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Group Think & Political Identity

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Acceptance by others, specifically those most important to us personally, is as basic a human trait as there is. Who doesn't want to feel welcome by those closest to us--the individuals and groups who matter most, however we define that? The more connections we establish with more individuals and groups, the more certain we become about our assessment of "who we are." It's a psychological and emotional process far more complex than I'm qualified to discuss, but the essentials are easy enough to understand.

Our favorite sports teams, cultural icons, professional associations, social organizations, recreational activities, friendships, family " each and all play a role in how we define ourselves and the values we incorporate as part of what makes each of us unique. The more connections we establish with like-minded others, the better-defined we become in our own minds, and the more we will seek out experiences and individuals and principles/beliefs consistent with our identity.

In and of itself, who wants to argue that this is "wrong" or "incorrect" or inappropriate? But the impact on each of us and in turn on others based on what we then do in supporting and promoting our beliefs and principles does matter. A lot.

Because we all have countless demands and responsibilities and duties and distractions in our everyday lives, we don't and can't devote a lot of time to assessing each influence on our beliefs to be certain it meshes neatly with the countless others. So we take shortcuts, usually by accepting the opinions and directives and beliefs of respected others who share many similar traits and inclinations as we do. Human nature is what it is.

The problems which will inevitably arise then begin to take shape. If we can't devote the time to make those assessments about influences shaping our identities and beliefs, then we take on group-think approaches to matters of importance which we might otherwise view differently in a perfect world which allowed for calm and measured reflection.

I would suggest that the sense of self held by the prototypical conservative derives fundamentally from the connections of which he or she is a social product. These might include, for example, parents; genetic inheritance; ethnicity; upbringing; education; religion; friends; spouse; parental role; career; social and economic station; natural surroundings; travel experiences; or cultural values held personally, or in common with a group, a locality, or the nation as a whole. It is to be expected that persons with a self-identity shaped by such connections will strive continually to meet the expectations inherent in them. Any failure to do so would loosen their grip on the sense of self and, if carried too far, run the risk of a psychological drowning. 
Given their need to vindicate the influences that have shaped them, prototypical conservatives accept the world as a place of conflict and struggle. In it, they believe, individuals must fight to preserve their claims on particular interests and values against other individuals who have competing claims. 
This mindset is a formidable barrier to possible inroads by progressive values.

While some of these characterizations might seem unduly harsh, and with the caveat that I have zero training as a psychologist or sociologist (back in the day, one didn't get to law school via those routes!), there's a substantial body of research by those who do know what they are talking about which corroborates that information.

Among the conclusions offered by the many studies of core differences between conservatives and liberals is this one, which by all indications seems to be as close to the core distinction between the two factions as exists:

Studies show that there are substantial differences in the beliefs and values of liberals and conservatives. The largest and most consistent differences concern core issues of resistance to change and attitudes toward equality. For example, people who call themselves conservatives hold significantly more favorable attitudes than liberals toward traditional cultural and "family values,' including religious forms of morality....They are also more likely to support conventional authority figures and to oppose activists who are seeking to change the status quo, especially if change is toward greater egalitarianism....
People who identify themselves as liberals place a higher priority on achieving social and economic equality through policies such as welfare, social security, and affirmative action".They are also significantly less likely to hold prejudicial attitudes--at a conscious or unconscious level--toward racial minorities, homosexuals, women, and members of other disadvantaged groups. (links/citations in the original)

There's no judgment here about those accepted assessments. The research simply shows that the traits described above are primary distinctions which both to identify the basic conservative and liberal attitudes toward culture and policy. It's in the wiring".

So while the shortcuts are perfectly understandable, nothing we think or believe or do is consequence-free. And when we're guided by influences we don't always fully consider, we then act in ways preventing us from appreciating how our behaviors will impact our own lives and those of others.

Simple enough to appreciate in the abstract. Appreciating it in our day to day lives is much more challenging, probably unrealistic in many instances, but worth considering.

(adapted from two recent blogs post of mine - 1. 2.]
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Looking Left and Right: Inspiring Different Ideas, Envisioning Better Tomorrows I remain a firm believer in late U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone's observation that "We all do better when we all do better." That objective might be worth pursuing (more...)

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