Conservative and progressive

what is this love affair with authoritarianism? i just dont get it.

A friend of mine posted this on Facebook as a comment on the Republican Convention in Florida this week.

This is my response:

Hm. Perhaps genetics? Some tend to follow and not question authority, some don’t, either can happen in more or less healthy ways, and both may be needed for society to function well. [Wikipedia entry on Openness to Experience.]

To me, this is a view that makes sense of the world in a useful way, it’s informed by science, and it’s kind. As a species and society, we need people who are high on some personality traits, and some who are low on the same, and all different combinations. We need the diversity. Each personality serves a function.

There are situations and roles where any particular personality, where any particular set of traits, is just what’s called for. If someone is in charge of security on a nuclear plant, it may be very well for that person to be conservative and predictable and prefer routine. Openness to experience is not what’s called for. At a larger scale, it’s essential that a good portion of society is traditional and conservative, continuing traditions that have worked at least reasonably well in the past. And it’s equally essential that some others are open to and try out new ways of doing things, and are less bound by tradition. One keeps society going, the other supports adaption and innovation.

At the same time, it’s also true that it’s possible to be high or low on a trait in a more or less healthy way. For me, this is where – for instance – inquiry comes in. As I find more clarity on my thoughts, I function in a way that’s more clear and kind, and that doesn’t mean that my personality, or my inclinations or preferences, necessarily change. If I tended to question authority while I was confused, I will tend to question authorities when I am more clear. If I valued tradition and respect for leaders while I was confused, I will tend to do the same when I am more clear. It’s all needed. It’s all valuable. This diversity is how we have survived as a species and society.

In my case, I score very high on Openness to Experience (top 3%) and am quite liberal and progressive in general. This means that I sometimes gets frustrated by more conservative folks. I think they don’t get it, they are caught in fear, they don’t question their basic assumptions. And I also know that my reaction comes from my own fears and beliefs, and deeply value and appreciate those with a more conservative approach to life. Without them, I wouldn’t be here. None of us would.

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