Saturday, August 12, 2006

Coturnix on Politics, part I - an overview

A busy day Friday, so the next post is still in the making. So, to hold you over until then, let me cross-post something I wrote on my blog very recently, with just slight edits:

It's been a while since I've written anything about one of my pet topics - the way the changes in the society are resulting in the change in attitudes towards sex and gender, and the change in the institution of marriage, and how it all relates to politics of the moment.

The rates of social change are high at the moment, but they are unequally distributed (geographically) resulting in a widening chasm between urban and rural, between modern and pre-modern, between liberal and conservative. On my old blog, and to a lesser extent on my new Seed blog, I've been hammering the notion that attitudes toward sex are at the core of Culture Wars, and determine how one side and the other make decisions on everything - from economy to foreign policy, from race relations to gender relations, from religion to evolution, from science to education.

How do one's attitudes about sex, gender and marriage develop? It's not in the genes, but it is a developmental result of the interplay between the growing child and its environment. That environment consists of peers, neighbors, teachers, priests, the mass media, all of which exert an influence, but the major early influence are parents and it is the parenting style that appears to have the most important effect.

The fact that ideologically similar people tend to geographically group together - liberals in urban and college-town centers, conservatives in exurbs and rural areas - means that most of one's childhood environment is filled with people belonging to the same ideology and applying the same childrearing philosophy to their own as well as their neighbors' children. Thus, it is easy to raise a liberal in a liberal community and it is easy to raise a conservative in a conservative community. The oddballs, e.g., liberals living in a predominantly conservative community, are likely to hide their liberalism in the public square and to be less of an influence on local kids than the majority.

A growing body of research suggests that harsh, Dobsonian childrearing leads to psychological traits that are not adaptive for the modern society (though they may have worked great in some places at some times in the past).

What appears to be happening is the arresting of development before the mind reaches a stage at which it can comprehend complex, interactionist systems. The worldview, thus, remains hierarchical: action leads to reaction, every phenomenon must have a cause (and a Causer), every thing must have a creation (and a Creator), and people and things move up and down the ladder (Great Chain Of Being or Great Chain Of Financial Success, depending on the context). There are always winners and losers - it is imposible for all to be winners.

Thus, the world is perceived as extremely competitive, thus dangerous, thus scary, and all the other people are automatically viewed with suspicion, as potential enemies or competitors, to be fought down the ladder if possible. So, this kind of upbringing results in a worldview in which people are believed to be born bad and the world is a dangerous place. Also, because people are competing against each other, there is no possibility of a common action that can result in making the world a less dangerous place. If nothing else, the world is getting scarier and scarier due to technological advances (science, beware), global communication and transportation, and the growing number of those weirdos who are not scared enough to lash out at any and every threat, real or perceived - the wussy liberals.

Another reason for such fear and insecurity is the fact that harsh parenting, intent on instilling discipline, prevents the normal development of the Internal Focus (or Locus) of Moral Authority. Internal Focus of Moral Authrotiy means that you do not do bad things because it never crosses your mind - there is no motivation to do bad stuff, no wish to even try. People without it, people with External Focus of Moral Authority, rely on fear from outside forces to prevent them from doing bad things. They really want to steal, kill, rape, have sex with animals, etc., but they do not do it (most of the time) because they are afraid of the consequences - being excommunicated from their community (worse than death in a small place), being arrested by the police, or being smitten by God's wreath. That is why an angry God - and religion as a whole - is such an important element of the perpetuation of this ideology from one generation to the next.

One of the most unfortunate consequences of this style of childrearing is the effect on one's relationship to sex, gender and marriage. In a world in which everyone is your competitor and potential enemy, aggression is an extremely important trait. You deter competitiors by signaling aggression through posturing, loud behavior and undertaking dangerous activities. This is called machismo. It is essential to cover up internal insecurities which come out of the lack of Internal Focus of Moral Authority. There is nothing worse for a man than to be perceived by other men as less than manly. This is called 'femiphobia'.

This automatically degrades women - after all, if you are not manly you are what? Womanly? In a world of fear-induced aggression, being "womanly" is bad. Thus, women who behave like men, by, for instance having an opinion and telling it out loud, are a threat. Thus, men who behave like women, perhaps due to being gay, are a threat to one's masculinity. Not to mention that being "in control of one's woman" is an important factor in achieving status among male friends. And that is all there is to being a Wingnut - male insecurity, leading to everything else that, sorry to rile you all up, constitutes being a conservative.

Many self-described conservatives are actually not so. Using the term is always a peril because of historically contingent uses of the term. Unfortunately, there is no other term, so just keep in mind that I am using the word only in its psychological sense and not in any sense related to political parties of today and the past, particular people who wrote conservative founding documents, etc. Not GOP or Reagan or Buckley or neocons or Bush or Genghis Khan or Osama bin-Laden or Stalin. Just what is in one's mind.

This is just a brief summary - the links provided throughout the text lead to more thorough explanations so please check them out. And I'll go off on one of the tangents and post the result of it here soon.

Update: Amanda has some excellent additional points. Also, I should mention (I linked it from my own blog but forgot to do it here), that you should check the two-part post on this topic by Sara Robinson, guest-blogging on Orcinus: Cracks In The Wall, Part I: Defining the Authoritarian Personality and Cracks In The Wall, Part II: Listening to the Leavers , which gives rise to some small tentative optimism as well.