Friday, August 23, 2013

The Biological Vote: It's Implications for Conservatism.

As mentioned in previous posts, the cognitive miser operates on intuition and feeling. Their opinions on matters can be considered as more akin to higher order reflexes responding to complex stimuli.  However, there does appear to be a wide variability in the nature of the response, with people responding differently to the same stimulus,  and what interests me is the origin of the variability.

It's been long know that temperament can be bred in dogs. It's also been know that certain mood disorders can run through family lines. So it is not unreasonable to assume that personality may have a strong genetic component. [Ed: For the spergs, environment also has an influence] Personality needs to be understood as not only how we respond to the world but also how we interpret it. The emotional responses generated novel environmental stimuli seems be both hard wired (genetics) and learned.

The reason why some people like authority and others don't may not have any rational basis whatsoever, rather their inherited genetic encoded operating system may pre-dispose them to to their respective responses. i.e the feelings generated are involuntary. Science has not yet worked out how we generate the emotional responses we do to certain situations. I suspect that the answer will lay in all that junk DNA that is currently being re-evaluated [Ed: Astute observers will note that the term "junk" has been dropped. Dumb Scientists]. But what's becoming increasingly evident is that Conservatives and Liberals seem to differ, to a degree, in biology. Anonymous Conservative (Hat tip, Matt Forney) has a good paper here listing some of the cerebral and genetic differences between Conservatives and Liberals. Now, I'm not a big believer in his r/K selection theory but I do think his comments on the differences between groups two have significant implications in reality.

As has been shown by neuroscience, the cognitive miser is strongly influenced by his emotional state, and given that most men are cognitive misers, it follow that their politics will be strongly influenced by their emotions. The non-intuitive thinker, will look at facts and issues and will try to weigh them objectively, being able to "decouple" from his emotions. The problem is that this type of man is an exception and in a democracy the intuitive mob rules.

The take home message here is that we seem to be dispositionally orientated to conservatism or liberalism as a result of our genetics, and as politics has become more dumbed down, we're seeing  and more of the influence of this genetic component on voting results. In a democracy, where the cognitive miser is king, the absence of an overwhelming idea means that people will vote upon  intuitive lines. The reason why we can't reach consensus is because the underlying biology is in opposition. It's almost as if voting is decided by bloodlines.

My concern, however, is with the conservative cognitive miser, the man who votes for the Right. Whilst most political psychological studies are liberal biased, nearly all of them demonstrate a continual aversion to novelty, individuality and cognitive flexibility amongst conservatives. This does not mean that conservatives are incapable of taking on new ideas, rather, they're slower on the uptake. However, if they can become accustomed to idea, over time, they will adopt them. These intuitive conservatives, are thus agents of cultural inertia. Note, they're not concerned about the content as much as the novelty of the idea. Go it slow is their motto. The thing about these conservatives is that their conservatism is "content lite" and is situational more than principled. There is no political ideology intrinsic to conservatism of the cogntive miser, because it is all about the rate of change and how the ideologies are superficially packaged.

Now you can see how Burkean Conservatism appeals to these types, for Burke echos their intuitions. I've got to admit, I've never been a fan of Burke's thinking. He reminds me of an old grandfather driving a well maintained old Ford. He travels a bit under the speed limit, "just in case" and sticks to well worn routes. He keeps talking about the kids killing themselves driving those fast foreign cars.

The thing is, once a liberal idea does take hold amongst these intuitive conservatives they're just as likely to hold on it. If we were to survey the current political landscape, which conservative party is seriously trying to push back on ideas such as pre-marital sex, divorce, moral relativism, multiculturalism and more recently gay marriage? The stuff that is the real social rot of our society. These things are now taken as a given by the mainstream right. The modern Right in the U.S. looks a lot like the Carter Left in the 70's, though Carter did not support gay marriage......maybe.

Old style conservatism was heavily based on religion, and hence was propositional. The content of religion flavoured the conservatism and set limits to its malleability. The new style "inclusive" conservatism is situational and content "flexible", it is endlessly malleable provided it is done slowly. This is why the religious collapse in the West in the 1960's was so destructive to political conservatism as well.  Religion buttressed political conservatism in a mass democracy and its removal ensured the slow drift to the Left.

