What is the Fundamental Difference that Separates People Politically?

What is the Fundamental Difference that Separates People Politically?

The balance of individualism and community is the province of politics, and political discussions bring out strong emotional responses in people. We have reasons for our positions, but feel strongly that they are right. This means that our political positions are emotional as well as rational, and we choose policies that support our emotional attitude.

If everybody felt the same, there would be no political conflict. So what are the differing emotions that underlie political polarities?

One dimension of emotions is whether they feel good or bad (the technical term is valence). In politics, the emotions on this dimension can be characterized as trust and distrust. The degree of trust in other people depends on familiarity, similarity and circumstances, and people hold positions all along this spectrum. But people tend to polarize by choosing one position or the other because holding two opposing views at once is hard.

Liberals practice trust through higher empathy, which leads to support for the wider community and extends as far as international cooperation.

Conservatives take a position of distrust that is reflected in the defensive positions they support: law and order, strong borders, States’ rights, and guns for self-defense.

Yet distrust cannot be total because humans are a cooperative species. It takes the efforts of thousands of people to supply the goods and services we rely on. Individuals cannot survive on their own. Conservatives cope with this paradox by making the circle of trusted people as small as possible. This is modern-day tribalism.

Now tribalism is quite a reasonable attitude to have. The more someone else differs from you in looks, language, environment, knowledge, beliefs, and culture, the less trust you will have because their behavior will be less predictable. At times, they will not act according to your expectations because of the above differences.

The reason that liberals are less prone to tribalism, and in the best case, are immune to it, comes down to identification.

You have three natural levels of identification. The first and strongest, especially in the West, is the self, the individual, and this answers the question of who you are. The second answers the question of what you are, and that encompasses many circles with whom you identify, like family, hometown, sports team, occupation, gender, and nationality. The third level of identification is what you are beyond culture — your experience of being, and a natural identification there is as a human being.

Tribalism occurs when the first two levels of identification are so strong that they obscure the third-level view of a common humanity.

This, then, is the political difference: conservatives have a higher degree of distrust, which we can also call fear. There are physiological measurements that support this position. The amygdala is responsible for handling emotions and is larger in conservatives. Fear reduces thinking, and in the extreme, it is called an “amygdala hijack.” Fear is a response that was appropriate in the age of saber-tooth tigers, but these days, fear of other people comes more from unfamiliarity than actual risk. While threats from other people are real, the majority of people are peaceful.

Knowing the emotional reasons for political positions makes them more understandable and helps in finding acceptable solutions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *