The Pathos of Politics (80) Ideological Bent

Ideological Bent

Ideology makes it unnecessary for people to confront individual issues on their individual merits. One simply turns to the ideological vending machine, and out comes the prepared formulae. When these beliefs are suffused with apocalyptic fervor, ideas become weapons, and with dreadful results. ~ American sociologist Daniel Bell

Ideology is a political heuristic. Relatively few people are consistent on individual issues with regard to ideological label. Instead, a prioritized moral value system guides issue-oriented political opinion. When issues are morally uncertain, the typical trade-off is between individual liberty or enforcement of equity. As people like liberty, and equality is an abstraction in capitalist societies, equity often draws the short straw.

As lovers of intellectual abstractions, liberals especially like liberty and social equality. Drawing lines is difficult for them because fewer issues incite moral judgments.

Conservatives are not so conflicted. Many more issues are morally grounded for conservatives than liberals. While liberty is a fine ideal, social order is more important. Hence, conservatives would punish moral transgressors, whether for selling sex or taking drugs; deeds which liberals view not morally, but as victimless acts that should not be crimes at all.

In economics, liberals and conservatives switch sides on permissiveness. This stems from conservatives tending to fear the poor, whereas liberals are suspicious of the rich.

Conservatives believe people have wealth because they deserve it, and that government power should thwart attempts by the underclass to seize it. By the same token, there should be no impediment to private use of property.

Liberals think that those with economic power exploit it unfairly, to the great disadvantage of the less fortunate. Hence, liberals would employ government power to regulate inequitable economic behavior (inequity being in the eye of the beholder).

Uncharacteristically, American liberals have recently betrayed their tolerance for civil rights with efforts to enforce political correctness by suppressing hateful expression, whether racial or sexual. In reaction, right-wingers have stoutly resisted muzzling such free speech, despite their instincts for social order.

Perceived self-interest and group affiliation are primary drivers of personal ideology and its exceptions. Economics and age are other active factors.

Whereas those doing well are usually satisfied with the status quo, the underclass has much to gain from progressive change. But people’s political attitudes have less to do with their material well-being than the mental world in which they live.

Age is often a significant factor in ideology. Young adults are usually more liberal than the elderly, as the older generations inure to feel a vested interest in the status quo, if only in sentiment. The American generation born in the 1980s is a rare exception in being the most conservative age segment in that nation; an oddity explained by a fearful uncertainty of the future – an outcome of shoddy parenting.

Some people are psychologically suited to a particular ideology. Liberalism requires a tolerance for disorder, and an active empathy. A few are fond of change; the status quo is never satisfying. Many with a conservative bent resist change out of fear, heedless that it might benefit them.

With the rise of cultural and lifestyle politics, Democrats and Republicans are now sharply distinguished by a general dimension of personality tapping tolerance for threat and uncertainty in one’s environment. ~ American political scientist Christopher Johnston et al

People on opposite sides of the divide have a fixed or fluid worldview. The fixed tend to be wary of what they perceive as constant threats to their physical security specifically and of social change in general. The fluid are much more open to change and, indeed, see it as a strength. ~ American political scientists Marc Hetherington & Jonathan Weiler

A salient factor in ideological inclination is one’s view of human nature. Those who hail their fellows as essentially well-meaning and rational lean to the left. Conversely, those who view men as morally weak, selfish, and prone to aggression range to the right.

Conservatives view prisons as an institution for punishment, whereas leftists would prefer to see them as rehabilitation facilities. Believing denial of liberty punishment enough, liberals think that prisons ought to school convicts in socially acceptable behaviors and provide training for skills by which they may make an honest living on the outside.

Affirming one’s political tribe or community has in many respects become more important in deciding whom to vote for than the stands candidates take on issues. ~ American political journalist Thomas Edsall

Ideology is often a tribal badge. Beyond posture, political issues are irrelevancies.

The power behind the labels “liberal” and “conservative” to predict strong preferences for the ideological in-group is based largely in the social identification with those groups, not in the organization of attitudes associated with the labels. That is, even when we are discussing ideology – a presumably issue-based concept – we are not entirely discussing issues.

Contrary to an issue-focused view of political decision-making and behavior, political thought, behavior, and emotion are powerfully driven by political identities. Identity-based ideology can drive affective ideological polarization even when individuals are naïve about policy. The passion and prejudice with which we approach politics is driven not only by what we think, but also powerfully by who we think we are. ~ American political scientist Lilliana Mason

The commonality of tribal ideology illustrates why modern democracy is not working: most voters don’t bother to inform themselves about the facts salient to political issues, comprehend implications, or regard public policies as societally consequential, beyond attaining some aspirational ideal. Politics is instead a fashion statement of identity.

Political conflict has shifted from economic to psychological factors. ~ Thomas Edsall

In recent years, partisanship is far more grounded in social and moral values, and identity politics, than the influential groups of yesteryear (especially unions) that maintained a focus on group economic interests. The new affinities that shape partisanship are more a matter of choice, making partisanship more fluid, and opening it to the formation of affinities grounded in personality, values, religion, and lifestyle choices. ~ American political psychologist Leonie Huddy

Citizens care less about the outcomes a policy produces and more about the groups and symbols with which a policy is associated. ~ Christopher Johnston et al

Just as a person’s views may change over time, the political spectrum can shift while a person’s ideology stays stationary. Ronald Reagan was a New Deal Democrat in the 1930s. By the 1960s, he was a reactionary Republican. A reporter asked Reagan why he had left the liberals. He answered, “I didn’t. They left me.” The policies that Reagan had wanted in the 1930s had been enacted. That was all the change he saw fit.

The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative on the day after the revolution. ~ Hannah Arendt

As the status quo of societies differs, so too positions on issues in the political spectrum. A given policy in one society may be conservative, liberal in another, and radical in a 3rd.

Complexity is the destiny of thoughtful individuals, from which they will never be rescued. ~ American philosopher Leon Wieseltier