Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Explaining Conservative Support Among “Ordinary People”.

Only 39.7% of voters, or 24% of the Canadian population supported the right wing Conservative Party in the last Canadian general election. The base for this party consists of religious extremists, but these make up only about 10% of the population. Then there are the five percent of the wealthy and near-wealthy who naturally vote Conservative, since their policies allow them to skim-off ever more of societies riches. Ideologically-rooted haters and greed creeps are the natural basis for far right parties. But how does one explain the support the remaining 9% of the population, neither cultists nor rich, give to the Conservatives? How to explain the support given by people who will be directly harmed by much right-wing legislation?

In order to explain this seeming contradiction we have to examine four factors:

  1. education and culture

  2. alienation

  3. social psychology

  4. age, gender and ethnic factors


Education and Culture

Regardless of the formal level of education, this is a group that is not well educated nor has a particularly high level of culture. Our schools do not teach people to think critically and to argue rationally. Thus, the uneducated do not discuss and debate, but mutually reinforce their prejudices. Anyone who steps out of line is either shouted down or ignored. They do not recognize a rational argument and thus are easily bamboozled by the strings of fallacies spouted by right-wing politicians. This is made doubly easy since these politicians pander to their prejudices.

Their culture consists of kitsch, corporate mass culture, or at best a philistine adoration of the “classics.” Anything beyond that is deemed “highbrow”. “modern”, or “intellectual” and thus not worthy of consideration. Attempts to raise the general cultural level or to introduce critical ideas are seen as a threat, and thus right-wing politicians who seek to cut back on government support for the arts get the backing of the culturally unsophisticated.

Alienation

Right-wing voters tend to be suburbanites. They do not live in communities, but are isolated in the suburbs, and even when connections are made, they tend to be with people similar to themselves. Isolated, with their only window of the world being the TV, they are subject to the fears and prejudices whipped up by the mass media. They don't encounter the people thus demonized, so only have the media stereotypes to go on. This situation, combined with prejudices they have inherited from their parents, leads to the creation of an unconscious “hate list”. We all know their list - tree huggers, anarchists, trade unionists, protesters, feminists, leftists, hippies, intellectuals etc. If a right-wing politician can tar his opponents as such or promise to harm the individuals on this list, he has the vote of the alienated suburbanite in his pocket. A certain amount of the right wing vote is simply a desire for revenge against other citizens deemed unworthy or a threat.

Social Psychology

Most of these people will have been brought up in an authoritarian manner. They react to this in two ways: They identify with the dominators, desire a “strong leader” and hence are open to someone as anti-democratic as Harper. Their attitude toward people deemed “beneath them” (remember the hate list) is that of the bully. (The idea that “these people ought to be suppressed.”)

One important result of an authoritarian upbringing is denial as a life-long procedure when faced with an unpleasant reality. Generally, their personal lives are ruled by denial, not just the political realm. Hence, when disasters result from right-wing policies, these are denied outright, or they latch on to a conspiracy theory to get them off the hook.

It seems that denial is not only a function of a repressive upbringing, but is inherent in the way we think. Neuroscientists have come up with a “theory of motivated reasoning” which helps explain the persistence of irrational beliefs. Our reasoning process is overlaid with emotional content. These emotions are what arise first, in advance of the reasoning process, when someone is confronted with an idea or situation. Our emotions bias us in advance. This works for everyone, progressive or reactionary. Since right-wingers have such a long and bitter catalogue of biases, I suggest that “motivated reasoning” leading to denial plays a much greater part in their decision making process than with left-wingers. (1)

Since the 1960's, old-fashioned authoritarianism has been augmented by narcissism. Old fashioned authoritarianism had the benefit of encouraging modesty and projecting an air of solidity and decency – even though those at the top were free to build their pretentious mansions and engage in their orgies. Today, modesty, solidity and decency fly out the door. Suburbanites simply must have their tacky McMansions and all the consumer goods that go with them. And they must have it all now, not ten years down the road like their parent's generation.

People who are insecure about themselves, something which authoritarian parenting mass produces - tend to substitute things to make up for that lost sense of worth. They will buy houses and cars that are more expensive than they can afford in order to project to the outside world that they are “somebody”.

