In addition to your free choices, your brain chemistry, and personality type nudge you in a specific political direction. Political preference may therefore not merely be a matter of ideology. Biology also plays a role. Knowing this leads to greater understanding of political differences, and may even be a source of healing in a deeply divided and polarized country.
Clinical psychologists have discovered five dimensions of personality. These “big five” are called extraversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism. In addition to major sex differences, they have also found that the left-right spectrum maps onto personality to a significant degree. Liberals tend to score high in openness and low in conscientiousness, whereas conservatives often score opposite: high in conscientiousness and low in openness.
Division of Personality
Intuitively this makes sense. Liberals tend to be open to new ideas, new practices, and open borders, whereas conservatives love their borders. Lock those doors, build that wall!
This is not merely a political preference but reflects a deeper organization of the mind. Conservatives tend to conceptualize in more rigid and well-delineated categories. Men are men; women are women. Mine is mine; yours is yours.
Liberals, by contrast, tend to allow information and connection to flow more freely between categories. Genders may not be entirely binary and that business of yours, you didn’t build that because someone else built the roads.
Both these mind types have utility in society. The conservative mind tends to be very good at maintaining things, making things work properly. The liberal mind can be more creative because it allows for new connections and new categories to be made more easily.
When these different modalities of mind work properly together, a sustainable yet dynamic society is made possible.
However, danger also lurks because both mind types can be rendered pathological, and cause the kind of rift we see in society today. The best way to understand the kinds of pathologies that can arise is to look at the extreme cases.
What do you get when you have an extremely closed mind? You end up with autism. Autistic people are unable to abstract and conceptualize in a typical way. The boundaries between things become so rigid that they are unable to integrate them into a whole. Ask any parent of an autistic child. They do not like change and want to stick very strictly to routines. Try to make even a trivial change to that and their day is ruined.
Healthy conservatives are not autistic, but live on the normal end of the autism spectrum.
What do you get when you have an extremely open mind? You end up in psychosis. Psychotic people integrate everything in their mind in such a mess that they cannot distinguish between categories. They don’t see the difference between their fantasies and reality. Everything becomes connected to everything else.
Healthy liberals are not psychotic but live on the typical end of the psychosis spectrum.
But what happens when a society pushes too far in a “progressive” direction? Modern progressivism is about breaking down boundaries and borders between everything, and in so doing they are creating the conditions for psychosis. All people need order and structure to be healthy, including liberals.
A Social Issue
The disintegration of the nuclear family, religion,and monoculture pushes people toward mental illness. That is why we now are seeing an opioid crisis in America. That is why most crime, mental illness, and social ills are produced by children of single mothers and broken families. The hegemony of progressivism has made it taboo to talk about these problems, but we need to address them if we are going to heal America.
But conservatives are not without blame. In their effort to make a safe environment for their children, they have pushed for legislation that essentially amounts to the coddling of children in a pathological manner that arrests their development. Instead of growing up into adults they end up as social justice warriors.
The lesson to learn from this is that too much disintegration of social norms as well as too much security and coddling both lead to low mental health and pathological behavior. While tax reform may be important to the health of the economy, a national conversation about the right balance between order and instability may be crucial to the mental health of the nation.