Thursday, March 24, 2005

Couch the Conservative: Part 3

The conservative reaction to the ALP research program is quite the opposite - we may stomp our feet a little bit, but the knowledge that such research goes on in the elite institutions of our country merely confirms our prejudices about those institutions. If we disagree with William Buckley in his preference for being governed by the first one hundred names in the Boston phone book over the Harvard faculty, we do so only because of his choice of phone book (we would choose a city with a much lower probability of lodging a Kennedy offspring). So the fact that Berkeley and Stanford and Maryland scientists come up with this latest study is all too predictable, and if the same research had come from an academic at a lesser institution, we conservatives would only wonder what politically incorrect gaffe caused the author to fall from the upper tier of the ivory tower despite such a promising research program. Perhaps he didn’t “hurumph” loud enough in shouting down a conservative speaker brought to campus by the Young Republicans, and he was blacklisted on the spot. So rather than viewing tweed entangled academics as any kind of a threat, we are more prone to take the Tom Wolfe approach, and draw as much humor as possible out of the often depressing facts.

To my knowledge, no conservative believes that this research program is eventually going to lead to their forced reeducation in a camp that bears little resemblance to those we might have attended as wee little lads. Although it is arguably the case already that in that small sphere where such research is taken seriously - the college campus - being overtly conservative can easily land you in mandatory counseling, my hunch is that this would go on independent of any support coming directly from the couching science. As one commentator pointed out, the ethos of the college campus is such that “it’s ‘normal’ … to have the self-esteem of a delicate souffle, prone to imploding at the slightest discordant vibration, but it is abnormal to disagree with the prevailing worldview.” So if we take the couching science seriously, it is not as though we are adding support to the case for our own coercive institutionalization.

But there is a more important reason why the Goldwater response is not appropriate: There may be something to the ALP research program. And if there is even a small probability of that being true, don’t we owe it to ourselves to explore that possibility? It might make life easier for me in many respects. I would consider the world a lighter place if I could understand the humor of Michael Moore, the political wisdom and intelligence of Babs, and the Harvard-worthy scholarly credentials of Al Franken. I might no longer breakout in a cold sweat at the thought of a Hillary presidency, or lose another night of sleep over the next uncertain election. I might even be a better father to my kids.

Indeed, my two oldest sons, who are twins, have already been exploited as a result of what may be my psychological problems. In the run-up to the 2000 election, shortly after my boys turned one, I had two white t-shirts embroidered, one with the name of George W. Bush, and the other with Dick Cheney. Joey was the obvious choice for Bush over Billy because he had more hair and a leaner build. These shirts served as Halloween costumes for the boys just months after we had moved to South Minneapolis, which to this day sports more “No War on Iraq” signs on lawns than trees (and there are a lot of trees). Our Christmas card that year sported the boys in costume, each with a small American flag, and the caption: “May All Your Christmas’ Be Republican.” In one small act, I exploited my kids for political purposes and committed blasphemy. Although that act may not be definitive proof of my psychological instability, it is undeniably consistent with that hypothesis.

The ALP is not necessarily our enemy. He may be on the same political side as the rabid conservative-hating liberal, but unlike her, the ALP does not regard you as evil. His psychological training has long since gotten him beyond the primitive dichotomy between good and evil. To him, there is merely cause and effect. Understand the underlying cause, and you might be able to change it and mitigate the harmful effects. In this sense, his outlook is consistent with that of the rabid conservative-hating liberal in regard to anyone other than a conservative.

The rabid conservative-hating liberal is all about “understanding” when it comes to the conditions that lead to terrorism, as an example. But understanding in the context that they mean it implies figuring out why the American policies implemented by conservative presidents are to blame for terrorism. The end result of the resulting rhetoric is usually that mass-murdering terrorists are not irredeemably evil, they are just reacting the way we might expect them to in response to the policies of those who are irredeemably evil. And that is where their pursuit of understanding ends. But the ALP thinks we can be cured!

