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The Fear of Change

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It's probably not too far beyond the scope of reasonable observations to state that for most of us, more often than not when given the choice between the familiar and the new, our first inclination would be to opt for the familiar. This is true in personal, cultural, social, political, and economic arenas.

There's an almost instinctive preference to not rock the boats, to spend no time learning the new when the known is comfortable enough. We may rationally appreciate that change can often prove to be much better and more advantageous; but it's the getting from here to there that gives us pause.

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It's difficult to ignore the steady stream of right-wing opposition to most of the cultural, economic, and political policy proposals offered in the past few years. The strident opposition to, among other issues: women's reproductive rights; gay rights; federal involvement in providing even the most basic of necessities to those who bear the brunt of the economic downturn in the past near-decade, combined with all manner of trumped-up charges cast against the Affordable Health Care Act--all bear more than a tenuous connection between accepting change and resisting it.

Rossiter (1968), too, defined situational conservatism in the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences as 'an attitude of opposition to disruptive change in the social, economic, legal, religious, political, or cultural order' (p. 291).3 He added, "The distinguishing mark of this conservatism, as indeed it is of any brand of conservatism, is the fear of change [italics added by author], which becomes transformed in the political arena into the fear of radicalism" (p. 291). Consistent with this notion, Conover and Feldman (1981) found that the primary basis for self-definitions of liberals and conservatives has to do with acceptance of, versus resistance to, change. (links/citations in original quote) [1]

As a statement or observation about commonly accepted political characteristics, that quote is fairly benign. Comments like these are affirmed or become accusations only when behaviors and actions in furtherance of those descriptions take place. As with most actions and decisions based on ideological grounds first and foremost--Left or Right--consequences ensue. So too, criticisms of those principles follow in short order.

But refusal to acquaint one's self with new ideas merely deprives one of the power of effectively countering them when necessary. The growth of ideas is an international process, and only those who fully take part in the discussion will be able to exercise a significant influence.

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Famed British economist/philosopher F. A. Hayek wrote that more than fifty years ago. He either possessed a remarkable capacity to see into the future to describe the unfortunate practice of today's GOP to obstruct and deny almost every single Obama administration initiative, or this is an ongoing flaw of conservative thinking that is doing all of us little good.

It's inconceivable to most of us to wrap our minds around the realities of how much--and what--must change in order to salvage a reasonably safe future in the face of the daunting challenges of climate change and energy-supply concerns; if not for us, then certainly for the next generations. So of course avoiding all of that is the perfectly understandable preference. And for those whose ideology embraces the removal of any and all impediments to unrestrained growth and corporate freedom, the impositions on that dogma are so severe that any and every effort in opposition is the standard by which all decisions are made.

It's effective and wise only if one's notion of the future and of mankind's well-being are limited in the extreme.

Stubborn resistance has its limitations. And in a world where the march in the future will inexorably incorporate and acknowledge these modern-day realities, that blind denial to change and willful refusal to move with them will only leave those in opposition that much farther behind the rest of us. Has that been contemplated even occasionally? What happens when the opposition stands its ground in a world that has moved well beyond their narrow-minded beliefs?

Everything worth conserving is menaced in our generation. Mere unthinking negative opposition to the current of events, clutching in despair at what we still retain, will not suffice in this age. A conservatism of instinct must be reinforced by a conservatism of thought and imagination.

As Hayek also noted in that same above-cited work:

Let me now state what seems to me the decisive objection to any conservatism which deserves to be called such. It is that by its very nature it cannot offer an alternative to the direction in which we are moving. It may succeed by its resistance to current tendencies in slowing down undesirable developments, but, since it does not indicate another direction, it cannot prevent their continuance. It has, for this reason, invariably been the fate of conservatism to be dragged along a path not of its own choosing.

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The problems now and later will by and large be problems of conservatism's own choosing and their knee-jerk unwillingness to discuss, negotiate, or involve themselves in any meaningful dialogue. "Just say no" is wise advice, applicable in any number of situations when choices are confronted.

It is not, however, a sound governing or problem-solving strategy. Is stubborn insistence on perpetuating that approach wise--for them or for the rest of us?

[1] Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition by John T. Jost Stanford University; Arie W. Kruglanski University of Maryland at College Park; Jack Glaser University of California, Berkeley; Frank J. Sulloway University of California, Berkeley.
Psychological Bulletin Copyright 2003 by the American Psychological Association, Inc. 2003, Vol. 129, No. 3, 339--375


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Looking Left and Right: Inspiring Different Ideas, Envisioning Better Tomorrows Rich Turcotte is a retired attorney, former financial advisor, and now a writer. The mission: informing others about the significance and impact of Peak (more...)

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