The psychology of politics
I did my first piece of research into the psychology of politics in 1968. It was my Masters dissertation. I have been studying the subject ever since -- now with many academic publications on it behind me. So it seems reasonable that in 2008 -- 40 years later -- I should look back and say as briefly as possible what I have learned in those 40 years.
In good academic style I start with a definition: The first thing to say is that Leftism is emotional. The second is to say that the emotion is negative and the third thing to say is that the negative emotion (anger/hate) is directed at the world about the Leftist, the status quo if you like. The Leftist is nothing if he is not a critic, though usually a very poorly-informed critic. And the criticisms are both pervasive and deeply felt.
What is routinely overlooked in most discussions of ideology is that conservatives don't like the status quo either -- but they don't hate it and they don't get burned up about it. Ask almost any conservative and he will give you a long list of things he would like to see changed in the world about him. It is only a Leftist caricature to say that conservatives support the status quo.
Left and Right do indeed differ in their response to the status quo but not in the simplistic "for and against" way that Leftists claim. The difference is in depth of feeling and in the changes desired. Leftists want change passionately and feel very righteous about the changes they want. Conservatives can see fault and do at times set out at length the reasoning behind the changes they think desirable -- but mostly they just want to get on with their own lives. There are undoubtedly some people who are completely happy with the world as it is but they are not concerned about politics. They probably do, however, vote conservative when called upon to vote. They would not be able to find much in common with the constant complaint that is the mark of the Leftist. The typical conservative does not simmer if his wishes for change are not implemented. The Leftist does.
One marker of the difference just set out will be well known to anyone who reads blogs from both sides of the divide: Profanity is hugely more common on Leftist blogs. A systematic study of the matter found profanity to be TWELVE TIMES more common on Leftist blogs. Profanity is of course an attempt to express one's feelings strongly.
Note that I do NOT use the word "liberal" for the Left side of politics. "Liberal" as a name for any left-leaning political party is just camouflage. Except in sex-related matters, liberty is in general a very low prioritiy for them. Tearing down sexual mores is a form of change that they have had much success at.
So what is conservatism? Basically it is caution based on a perception that the world is an unpredictable, dangerous and often hostile place. So change is not rejected. It is in fact, as just said, sometimes desired. But it is approached in a skeptical, step by step, way to ensure that its effects are beneficial or at least benign. And an important criterion of what consitutes "benign" is how the change affects individual liberty. At a minimum, a conservative wants to ensure that change will not reduce his individual liberty.
Because the Leftist is angry rather than prudent, however, he cares not a bit for the conservative's caution. The most thorough-going Leftist just wants to smash everything that exists around him out of the feeling that it is all so hateful that none of it is worth preserving. And in the French revolution, the Bolshevik revolution, the Maoist revolution and many more minor revolutions, the Leftists got their way -- with results we all know about. Doing any sort of a good job of putting back together what they have smashed is beyond them. They are destroyers only. Hate is not constructive.
Because we all know of those dismal results, Leftist activists and politicians in entrenched democracies have to be more careful. Expressing the full extent of their feelings and advocating revolution would simply marginalize them and they know that. So they have to find ways of undermining society in more subtle ways. And they are greatly aided in that by the complex nature of modern society. Most people have only the vaguest notion of how society works so the Leftist politician can propose various changes that sound good but which will be disastrous in practice -- with "share and share alike" being the classic example of that. And when the disasters unfold the committed Leftist cannot lose. He will get an internal glow of satisfaction from the suffering and disruption unleashed on all those fools around him that he hates but will be excused from blame because he "meant well".
So what motivates a Leftist to be so full of negative emotions toward the surrounding world? Many things. There is no one cause of Leftism. The Leftist activist or politician is mostly motivated by ego needs. He craves attention and praise. He needs to be perceived as wise and righteous -- and he tries to achieve that by pretending to be all heart and condemning the world for its many faults and imperfections. But it could simply be that the Leftist was born into a subset of society that is in general hostile to the larger society. Miners are a common example of that. Mining towns were once bedrock Left-voting places. Why that was so is beyond the scope of what I want to say at the moment, however.
And, as mentioned, there are of course degrees of Leftism -- degrees to which society is disliked. The out-and-out-Leftist (generally an intellectual of some sort) is just a rage-filled hater who wants to smash everything -- but the average Leftist voter is a gentler soul. They may simply be upset that they personally are not getting a very good deal from society as it exists and be generally critical of society for that reason. But the biggest category of Leftist voters by far would appear to be genuinely well intentioned people who are strongly emotionally affected by suffering in others. They see other people who are not doing well in some way and urgently want that fixed by whatever means it takes. They are angered by what they see as "injustice". And that emotion dominates all else. And it is the strong negative emotions evoked by the surrounding society that unites these people with the vicious and deliberately destructive haters at the top of the Leftist pyramid.
