Sarah Palin claims to represent change and reform. But devoted conservatives know, deep in the brain stem, that if elected she’ll protect them from the need for personal change. That’s what they really love about her.
Conservatives are famous for their fear of change. It’s true that social and economic changes can be frightening, even for the strongest people. But it’s inner change that really terrifies Palin’s fans. What happens if they become new, refreshed, awakened individuals? Not only will they have to give up their petty selves and precious resentments, they could experience the terror of becoming liberals.
Social change and personal change go together. For instance, Wall Street titans of self-aggrandizement don’t become decent human beings without the overthrow of their compulsions and egos. Racists don’t become secure, compassionate people without big rumblings and tectonic shifts occurring along their psyche’s inner plates. Military hawks don’t become successful diplomats without an uprising by their brain’s neurons.
Palin is not charismatic as much as she’s the cheerleader for the superficial perspective of life. She’s the poster-girl for evolutionary stragglers who want her around as a model of how to ignore reality and pretend they’re as evolved as God wants them to be.
She won’t be using the spotlight to look inward. She wouldn’t want to jeopardize all the attention she’s getting or discover she might have, for instance, a narcissistic personality disorder. Should she get to the White House, she could be counted on to use, if necessary, military punch to prevent any tarnishing of the all-American self-idealization for which the world increasingly dislikes us. God approves of how she casts Americans in His image.
What does inner change mean, anyway? Several things can happen in the process, including a shift away from identification with our persona, that top-heavy sense of who we are. This shift is a profound experience that, emotionally, can be felt initially as loss, annihilation, and death.
Personal growth produces an intensity of experience, just as social growth (i.e. the civil rights movement and women’s liberation) produces social intensity. Conservatives experience this intensity as something undesirable, something “bad.” They weren’t allowed as children to see and discuss anything “bad” concerning family dysfunction. Doing so was intensely discomforting and considered disloyal. Doing so also risked the feeling of annihilation, a feeling that in childhood is associated with the prospect of disapproval and the loss of love for questioning parental authority.
That’s why such conservatives denounce journalists who aggressively seek the truth. They consider it rude and disrespectful of authority. It’s why they don’t believe in the need for truth. Safety for them is in protection of illusions and in separation from reality. Under their rule, we’ve entered the Age of Irrationalism.
Real change—whether inner or outer—means that we encounter the unknown. Old landmarks disappear behind us. Each day becomes a new beginning. It can feel like we’re on the edge of a precipice. Who do we trust in, what do we believe?
Liberals are more open-minded and have more capacity to believe in the self. We have more valor on an inner level, while conservatives can be quite brave on an outer level as they fling themselves into competitive ventures and war. We do not cling with the same urgency as conservatives to preconceived notions and emotional lifejackets (although we’re not without them). We should get—or at least give to ourselves—more credit for this bravery.
Conservatism is part of the human condition. It’s neither good nor bad—it just is. It’s a factor in both our inner and our outer resistance to progress. We liberals all have our conservative side, which often restrains us appropriately. But fear and conservatism are a bad mix, and together they can produce not just resistance but regression. A young democracy (or an old one, for that matter) can regress back into an authoritarian model of government when its people, growing fearful of change, trade in sovereignty for security.
When Barack Obama talks change, conservatives listen. They know he means it. And they’re afraid. They’re afraid of real change, which requires them to approach the darkness of their unknown selves. Can Obama persuade such people to be braver?
Wouldn’t it make sense for him to emphasize that he represents both the wisest and the bravest way forward? Everybody wants to be brave. We just need more clarity on what it means to be brave.