Conservatism needs to be framed as a propositional ideology. Principally, it is an ideology which first and foremost believes in the truth and reality. The problem with such a conservatism though is that it is inaccessible to the cognitive miser, who votes with his gut instead of his head. Therefore the only way I can see that meaningful conservatism will reassert itself in the West will be either through;

1) An evangalisation of the democratic nations. In my opinion, unlikley.
2) The collapse of democracy and the reassertion of Conservatism by a cognitive/religious elite.

The way things are going, the second option seems the most probable.


Drew said...

Your thoughts on why evangelism of the western secular nation is unlikely, compared to the success of such efforts over 4 centuries in the Roman world and hostile Germanic invaders?

I'm thinking that looking over a multi-century term, these pendulums can swing back and forth, as they have in the past.

Maybe you are considering only a shorter time horizon?
On the short time horizon, I would agree, the old message is not ready to be new again. But I think that pendulum can swing again over the next few hundred years.

It is amazing to me how fast and far the pendulum swung in the US. The religious intensity of the early nation, most early States going so far as to forbid Halloween & Christmas because of their Roman Catholic and Pagan roots. To America's only religious war (Civil War), to the 1960s when "God is dead".

After the Civil War is where I note the decline of religious intensity in the US. It never recovered from that war.

Which leads me back to my original point. Those scars may be forgotten over centuries, and the pendulum swings back to accepting the Christian standard. (If a nation or the world survives that long).

GK Chesterton said...

You're going to have to do better side swiping Burke. Are you saying he was wrong about the French Revolution?

The Social Pathologist said...


Burke wasn't wrong about the French Revolution (Interestingly though, GKC was a supporter of it) though he was wrong about conservatism.

Briefly, his conservatism was opposed to change, my conservatism is opposed to error. Which, of course, implies the existence of the truth.

A just in case you're beginning to think that I'm some one-eyed fanatic, I understand that there can be legitimate disagreements about truth, especially when it comes to matters of the faith, so I cut people with different opinions to mine some slack, but I get a bit testy when people outright deny factual information.


You really need a couple of blog posts to answer that one well. Briefly though, I think there are a variety of reasons why evangalisation will fail.

A lot of people simply don't want God in their lives. The only time they seem open to the suggestion is when they are in the grips of misfortune and are looking for help. Secondly, the atheist project has been remarkably successful. God is now seen as a superstition. I know that there are good logical arguments for his existence but that assumes that the average cognitive miser is capable of grasping the details of the idea. They simply can't. True, if God were to perform a miracle of some kind which would enable the rank and file to directly sense his presence, I think evangelisation would be possible. However, in the absence of such an event I think the crowd is going to remain unconvinced.

The one thing that the Pagan world had which made religious acceptance easier is its own prior "theology". The pagans simply weren't atheists. The belief in Pagan gods made the idea of a Christian one less difficult to believe. But when you regard all gods as childish superstitions, you really do make it hard for the cognitive miser to embrace the idea.

Drew said...

I'm hoping the "Bilogical" in the title is a spelling pun on the previous "Biological" and this topics review of 2 different types of logic (emotional subjectivity and objective truth), and not a simple typo.
But at this point, would you admit to the later?

I find the response to Chesterton ironic from my protestant perspective. Particularly this sentence.
"Briefly, his conservatism was opposed to change, my conservatism is opposed to error. Which, of course, implies the existence of the truth."
What I find ironic is that one of the big issues with Roman Catholicism (from the protestant perspective) is that RCs would hold "church traditions" above the direct statement of scripture, even when such traditions directly contradict scripture. Traditions that were built up hundreds of years after the establishment of the church by Jesus and the apostles. Is that not the epitome of the complaint you have against Burke, more concerned about resisting change rather than concern of truth?

But the irony goes deeper than that. We can strongly disagree on such matters of religion, but still agree on the sentiment you express. I think what comes out of that, is that a successful system supports disagreement about truth, while encouraging pursuit of truth over irrational waves of emotion, tossed to and fro.

Which is essentially what you already said...
"... I understand that there can be legitimate disagreements about truth, especially when it comes to matters of the faith, so I cut people with different opinions to mine some slack, but I get a bit testy when people outright deny factual information."

We might not agree with what is true, but we know its out there, that it matters, and it is more substantial than feelings.

The Social Pathologist said...

But at this point, would you admit to the later?

