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.