think about the following issues – immigration reform, gay marriage, school prayer, flag-burning, abortion, abstinence education, affirmative action, invading Iraq (in 2003), nationalism, and contraception. At first glance, these issues cover a range of seemingly unrelated subjects (though sex comes up a lot). But if I did a poll of, say, you-the-readers versus a random group of white social conservatives, I think a huge percentage of you-the-readers would be in 100% disagreement with social conservatives on these issues. And even if it wasn’t 100%, it would still be high.
And that’s what’s interesting. Assuming I’m right about the results of my hypothetical poll, it suggests that there’s something much deeper and systemic to this disagreement – a fundamental cognitive or cultural difference that isn’t readily apparent.
I suppose this will sound snotty, but I think the source of this fundamental difference is parochialism. I don’t mean that in a pejorative or a religious sense, but only a descriptive one – i.e, I mean it in the sense of “having little exposure to that which is different from you.” Parochial isn’t the best word because it’s loaded, but hopefully you understand what I’m getting at. (Maybe “insularity” is a better word.)
Anyway, the fundamental problem with parochialism is that it tends to make people equate the contingent with the universal. The contingent social norms of your part of the world become elevated into universal moral codes. The contingent social practices of your community become the baseline for “the good.”
I think that’s really at the heart of a lot of America’s cultural debates. For example, with respect to immigration, white conservatives tend to see themselves not as one of many groups, but of true “America.” The contingent characteristics of their community have become the universal characteristics of America.
And that’s what binds the two stories I linked to above. When people live somewhere with a lot of immigrants, it becomes clearer that what they thought was universal was actually contingent.
Same deal with gay marriage, contraception, and the other “sex” culture issues. There are many insular communities whose social norms (reinforced or perhaps reflected by religion) are such that homosexuality and premarital sex are not publicly acceptable. The problem, though, is that the social conservative lobby (often representing insular communities) treats these contingent social norms as universal moral imperatives that must be imposed via legislation. In doing so, they mix up the "is" with the "ought."
Same deal for religion more generally. The more you are around people of other faiths (or no faith), the more you come to see your own religious faith as somewhat contingent. That inevitably makes you more humble about the correctness of your views. Of course, I’m not making any claim as to religion’s validity, I’m just saying that where you happened to grow up is an important part of it. There aren’t many Hindus in Alabama, and there aren’t many Southern Baptists in India.
Same deal on national security/nationalism issues. Because many Americans have little contact with the rest of the world (or with people from other parts of the world), they tend to view contingent American motives and actions as universally good. They also tend to equate America’s interest with the world’s interest. More disturbingly, the rest of the world seems less real, like an abstraction. All of this is a function of American insularity.
What is needed is a adjective that's precisely the opposite of "cosmopolitanism," and perhaps "provincialism" might be a better word than "parochialism." The concept should encompass insularity, isolationalism, lack of experience of diversity, intolerance, close-mindedness and narrow-mindedness, lack of sophistication, a provincial outlook, and so on.
I've no doubt that Publius is to some degree correct if you're talking about the mass of people who support conservative cultural positions, but it certainly doesn't hold for the leadership of the movement, who are more sophisticated and better educated, but still hold ont the same kind of attitudes as the provincials they lead. In their case, it is, I think, dogma and ideology which controls them.
Update: One of Publius' commenters posted a link to this, from UC Berkeley in 2003:
Politically conservative agendas may range from supporting the Vietnam War to upholding traditional moral and religious values to opposing welfare. But are there consistent underlying motivations?
Four researchers who culled through 50 years of research literature about the psychology of conservatism report that at the core of political conservatism is the resistance to change and a tolerance for inequality, and that some of the common psychological factors linked to political conservatism include:
Fear and aggression
Dogmatism and intolerance of ambiguity
Need for cognitive closure
"From our perspective, these psychological factors are capable of contributing to the adoption of conservative ideological contents, either independently or in combination," the researchers wrote in an article, "Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition," recently published in the American Psychological Association's Psychological Bulletin.