All these obese houses and expensive toys mean a massive debt, which in turn creates a great deal of financial insecurity which right-wing demagogues freely prey upon.

Those of us who oppose this narcissistic consumer lifestyle are seen as a threat. Building houses for the less-fortunate or encouraging public transit are seen as “lowering property values” and “raising taxes.” Once again, the demagogues can read off their hate list of “cyclists, urban elitists, environmentalists” etc. and the narcissists gobble it up like Pablum.

Age, Gender and Ethnic Factors.

Polls taken during the election showed that youth aged 18-25 overwhelmingly rejected the Conservatives. Women too, though not to the same extent. Nor was there any of the much-touted “breakthrough” among “ethnic” groups. The real basis of Conservative support consists of white men over age 50, Micheal Moore's “Stupid White Men.” There is much sense to this rejection by youth, women and minorities. When these Stupid White Men are rotting in their graves, today's youth will be suffering the dire consequences of all the cut-backs and piratizations, not to mention climate change and peak oil. Women are generally raised to have empathy and are thus not so attracted to the sociopathic concept that only corporations matter and people don't. People of colour would be fools to support the party that contains most of Canada's racists, even though they pretend not to be.


A Couple of Fallacies to Clear Up

The Conservative support from the over-fifties seems to clash with the vision of the “radical Sixties Generation.” Some pundits will trot this fact out as an example of how people supposedly become conservative in their old age. But this is not the case at all, since the counter-culture and New Left radicals were only a minority of their generation. The vast majority of 60s rads are still there in the social movements or at least support them. Since the radicals got all the attention (and had all the fun) the conservative wing of the Sixties Generation has never forgiven its left-wing cohorts. Part of the present attack can be seen as a kind of revenge of the losers.

We will undoubtedly be told that today's NDP-supporting, anti-Conservative youth will go right when they get older. This ignores the fact that politics are based upon deeply-held values. These values, such as empathy or the lack of it, tend, in the case of the former, to direct one to a progressive stance, and the latter to reactionary politics. Furthermore, your moral compass is usually permanently aligned by about age 18 or 20. Thus, if you have empathy at 18, you are most likely to have empathy at age 50. If as a youth, you regard selfishness as a virtue, you are likely to do so in old age as well.


1. Cynics and reactionary apologists will claim that leftists are full of biases as well. But there are biases and biases. It is rational for a leftist to be biased toward Nazis – they are violent, racist, antisemitic brutes. It is not rational for a rightist to hate anti-war pacifists, people who wouldn't hurt a flea. Right wing hate lists are the result of the systematic demonizing of groups and individuals, and are not the result of rational analysis.

17 Comments:

Blogger Renegade Eye said...

During a Campaign for a Mass Party of Labor forum, a speaker after the 2010 elections, had a map of Minnesota, showing which areas voted Democrat and which Republican.

The Democrats got the cities, and areas where there was big strikes as Hormel, and even areas with strong farm groups. The Republicans got the most isolated areas.

The main point is that votes are determined by the advice of unions, churches etc.

6:52 PM  
Blogger The Pagan Temple said...

"It is not rational for a rightist to hate anti-war pacifists, people who wouldn't hurt a flea."

You mean those peace-loving folks like Bill Ayers, Weathermen, SDS, etc? I guess we can include the Manson Family, who were also pacifists and environmentalists, and who were supported by Ayers and Dohrn.

"Right wing hate lists are the result of the systematic demonizing of groups and individuals, and are not the result of rational analysis."

You mean like calling the Tea Party people tea-baggers, racists, sexists, homophobes, bigots, xenophobes, etc. Funny I missed all the "rational analysis" that went into forming those conclusions. I guess it's all so obvious it doesn't really require explanation, does it?

6:14 PM  
Blogger Larry Gambone said...

Thanks for the comments, Pagan. But they fallacious arguments. Weatherman, Manson Family etc were never pacifists, never followers of Gandhi, never practitioners of non-violent civil disobedience etc. Weatherman were a violent Maoist sect and the Mansion Family a bunch of violent racist lunatics.

Calling the Teabaggers racists, xenophobes etc is not demonizing them but telling it like it is. There are plenty of articles on the them showing what they think, it is no great secret.

