Looking Left and Right Cultural Identity # 7


To be conservative, then, is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to Utopian bliss. Familiar relationships and loyalties will be preferred to the allure of more profitable attachments; to acquire and to enlarge will be less important than to keep, to cultivate and to enjoy; the grief of loss will be more acute than the excitement of novelty or promise. It is to be equal to one’s own fortune, to live at the level of one’s own means, to be content with the want of greater perfection which belongs alike to oneself and one’s circumstances. With some people this is itself a choice; in others it is a disposition which appears, frequently or less frequently, in their preferences and aversions, and is not itself chosen or specifically cultivated.. [1]

They [Liberals] do not equate downtrodden or impoverished status with inherent unworthiness or inability . . . In a nutshell, liberals are less selfish and more empathic and tolerant than conservatives. Their fear of aiding the undeserving is outweighed by their fear not helping the truly needy . . . Liberals do not need to bolster their self-esteem by living in a stratified society in which they can claim superiority over this or that group . . . Finally, liberals do not blame the victim or make defensive attributions . . . Liberals acknowledge that fate can be capricious and that bad things happen to good people. (links/citations in original) [2]

[NOTE] As I state in the “About Me” section, I’m driven by an intense commitment to learn why those on the conservative side of the fence view so many matters of great importance to us all so differently than do those of us on the progressive side. Those contrasting behaviors, beliefs, and ideologies are contributing factors to the very problems we’re trying to solve—the ones we must solve if our own ambitions and our hopes for a peaceful and prosperous world we leave to our children are to be well-served.

I’d like to make a small contribution toward changing the context and content of public debate. Understanding the ideological perspectives, beliefs, and values of those with whom we disagree is a good first step to engaging in more meaningful dialogue—idealistic as that may be. But why not? Is what we’re “doing” now any better?

To that end, this Cultural Identity+ series will explore some of the commonly accepted understandings about what makes conservatives and liberals so different in how they view policy and culture. Traits commonly attributed to one or the other will be examined to help sharpen our understanding of these differences and of the values which drive beliefs and behaviors. I’ll be offering information, observations, examples, and comments about these Left versus Right differences (and ensuing conflicts( as they are formed and fueled by loyalty to our respective political soul mates. The absence of common ground or any inclination to meet anywhere in the middle is, needless to say, a bit of a problem if addressing and finding solutions still matter.

If we don’t recognize and accept that bitter partisanship is not always the wisest or most beneficial strategy, the goal of a better future will forever be as far away tomorrow as it is today.

{+ Refer to the “Cultural IdentityTag for other posts in this series.}

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‘Moral systems are interlocking sets of values, practices, institutions, and evolved psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress or regulate selfishness and make social life possible….’ [Jonathan] Haidt described two common kinds of moral systems—two ways of suppressing selfishness—that correspond roughly to Sowell’s two visions. Some cultures try to suppress selfishness by protecting individuals directly (often using the legal system) and by teaching individuals to respect the rights of other individuals. This individualizing approach focuses on individuals as the locus of moral value. Other cultures try to suppress selfishness by strengthening groups and institutions and by binding individuals into roles and duties in order to constrain their imperfect natures. (links/citations in original) [3]

A better appreciation for the significance of moral systems can help pave the way for more meaningful discussions—and eventually better solutions (optimist that I am)—by recognizing the basis from which political behavior and principles are shaped. Until we understand the emotional/moral/psychological instincts which guide our actions, we’ll continue to talk past one another if we talk at all.

Recognizing the primary beliefs and motivations by which others associate with their like-minded counterparts is simply more information available to enhance our understanding. More understanding = greater opportunities to move past the bomb-throwing and begin engaging one another in meaningful conversations benefiting both sides. What a concept!

Plan B is usually a more mean-spirited approach, with which media and cyberspace oblige us every moment by an endless supply of inane, awful, and at-times delusional commentary. This gets us exactly nothing other than points on the insult scoreboard. Good thing we don’t have any serious problems to address!




In any setting, effective negotiations and eventual agreements arise as a result of an extensive give and take. Compromise is an innate feature of any conversation in which a solution is sought for competing interests. The more enduring and valuable solutions arise after the parties make the effort to understand the motivations and underlying needs of the others. Without incorporating the fundamental concerns into the final product, more conflict is all but guaranteed.

Isn’t there a point when we’ve maxed out on that strategy?