Yep. It's a typo. I've not noticed it all till today. I suffer from a bit of dyslexia and have been unwell over the past few days with a virus. (It always gets worse when I'm sick or tired.) I probably need an editor.

Secondly,I'm not a big fan of the "tradition" school of thought in Catholicism. For example, slavery was considered an acceptable practice for centuries, even though now, it is clearly seen as wrong. Was the tradition of the Church wrong in this regard? I think so. I respect tradition, I don't worship it. Though, there are many Catholics who I suspect tend to do the latter.

The thing is though, from my Catholic perspective, tradition needs to be seen as the accumulated experience of our ancestors relationship with God. St Thomas and the schoolmen matter because they did have some good things to say. But to say that they were the final word on the matter is to do a disservice to the dead and to the living.

The Church's increasing reliance on Tradition to shore up its theological positions has, in my mind been to its detriment. I certainly get the impression that it had far more intellectual flexibility in the past when it came to dealing with difficult issues. So yes, the Church has become more Burkean in its approach.

Still, in my mind, it holds the most accurate repository of moral and religious truth. This repository is not complete as of yet, and therefore I feel that doctrinal development can still continue, though, the main impediments will be trad faction of the Church.

I think what comes out of that, is that a successful system supports disagreement about truth, while encouraging pursuit of truth over irrational waves of emotion, tossed to and fro.


Building a Better Country said...

Hmmmm. So *is* there a biological basis to the idea of nobility being inherited? Does the blood of kings really have biological differences?

Seldon said...

There is a third and fourth path, leading to either a crisis-induced renewal of democracy or death. Look at the work of William Strauss and Neil Howe on the generational cycles of American History. In their theory our history develops in a cycle of four periods lasting on average 21-25 years such that one full cycle lasts about the length of a long-lived human lifespan. They call each of these periods turnings. The first one is like akin to what we had from 1946-early 60s which they called a High, an era of good feelings with civic institutions at their zenith. When the children born during this period grow up, spoiled by the increased prosperity and safe environment, they rebel against their parents inducing the 2nd turning, which they called the Awakening, fitting the early 60s-early 80s. They usually win by virtue of their youth, and some of the new value system they spawn has merit. You can tell they’ve won when the conservative forces of society acquiece though interpreting it through their own lense. Thus begins the 3rd turning, which they rather appropriately called the Unraveling, yielding an age of decadence and weakening of the social order, with inequality and crime (both violent and white collar) soaring. Finally the social pathologies rise to a critical mass where some catalyst inaugurates the 4th turning, heralding the dawn of a calamitous era of Crisis in which society must begin to pay back all of its unpaid bills with interest. The last such period, of course, occurred with the Great Depression and WWII, the Civil War bookending the cycle preceding that one.
If Howe and Strauss are correct we’ll experience another such period soon. They’re very nasty, but they’re like forest fires consuming the dead wood to provide the nutrients for new growth. Every pathological policy the left—I refuse to call them liberals—has put forth will come up for the greatest amount scrutinty and severe stress as they’ve never been before. Those incentives and social structures not conducive for societal survival will be swept away either through lack of economic and/or political support. We won’t get evertything back to the pre-60s environment supported by religion, but I think many things such as easy divorce favoring women will not last. With no child support, no cash payout from hubby, and poor job prospects, pre-marital sex becomes rather costly for women, pushing gender relations back into balance. How long will political correctness and the war on pattern recognition last when the likes of Detroit explodes into total anarchy because there are no food stamps and no money to pay the cops to achieve the meager amount security they now provide? Lefists won’t know what hit ‘em. As you may have surmised, I think Howe and Strauss underestimated the damage done in the last Awakening, which makes this cycle different in the many ways you have catalogued because so much of our civilization’s foundations have been uprooted rather than simply trimmed to smooth out the roughness, but that just means this Crisis era will be even more challenging than the last one.
As I see it there are 3 possible outcomes. We will rise to the occasion and experience a renewal of democracy—the third path—or we won’t, leading either to your 2nd path or the death of our society as a single polity—the fourth path. I think we’ll experience renewal, for the will to survive is still there if weakened. Howe and Strauss’ book is called The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy: What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America's Next Rendezvous with Destiny. Below is an associated web site run by a mathematician called John Xenakis who has extended their work. Perhaps I am too optimistic, but I think it is beneficial to think about the ways in which our society may deviate from our current trajectory. There is hope even via darkness.