Whereas the rabid conservative-hating liberal piques himself for daily political struggle by repeating “all that it takes for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing,” the ALP arouses himself for the same by repeating “all that it takes for conservatism to triumph is that good psychiatrists do nothing.” ALPs are entirely sincere in their beliefs. How could they otherwise spend years on research intended for an audience restricted to other academic ALPs and force themselves to write in the constipated academic style, if they merely wanted to stick a thumb in the eye of conservatives? There are much easier ways to do this - like writing for the editorial page of the New York Times. (The NYT even seems to let its opinion writers dedicate every fourth column to couching conservatives in order to balance and reduce the redundancy of articles dedicated to the stupidity and or the shifty scheming ways of conservatives.)

So if the motives of the ALPs are pure, as I believe they are, their science is worthy of some fair consideration. The couching science, like any science, has its theories and its methods of testing those theories. Before I relay any of these to you – you may want to sit down, perhaps re-read the paragraphs that emphasize ALPs are not our enemies, and repeat to yourself – “the ALP wants to help me, the ALP wants to help me.” You are now as prepared as you will ever be to imbibe the theoretical core of the couching science without anger. And please note that if, despite this warning, you still react with anger, you will only be confirming one of the predictions of the ALPs.

So here goes: a conservative personality leads one to seek out beliefs that are certain and that help navigate an uncertain world, desire security, and be attracted to ideologies that mitigate feelings of threat and worthlessness while inspiring conviction and purpose. The conservative personality makes efforts to manage uncertainty and fear that naturally lead to a resistance to change and an endorsement of inequalities that characterize the status quo. So far, none of this is all that bad. To some extent, clearly everyone, not just those of us with conservative personalities, are guilty of the same desires. But the issue is what non-political traits are characteristic of a person possessing a conservative personality, who the ALPs argue experience these basic human needs in a most un-admirable degree.

But from here it only gets worse – conservatives are dogmatic (a charge that is absolutely 100 percent wrong – end of argument), intolerant of ambiguity (no doubt these guys are moral relativists to the end), anti-democratic (why weren’t these guys blacklisted back in the McCarthy era?), anti-Semitic (my guess is that this whole research program is funded by seven bankers located in Zurich), prejudiced, mentally rigid, closed minded, less intelligent, pessimistic, self-interested, physically unattractive (now hold the phone right there - there is a reason why NOW does not publish a pin-up calendar featuring its members), in some cases self-hating (especially conservative minorities), and in other cases submissive to arbitrary authority (well, these guys are professors at top Universities – they must be right). We seek cognitive closure at the expense of considering all available evidence (I didn’t read past the first paragraph of their article), respond to fear with aggression (witness the irrational militaristic response to a few terrorist attacks), seek to dominate other social groups, are susceptible to holding logically contradictory beliefs (does the belief that the Cubs will eventually win a World Series count here?), are prone to experiencing threat or anxiety in the face of uncertainty, suffer from low self-esteem (maybe they are right – maybe I am no good), and have a heightened focus on our own mortality (ah, what does it matter, I’ll be dead in no time).

The unspoken rule in the couching science seems to be: if you have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. But as you will note, the prior paragraph is merely descriptive, and offers no theory of cause and effect. The theory is that the characteristics listed above that describe the conservative personality will naturally lead to political preferences in line with those advocated by conservatives. So we have to be careful in interpreting the couching theories correctly – the ALPs are not asserting that the holding of conservative political beliefs leads one to become dogmatic, intolerant, etc.; they are saying that if for whatever reason you are dogmatic, intolerant, etc. etc. you are more likely to be politically conservative. So how does one develop a conservative personality? The ALPs provide three possible reasons: 1) lack of intelligence; 2) an authoritarian upbringing; and 3) genetics.

To summarize, the theory is: if A (a conservative personality), then higher probability of B (being politically conservative) than C (being politically liberal). A converse to the same theory would be: if you are politically conservative and your friend is politically liberal, there is a higher probability that you have a conservative personality. Though we are never let in on the definition of a liberal personality, we can infer that it is characterized by the opposite traits – open-mindedness, high self-esteem (no argument here), intelligent, open to all available evidence, optimistic, etc. etc. (Given the political leanings of Michael Moore and James Carville, I am unwilling to grant physical attractiveness as a characteristic of those with a liberal personality.) As such, the couching science provides scientific support for the liberal prejudice that conservatives are closed minded fascists, while they themselves are champions of diversity and democratic values. The burden of proof is on the conservative to prove otherwise.


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