But anger is a very bad frame of mind in which to make decisions and craft policies so these basically good people will often be lured into voting for some unscrupulous Leftist politician who promises to fix it all -- but who must know in his own heart that the cure will be worse than the disease. But if offering false hope gets the activist into power, too bad! And the poor old conservative who knows how things work and says that there is no easy fix will be ignored -- and called "heartless".
And that, I believe is how politics works: It is particularly the people who are especially sensitive to the suffering of others who make us all suffer, paradoxical though that may seem. Without their numerous votes, the Leftist politicians would never gain power. And the converse of that is that a little bit of heartlessness can be desirable. Balance is needed in fellow-feeling, as in many other things.
One test of the above explanation is that Left-voters should be more unhappy than conservatives -- and that has been borne out in almost all the happiness surveys that I have seen. For some discussion of that, see here. Because they are less emotional and not as easily upset, conservatives are happier and more level-headed -- and so are not as easily stampeded into foolish actions by emotional appeals. Most of them don't even believe in global warming!
So, for most Leftists, their Leftism mostly dwells deep within the personality. Which is why from age 2 I could tell that my son would be a conservative. His favourite "joke" at that age (and indeed for some years afterward) was: "The boy fell in the mud". He was able to see the funny side of a minor mishap that would have been seen as a tragedy by an emotional Leftist.
And the soft-hearted Leftists have much to thank conservatives for. The conservative element in the population protects them from the consequences that they wish for. Nowhere is that better seen than when the revolution succeeds. Among the first people to be "liquidated" by the hard men of the revolution are the soft-hearted revolutionaries.
Fortunately, time also plays a part. Many of the well-intentioned Leftists do over time come to see that simplistic solutions to society's ills don't work and end up voting for more complex and balanced solutions. They become conservatives. Even the once very Leftist George McGovern sounds remarkably conservative these days. Many of the most vocal conservatives started out as Leftists and have become quite evangelical as a consequence of learning from experience that Leftist policies are destructive. They have the same benevolent aims as before but have grown wiser about what will best serve those aims. And the older they get, the more chance they have to see the counterproductive nature of simplistic Leftist "solutions".
The most succinct summary of what I have said above is that Leftism is the politics of rage. This contrasts with the usual summary that Leftism is the politics of envy. But Leftists these days seem to be a generally affluent bunch. They are certainly not on average materially disadvantaged. So I cannot see that material envy is any sort of major motive for most of them.
The above is of course only a summary. I go into great detail about what the history of Leftism and conservatism tells us here and here.
Note: The post above is an expanded version of the original -- JR
Why Dogs, Not Liberals, Are Man's Best Friend
by Burt Prelutsky
Some people are convinced that a compassionate conservative is an oxymoron. But, I know better. I'm not suggesting I am one, but I do know a few. They're the people who occasionally take me to task for being too critical of liberals. They'll insist that some of their best friends are liberals. Liberals, they'll inform me, make fine neighbors and positively first-rate relatives. I patiently explain that they're preaching to the choir. I know first-hand that liberals can be all of those things, and more. My only problem with liberals is that they're hypocrites and they can't help lying.
Perhaps, like my friends, you now think I'm too harsh in my judgment. On the contrary, I think I tend to give liberals the benefit of the doubt. I happen to believe they are so besotted by their emotions that they can't help painting themselves into indefensible corners. To blame a liberal for lying and blatant hypocrisy would be as heartless as blaming an alcoholic for drinking. In fact, I suspect that, like alcoholics, liberals suffer from a chemical imbalance. Otherwise, how would you explain the enormous gulf between what they say and what they do?
For instance, how often have we read newspaper editorials arguing for Affirmative Action in schools and in the work place? In most cases, those pieces are not being written or edited by members of a racial minority group. So, if they were sincere, shouldn't these journalists clear out their desks and surrender their jobs to somewhat less qualified, but far more deserving, blacks and Hispanics?
Or consider, if you will, how consistently liberals object to tax cuts. They prattle on incessantly about how much the wealthy benefit, ignoring the logic that if there's a 10% reduction across the board, it figures that the person who pays more will save more. But, when liberals blather about the inequities of tax cuts, you realize they actually believe that if a millionaire saves fifty thousand on his tax bill, the guy who only earns, say, thirty grand-a-year should get the same return!