Furthermore, you seem to have missed that this article is about Canadian Conservatives, not about US ones - so why did you bring up Weatherman and the Tea Bags in the first place? We, thankfully, have never had anything like either of them in this country. (Our Conservatives, as despicable as they seem to us here in Canada, would be considered moderates in your country.)

12:46 PM  
Blogger The Pagan Temple said...

You're right about that last part. So would European conservatives. In the US they would both be seen as RINOs (Republican In Name Only).

I brought up the Tea Party and others because you seem to think that only the right has a monopoly on hateful political rhetoric. I admit I don't know that much about Canada, but here in the US, there's plenty of hateful rhetoric on both sides. The difference is, the rhetoric on the right is based on righteous anger and exasperation. The lies from the left are really over the top and are based on the desire to impose their ideals on everybody.

It depends on who you read about the Tea Party. If you read leftist articles about them I guess they could seem that way. There are a good many of them who are that way, as there are in any group, but most of them, and the Tea Party's as wholes-and its important here to remember that there is no one Tea Party-are not like that. They are just people who want to reign in out of control government growth, spending, taxes and regulations.

Tea Party conservatives want freedom from government control for all with help only to those who legitimately need it. Leftists want to impose government control on everybody whether or not they want it or need it. Its up to the individual to decide which side denotes hatred and prejudice, and which ones stand for freedom and liberty.

6:46 PM  
Blogger Larry Gambone said...

"The difference is, the rhetoric on the right is based on righteous anger and exasperation. The lies from the left are really over the top and are based on the desire to impose their ideals on everybody."

This is exactly how we feel about the right. They seek to impose their views on us and tell the most appalling lies about us.Nor is it a matter of desire to do this. They do it. Working people have been under attack from right-wing and right-wing ideology-influenced governments for the past 30 years. Living standards and working conditions have declined because of this.

Leftists only lie about each other. There is no need to lie about the right, telling the truth is damaging enough.

Right-wingers don't believe in freedom from the government, they are hypocrites in this regard. State capitalism is fine as long as it serves THEIR interests. The biggest aspect of out of control government spending is the military, but they are not for cutting that. The biggest form of government interference on the populace has to do with the War For Drugs, they are not for abolishing this and ceasing to treat addiction as a crime. The contrary here in Canada, they wish to do away with the previous government's baby steps toward a rational policy re drugs.

The left does not wish to force people to have an abortion, or to make everyone smoke pot, nor does it try to stuff religion down everyones throat - but the right does.

9:25 AM  
Blogger Larry Gambone said...

"The difference is, the rhetoric on the right is based on righteous anger and exasperation. The lies from the left are really over the top and are based on the desire to impose their ideals on everybody."

This is exactly how we feel about the right. They seek to impose their views on us and tell the most appalling lies about us.Nor is it a matter of desire to do this. They do it. Working people have been under attack from right-wing and right-wing ideology-influenced governments for the past 30 years. Living standards and working conditions have declined because of this.

Leftists only lie about each other. There is no need to lie about the right, telling the truth is damaging enough.

Right-wingers don't believe in freedom from the government, they are hypocrites in this regard. State capitalism is fine as long as it serves THEIR interests. The biggest aspect of out of control government spending is the military, but they are not for cutting that. The biggest form of government interference on the populace has to do with the War For Drugs, they are not for abolishing this and ceasing to treat addiction as a crime. The contrary here in Canada, they wish to do away with the previous government's baby steps toward a rational policy re drugs.

The left does not wish to force people to have an abortion, or to make everyone smoke pot, nor does it try to stuff religion down everyones throat - but the right does.

9:25 AM  
Blogger Jemmy Hope said...

"They seek to impose their views on us and tell the most appalling lies about us."
And they have Fox News and the rest of Murdoch's propaganda machine to do it. What have we got? Money talks, spouts lies.

3:42 AM  
Blogger Jemmy Hope said...

http://rt.com/programs/documentary/broadcast-blues/
"... the recent Fox News court ruling that news does not have to be true."

3:54 AM  
Blogger Quagmire said...

