Wednesday, September 3, 2014

How Do Liberal and Conservative Attitudes About Obedience to Authority Differ?

Article: How Do Liberal and Conservative Attitudes About Obedience to Authority Differ? The Surprising Result of My Study
As far as I was concerned, bible-thumping social conservatives were like obedient robots. When Uncle Sam called them to arms, heels clicked and hands met temples. When the preacher demanded chastity, zippers ascended toward belt-buckles. When the boss told them to fire an employee, conservatives reached for a pink slip. Social conservatives asked no questions, even when the command was arbitrary or the cause indecent.
I am going to go with charity and assume that the author and researcher is writing tongue-in-cheek here.

Unfortunately, many of the commentators seem to agree with this sentiment, and slop out a lot of the usual slander against people on the right.

Whether tongue-in-cheek or sincere, this is bigoted and ignorant.
The way I saw it, this slavish obedience to authority and tradition on the part of conservatives was the true source of the culture war between liberals and conservatives over foreign war, abortion, same-sex marriage, gun control, and racial inequality. They way I saw it, conservatives clung to old, near-sighted ways of thinking and fell in line with the dictates of the "man in charge." If only conservatives would think for themselves -- like liberals do -- the war would be over and we could get on with life, governance, and progress. Or so I thought.
Ad hominem logical fallacies. "If only conservatives would think for themselves" they would think like good people like me, liberals. Wow.
Then, in 2012, I went on a cycling trip around Cuba. Being a Canadian, Cuba offered a warm, inexpensive, exotic, and legal escape from the depths of the great Canadian winter. 
Cuba is a totalitarian dictatorship. Dissenters are routinely jailed and tortured.

In the book of Acts, Saul of Tarsus is on the "road to Damascus" to carry out persecution against the Christians living there. He "sees the light" and is converted. I suppose if one is going to have a "road to Damascus" experience as a leftist, Cuba is a good place to have it.

During a dinner conversation with self-identified socialists about Che Guevara, he realized that maybe leftists may think in the same "slavish obedience to authority and tradition" that he accuses conservatives of doing. However, the objects of their obedience differ.
To get to the bottom of this, I set out to test whether liberals favor obedience to authority just like conservatives do. Past psychology studies had found that conservatives have the more favorable attitudes toward statements such as, "If I were a soldier and disagreed with my commanding officer's orders, I would obey anyway because that is my duty." Did conservatives have a good feeling about this statement because they think that people ought to obey (in general), or because they support the military and its agenda? I suspected it was the latter.
These kinds of questions do not prove "that conservatives have the more favorable attitudes" towards authority. What they "prove" is that the social scientists can devise questions that confirm their biases against conservatives.
Rather than thinking of liberals and conservatives as being fundamentally different psychological breeds, I now think of them as competing teams. Liberal versus conservative is like Yankee fans versus Red Socks fans. Each has its own flag to which it pledges allegiance. 
In other words, human nature, whether you want to called "fallen" or "crooked timber," is real. Whether they are on the left or the right, people are still people.

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