had a great time.
I did that because for years I have been investing in cultivating those skills. Anyone is capable of doing that but not everyone invests the time required to do it.
In the “30 challenges – 30 days – zero excuses” project at least 10 of the challenges focus on social skills like listening, being honest, being grateful, being assertive and initiating small talk.
If you want a methodical approach to improving your speaking skills, “Speak like a leader” is a great handbook for that. In 250 pages we cover all the nuances of effective communication and propose strategic ways to tackle them.
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