Liberals, for reasons that some of us will never comprehend, are convinced that the federal government can be trusted to spend money more wisely than the people who actually earn it. When Bill Clinton was in the White House, he said as much. They're entitled to their beliefs, you say. Where does the inconsistency come in, you ask? It's simply this -- liberals spend just as much money as conservatives on shrewd attorneys and clever C.P.A.'s, attempting to lower their own tax liability. There is nothing in the tax laws, after all, that prohibits an American citizen from paying Uncle Sam more than he owes. But, I have yet to hear of a liberal, even one as rich as George Soros, who claimed that, even though he belonged in the highest bracket, he so admired the way in which Congress spent his money, he was going to send the I.R.S. 70 or maybe even 80 percent of his earnings.
Finally, I have never heard a liberal speak out in favor of school vouchers. Instead, they wave the flag for public schools, even though everybody in his right mind knows that, in spite of the No Child Left Behind program, a majority of public schools in America are a disgrace. The system has routinely passed along youngsters who wound up graduating from high school lacking self-discipline and even rudimentary math and reading skills. Yet, every liberal in Congress can be counted on to pay lip service to public education, although not one of them has a child enrolled in the Washington, D.C., school system!
What is Obama hiding?: "The California secretary of state should refuse to allow the state's 55 Electoral College votes to be cast in the 2008 presidential election until President-elect Barack Obama verifies his eligibility to hold the office, alleges a California court petition filed on behalf of former presidential candidate Alan Keyes and others. The legal action today is just the latest is a series of challenges, some of which have gone as high as the U.S. Supreme Court, over the issue of Obama's status as a "natural-born citizen," a requirement set by the U.S. Constitution."
The $639 Million Loophole: "We're fresh off the most expensive election cycle in history, in which the winning candidate raised record amounts of money while opting out of the campaign finance limits. With victory in hand, Barack Obama's allies now want to return to the alleged virtues of public money. If there was ever a demonstration of the folly and hypocrisy of campaign finance reform, this would be it. The GOP is using this demonstration to make another constitutional challenge to McCain-Feingold"
Russia in trouble: "Putin's personal fortune and the Kremlin's cash cow lies in Gazprom, the Russian gas monopoly that supplies over 20% of the government's budget. Six months ago - last May - Gazprom had the largest market cap of any company in the entire world, US$360 billion. It is now (11/13) $91b. It has lost 75% of its value and so has its share price. That's gas. Let's take oil. The Kremlin says its budget is based on a price of $65 a barrel, while independent analysts think its at least $70. Yet the collapse of benchmark oil prices to below $60 currently masks the fact that Russia sells a lower grade, Urals Crude, than benchmark grades like Brent or WTI (West Texas Intermediate). Today, Urals crude closed at $48.80. Not only is Russia getting less money per barrel, it's producing less. Oil production fell for the 10th straight month in October. As the Russian economy disintegrates, so is the Russian state and the Kremlin's control over it. As respected commentator Dmitry Tayevsky recently wrote: "Of course there will not be a crisis in Russia. There will be something immeasurably worse."
A glamorous puppet: "The swooning frenzy over the choice of Barack Obama as President of the United States must be one of the most absurd waves of self-deception and swirling fantasy ever to sweep through an advanced civilisation. At least Mandela-worship - its nearest equivalent - is focused on a man who actually did something. I really don't see how the Obama devotees can ever in future mock the Moonies, the Scientologists or people who claim to have been abducted in flying saucers. This is a cult like the one which grew up around Princess Diana, bereft of reason and hostile to facts. It already has all the signs of such a thing. If you can believe that this undistinguished and conventionally Left-wing machine politician is a sort of secular saviour, then you can believe anything. He plainly doesn't believe it himself. His cliche-stuffed, PC clunker of an acceptance speech suffered badly from nerves. It was what you would expect from someone who knew he'd promised too much and that from now on the easy bit was over. He needn't worry too much. From now on, the rough boys and girls of America's Democratic Party apparatus, many recycled from Bill Clinton's stained and crumpled entourage, will crowd round him, to collect the rich spoils of his victory and also tell him what to do, which is what he is used to".
UN spends aid money on $25 million office ceiling: "A $25m decorative ceiling for a United Nations building in Geneva has come under fire after it was disclosed that it was partly paid for by Spain's overseas aid budget. The decision to hire Miquel Barcelo, 51, one of the world's most highly paid abstract artists, to redesign a 14,000 sq ft dome has prompted furious protests from campaigners who believe it is an extravagant misuse of development funds. Barcelo has said his design aims to create a "grotto", with stalactites reflecting "infinity and the multiplicity of view-points". He has built a honeycomb of aluminium from which to hang resin stalactites up to 3ft long. They are coloured with paint containing pigments from all over the world. The work, at the headquarters of the UN Human Rights Council, will be unveiled this week by Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain and Jose Luis Zapatero, the Spanish prime minister."
There is a new lot of postings by Chris Brand just up -- on his usual vastly "incorrect" themes of race, genes, IQ etc.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, EYE ON BRITAIN and Paralipomena
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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)