I disagree thoroughly that the Left in any way possesses monopoly on reason or rational analysis. To my experience, they seem incapable of understanding any position that differs from their own, so resort to ad hominems and strawmen in lieu of argument. For instance, criticism of the economic effects of mass immigration is immediately dismissed as "xenophobia", public subsidies for abortion as "sexism", to affirmative action as "racist" etc. The actual reasons underlying these arguments-economic self interest on the part of native workers and whites, religious ethics regarding life, respectively-are wither ignored or dismissed as fronts concealing the critic's true motivation. Moreoever, Liberals to my experience possess a highly limited vocabulary, re-using terms ending in the suffixes "ism" and "phobia" to the point of chronic redundancy, an absurdity apparent to others but not themselves.

9:59 AM  
Blogger Larry Gambone said...

For you what seems an unnecessary and demagogic use of "xenophobia" , "sexism" etc is caused by the fact that right-wingers are so hypocritical in regards to immigration, abortion etc. Hypocritical to the point that their given "economic" or "moral" reasons are suspect. Take the economic effects of immigration - they are minimal and if people were really interested in having people stay home rather than immigrate they would be front and centre in helping to overcome the problems that cause the immigration in the first place. Where are the right-wingers fighting against NAFTA or the US meddling in the affairs of Mexico and Central America? No, they blame and attack the immigrants instead.

As for abortion, the anti-abortion types cry copiously over a match-head size fetus, but 20,000,000 REAL children dying every year of malnutrition and lack of potable water? And it IS sexism to deny a woman's right to chose. If anti-abortionists were only against abortions for themselves, no one would complain, yet they wish to impose their views on other women. Also the anti-abortionist ideology stems from patriarchal religion, which by its very nature is misogynist.

In other words, even though some leftists might be a bit extreme with these claims from time to time, in general the analysis bears up, and thus the left is rational and the right based upon prejudice and fear.

2:14 PM  
Blogger Larry Gambone said...

Continued...

The left has been successful in changing the language, but not necessarily the underlying feelings. At one time people were proud to declare themselves racists and spiced their conversation with racial and ethnic slurs. Same goes with women or gays. Few men would declare that women are inferior or that gays are criminal and should be persecuted. Bigotry now hides behind polite language and posturing. One attempts to cover ones prejudices with seeming rational or moral claims. Code words are used, such as "crime", which refers to Blacks. It now becomes the task of the critical thinker to extricate the prejudice from within the mass of polite verbiage and supposed economic and moral reasons.

2:25 PM  
Blogger Quagmire said...

For you what seems an unnecessary and demagogic use of "xenophobia" , "sexism" etc is caused by the fact that right-wingers are so hypocritical in regards to immigration, abortion etc.

Hypocrisy is not nor has it ever been the exclusive domain of the Right. I will not believe that the effects of mass immigration are "minimal" until I have seen credible sources verifying it as so, which you have not provided. As for uprooting the cause of mass immigration, a number of paleoconservatives, New and Alt. Rightists, and 3rd Positionists have diagnosed global capitalism as it's origin and therefore their principle foe.


As for abortion, the anti-abortion types cry copiously over a match-head size fetus, but 20,000,000 REAL children dying every year of malnutrition and lack of potable water? And it IS sexism to deny a woman's right to chose. If anti-abortionists were only against abortions for themselves, no one would complain, yet they wish to impose their views on other women. Also the anti-abortionist ideology stems from patriarchal religion, which by its very nature is misogynist.

This inconsistency is not quite as endemic to them as you say, as the maligned "Relgious Right" well exceeds their secular counterparts in terms of charitable giving, something far more honorable than the liberal practice of beauracratic welfare management. Secondly, there is no such thing as a "right to choose". One can engage in intercourse and in turn take responsibility for that decision, or one cannot have sex, but no one can escape natural law by having it both ways on the taxpayer's dollar (this is the psychology of a spoiled child speaking). If "pro-choice" advocates paid for their abortions themselves, I would not complain, yet they impose their preference on taxpayers by forcing them to subsidize it (where's their right to choose?)As for the "anti-abortionist ideology", I've encountered it among all religions, both patriarchal and non-patriarchal, all races, both genders, and all three sexual orientations. Is all that, by definition "misogynist"?