Assistant Professor Jack Glaser of the University of California, Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy and Visiting Professor Frank Sulloway of UC Berkeley joined lead author, Associate Professor John Jost of Stanford University's Graduate School of Business, and Professor Arie Kruglanski of the University of Maryland at College Park, to analyze the literature on conservatism.
The avoidance of uncertainty, for example, as well as the striving for certainty, are particularly tied to one key dimension of conservative thought - the resistance to change or hanging onto the status quo, they said.
The terror management feature of conservatism can be seen in post-Sept. 11 America, where many people appear to shun and even punish outsiders and those who threaten the status of cherished world views, they wrote.
Concerns with fear and threat, likewise, can be linked to a second key dimension of conservatism - an endorsement of inequality, a view reflected in the Indian caste system, South African apartheid and the conservative, segregationist politics of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-South S.C.).
Disparate conservatives share a resistance to change and acceptance of inequality, the authors said. Hitler, Mussolini, and former President Ronald Reagan were individuals, but all were right-wing conservatives because they preached a return to an idealized past and condoned inequality in some form. Talk host Rush Limbaugh can be described the same way, the authors commented in a published reply to the article.
While most people resist change, Glaser said, liberals appear to have a higher tolerance for change than conservatives do.
As for conservatives' penchant for accepting inequality, he said, one contemporary example is liberals' general endorsement of extending rights and liberties to disadvantaged minorities such as gays and lesbians, compared to conservatives' opposing position.
The researchers said that conservative ideologies, like virtually all belief systems, develop in part because they satisfy some psychological needs, but that "does not mean that conservatism is pathological or that conservative beliefs are necessarily false, irrational, or unprincipled."
Conservatives don't feel the need to jump through complex, intellectual hoops in order to understand or justify some of their positions, he said. "They are more comfortable seeing and stating things in black and white in ways that would make liberals squirm," Glaser said.
He pointed as an example to a 2001 trip to Italy, where President George W. Bush was asked to explain himself. The Republican president told assembled world leaders, "I know what I believe and I believe what I believe is right." And in 2002, Bush told a British reporter, "Look, my job isn't to nuance."
No, his job is to be The Decider.
Update (5/31):Eliot Gelwan on the Republican appeal to tribalism.
hostile to science
lacking in empathy
lacking in public spirit
out of control
Thanks to: Breeze, Chuck, Ivan Raikov, Kaiju, Kathy, Roger, Shirley, S.M. Dixon
i've got a little list...
Steven Abrams (Kansas BofE)
Howard Fieldstead Ahmanson
Roger Ailes (FNC)
Alan Bonsell (Dover BofE)
Bill Buckingham (Dover BofE)
George W. Bush
Bruce Chapman (DI)
The Coors Family
William A. Dembski
Leonard Downie (WaPo)
John Gibson (FNC)
Fred Hiatt (WaPo)
James F. Inhofe
Philip E. Johnson
by Joel Pelletier
(click on image for more info)
Stephen C. Meyer (DI)
Judith Miller (ex-NYT)
Sun Myung Moon
Elspeth Reeve (TNR)
Martin Peretz (TNR)
Richard Mellon Scaife
Susan Schmidt (WaPo)
John Solomon (WaPo)
Richard Thompson (TMLC)
Bob Woodward (WaPo)
All the fine sites I've
Be sure to visit them all!!
Arthur C. Clarke
Daniel C. Dennett
Philip K. Dick
Stephen Jay Gould
"The Harder They Come"
Ursula K. LeGuin
The Marx Brothers
Michael C. Penta
Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger
"The Red Shoes"
"Singin' in the Rain"
Talking Heads/David Byrne
Hunter S. Thompson
"2001: A Space Odyssey"
If you read unfutz at least once a week, without fail, your teeth will be whiter and your love life more satisfying.
If you read it daily, I will come to your house, kiss you on the forehead, bathe your feet, and cook pancakes for you, with yummy syrup and everything.
(You might want to keep a watch on me, though, just to avoid the syrup ending up on your feet and the pancakes on your forehead.)
Finally, on a more mundane level, since I don't believe that anyone actually reads this stuff, I make this offer: I'll give five bucks to the first person who contacts me and asks for it -- and, believe me, right now five bucks might as well be five hundred, so this is no trivial offer.