[Researchers have] proposed that conservatives are more sensitive to negative outcomes, which leads to a focus on inhibition-based avoidance motivation; in contrast, liberals are more sensitive to positive outcomes, which leads to a focus on activation-based approach motivation. Supporting these predictions [researchers] found that in the moral domain conservatives favored avoidance-based motives and regulatory restraints (i.e., inhibitions) in the service of social order. In contrast, liberals showed a preference for approach-based motives and regulatory interventions (i.e., activations) in the service of social justice. More generally, a conservative political orientation is focused on protecting and involves an (avoidance) emphasis on harm, whereas a liberal orientation is focused on providing and involves an (approach) emphasis on social welfare.
This perspective is consistent with Jost et al.’s … claim that the management of uncertainty and threat underlies the core ideology of conservatism and with recent research by [named others] on personality differences between liberals and conservatives. [Other researchers] found that two traits—openness to experience and conscientiousness— particularly distinguished between the two, with openness higher for liberals and conscientiousness higher for conservatives. (links/citations in original) [4]

Across dozens of behavioral studies, conservatives have been found to be more structured and persistent in their judgments and approaches to decision-making, as indicated by higher average scores on psychological measures of personal needs for order, structure and closure. Liberals, by contrast, report higher tolerance of ambiguity and complexity, and greater openness to new experiences on psychological measures….evident in early childhood, and relatively stable across the lifespan. (links/citations in original) [5]

Generally speaking, conservatives are viewed as relatively traditional, dogmatic, and conforming, whereas liberals are viewed as more unconventional and flexible. Measures of conservatism have been associated with self-reported intolerance of ambiguity …, greater need for closure …, and greater perceptions of the world as dangerous….Liberalism has been associated repeatedly with the Openness to Experience dimension of the Big Five++….Liberals also score more highly on sensation-seeking scales …, and report being more egalitarian…. Relatedly, it has been proposed that political ideology may be associated with differences in cognitive style….Conservatives may come to understand and organize their world in a more structured and rigid way, whereas liberals appear to be more open to complexity….Moreover, conservatives have been found to be more rigid in their interpretation of situations and more severe in their judgments of others. (links/citations in original) [6]

I pretend no expertise in sociological or psychological matters, and it would be insane to expect most citizens to spend any significant time on these and the many related studies. But even a brief examination of these basic and generally-agreed-upon assessments will shed just a little light, and perhaps incite an extra moment or two of consideration, before the customary assaults and criticisms begin.

Conversations which begin with even a teaspoon-full of additional understand can lead discussions in very different directions. Sure as hell the paths we’re walking now aren’t getting us anywhere. Wouldn’t something different be worth considering?

~ My Photo: Ano Nuevo Reserve, Pescadero, CA – 09.05.04

++ Decades of research on personality has uncovered five broad dimensions of personality.
These so-called Big Five dimensions are called:
Extraversion (your level of sociability and enthusiasm);  
Agreeableness (your level of friendliness and kindness);
Conscientiousness (your level of organization and work ethic);
Emotional Stability (your level of calmness and tranquility);
Intellect (your level of creativity and curiosity)
These are not ‘types’ of personalities, but dimensions of personality. So someone’s personality is the combination of each of their Big Five personality characteristics. [7]

Light posting schedule between Feb 13 – 25 [travel]; Post # 8 in this Series will appear on March 4

^ Watch for some new features debuting at this website:


This new column began on February 3, 2014. It’s a slightly skewed look at life for those of us on the north side of 50.


A political thriller filled with unexpected plot twists and drawn from real world historical events, this eBook is now available for purchase.

TretiakAgendaEbookCoverFinal copy

You can find it here and here.

Excerpts are available at my website, at the link above.


This eBook is scheduled for Publication on March 5, 2014.

Excerpts are being posted as of January 15th.

         ^ Looking Left and Right:
           Inspiring Different Ideas, Envisioning Better Tomorrows

Be the change you want in the worldGandhi

This blog is offered to encourage more enlightened public discourse—by sharing observations about the ideologies which motivate our political, economic, and cultural debates. The simple hope: shedding light on current “strategies” will prompt more of us to realize a different approach is at least worth considering … assuming a better future is worth pursuing. (It is!)

The world is not dangerous because of those who do harm, but because
of those who look at it without doing anythingAlbert Einstein


[1] http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2010/06/on-being-conservative.html; by Richard Beck, quoting Michael Oakeshott from the essay “On Being Conservative
[2] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/thomas-b-edsall/conservatives-vs-liberals_b_1262309.html; Conservatives vs. Liberals: More Than Politics by Thomas B. Edsall – 02.08.12
[3] http://faculty.virginia.edu/haidtlab/mft/GHN.final.JPSP.2008.12.09.pdf; Liberals and Conservatives Rely on Different Sets of Moral Foundations [p. 2] by
Jesse Graham, Jonathan Haidt, and Brian A. Nosek [University of Virginia], 12.09.08
[4] http://spp.sagepub.com/content/1/1/26; Where Do We Draw Our Lines? Politics, Rigidity, and the Role of Self-Regulation by Mindi S. Rock and Ronnie Janoff-Busman – Social Psychological and Personality Science 2010 1: 26 DOI: 10.1177/1948550609347386
[5] http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v10/n10/abs/nn1979.html; Neurocognitive correlates of liberalism and conservatism by David M Amodio, John T Jost, Sarah L Master & Cindy M Yee
[6] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022103109000833; Political ideology, exploration of novel stimuli, and attitude formation by Natalie J. Shook, Russell H. Fazio – Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Volume 45, Issue 4, July 2009, Pages 995-998
[7] http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2009/11/10/the-big-5-model-of-personality/; The Big 5 Model of personality by Jason Rentfrow, Ph.D – approx. date 11.10.09