9:41 PM  
Blogger Richmond Attack the System said...

I posted some comments in response to Larry on ATS. http://attackthesystem.com/2011/06/13/explaining-conservative-support-among-%E2%80%9Cordinary-people%E2%80%9D/

Larry, feel free to post a response if you wish.

7:51 AM  
Blogger Richmond Attack the System said...

Some more: http://attackthesystem.com/2011/06/15/left-and-right-contrasted-a-reply-to-larry-gambone/

8:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Larry, your analysis of why so many ordinary Canadians cut their own throats at the ballot box by voting for Harper is dead on. But.... you make a couple of critical errors regarding women and white men over fifty. Your notion that women are socialized in such a way that 'naturally' makes them more moral land empathetic than men is a very Conservative myth. Are all these white men over fifty are monks or homosexuals? I think not. They all have liked minded wives, girlfriend, and in many cases daughters.

Over the past 30 years the left/progressive people in our society have been atomized by much sectarianism. Inegalitarian feminists (aka radical feminism) have been a major force in this regard. Many good feminists have written about this very issue. What's very interesting is that the inegalitarian feminist plays to the very mindset that the "ring wing" politician exploits. As long as we progressives attempt to understand our society by putting people into simplistic categories, we will fall prey to our own biases. I submit that we should be addressing issues in terms of human rights. One cannot judge a persons character and rational mind by the colour of his/her skin or any other superficial attribute. People are complex and there are no simple explanations.

All in all though, good blog.

BTW, I am white male and over fifty. I am also a father of two 20 something daughters. I raise them to be independent critical thinkers who should always seek broad evidence based information upon which to hold a belief or opinion.

4:53 PM  
Blogger Larry Gambone said...

Quagmire, please note that my article has to do with Canadian Cons. I am well aware of folks like Alain DeBenoit who view capitalism as the enemy. Canadian Cons are pure corporate capitalists. (And I am sure the same goes with the Republicans in the US) Indeed, anti-capitalist rightists make up the tiniest fraction of the worlds conservative politics.

Lack of charity is not the problem. The right does not deal with the structural reasons behind the deaths of so many children. If they were sincere about helping those children they would oppose imperialism and capitalism. There are anti-abortion but anti-imperialist Catholics. I respect these people because their views are consistent.

Look, people have sex, it is part of life, and sometimes there are unwanted pregnancies. Opposing a woman having a paid abortion makes as much sense as opposing fat people or heavy drinkers getting health care. You are attempting to impose your morality upon others. Have a little empathy! Anyway, this is not the issue that anti-abortionists take,. They wish to criminalize abortions again. Cutting abortions from health care benefits is only the thin edge of the wedge for them, their ultimate goal being going back to the 1950's.

Yes, I overstated the case for "patriarchal religion". Few Jews are hung up on abortions, and even though it is apposed by most Muslims, they are not the ones attacking abortion clinics. The obsession with abortion is overwhelmingly a right-wing Catholic/ Proddy fundi thing. And yes, if you dig deep enough you can find anti-abortion Buddhists, Pagans etc, but these are a small minority. Like I said this is a Christian sectarian obsession.

9:16 AM  
Blogger Larry Gambone said...

Anonymous. Thank you for your comments. I agree that feminist extremists can and have been divisive. Indeed, extremists of any stripe are divisive. What I was referring to about women is the "gender gap", something that has been occurring for at least the last 25 years. Women, by a significant, but not to be overstated margin, prefer liberalism over conservatism. Most commentators relate this to how girls are raised (to be more empathetic than boys) and I would add, women and children are the major victims of the right-wing cut backs. So it makes sense that women would be less conservative than older men. It would only be a myth if this empathy was somehow innate in women, something that I and other observers of the gender gap do not subscribe to.

It should be noted that the gender gap against the Cons did not happen in the past and has occurred only since the conservatives adopted Thatcherism or the New Right or whatever you call it. The old Tory Conservatism was not opposed to social reforms and did not lack empathy to the extend that the new Cons do.

Nor should the right wing tendencies of us old white guys be overstated. (I am 66) At least half of us didn't vote for the Cons. We are dealing with degrees of conservatism here, not absolutes.

9:32 AM  

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