Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Liberal or Conservative? My Theory (so far)

I am really, really trying to figure out why people divide along right/left lines. What follows is an idea of mine (still taking shape)...

I think it may be linked, in a way, to ADD. There is a theory of Thom Hartmann's (which makes sense to me, having been diagnosed with ADD at 40) that people with so-called ADD are hard-wired with 'hunter' characteristics, meaning they are flexible and easily distracted, so that if an animal comes by, they can drop everything and chase it. They constantly scan their environment and are always active, alert and ready with a pump of adrenaline so that they can go after their prey (read:hyperactive). They have to be risk-takers to catch animals. They are loners, adventurous and easily bored. The other, non-ADD types are hardwired with 'farmer' characteristics, which requires a completely different type of mentality. A farmer has to be always conscious of time, schedule and routine; if they are not aware of the proper times for planting, for instance, their crops will not grow and therefore they will not survive. Steadiness, patience and concentration are key for farmers. But if they had to live in a hunter's world, the characteristics that help them survive as farmers would doom them in the hunter's world. Their animal does not come at a specific time.

The theory is that Americans are more ADD than Europe because the kind of people who would leave the only world they knew to go someplace completely unknown for a chance of something better would be the ADD or 'hunter' types; therefore we as a nation have a larger percentage of people who exhibit those traits which are labeled ADD. However, our society is structured for 'farmers'. So you have the right-wing, or conservatives (this is a very broad generalization, with plenty of gradations) who are 'farmers'; they value teamwork, organization, conservation, hierarchy, authority, dependability and structure - all necessary traits for farmer survival. Then you have the left-wing, or liberals, who often fall into the 'hunter' category; they value independence, autonomy, individualism, exploration, innovation, creativity, alternate solutions instead of the 'status quo', hyperactivity and hyper-focus when locked in on something. These are necessary traits for hunter survival.

Now, obviously very few people are completely one way or the other; most people are a mixture of the two, but people do tend to preponderate towards one or the other. That's why really ADD people have a hard time functioning in this farmer society, starting with school and going on from there.

But I think that this is one of the roots of prejudice, and the reason we tend to divide up among party lines. For instance, I was talking to a conservative friend, a very intelligent guy, the other day, hoping to get some insight into his mental processes - why he and I, who have the same access to the same basic set of facts, see things so differently. We're both in agreement about basic values - personal responsibility, family, honesty and so forth. But what was interesting was when we began to dance around the subject of welfare. I mentioned that a friend of my husband's was disabled and on Social Security. He was immediately disparaging about her being 'on the dole'. Now, we both have valid points on this issue. There are people who take advantage of welfare. There are also people for whom there is no other option. Somewhere in between is the truth, but I go to the place of the people who are needy and deserving of help, and he goes to the place of the lazy free-loader. Both are true. But statistics (or as Mark Twain put it, 'lies, damned lies, and statistics') can be so easily manipulated that finding the real ratio of free-loaders to needy recipients is next to impossible.

I think we make these judgments based on our hard-wiring, and assemble the available data to fit our worldview. The right values financial and business freedom and sees it as paramount to society, as a farmer would need to in order to survive. And the left values individual and personal freedom and does not care for authority - these are traits a hunter needs in order to survive in his environment.

When it really comes down to it, it's all a 'belief system'. Every bit of 'news' and 'information' we get is something we have to take on faith, unless we can be everywhere at once, see everything first-hand, and correlate it all. So we have to make decisions about whose pronouncements we have faith in. It's not about believing in God at all, but believing what people say, and which people are saying it, and why they are saying it. And there is such a barrage of 'information' out there that one can take one's pick of anything that suits one's own particular mindset. Even science is taken on faith; that the work of the scientists that precede us is accurate. There is simply too much information floating around for an individual to process it all.

Now, I'm not saying that all liberals have ADD, or that all conservatives are plodding farmers. But I am positing that how we interpret the world may depend on the set of filters and wiring that are a part of our innate personality types. Liberals will say that Bill Clinton was responsible for the relative peace and prosperity of his presidency. A conservative will say that it was because of the Republican Congress in place at the time. It might be neither, or both, or have nothing to do with anything political at all. But our individual filters will skew it one way or the other.

So I think prejudice itself stems from our reactions one way or the other based upon whether we are comfortable with hierarchy and structure, or find it oppressive and confining, and that just may be a result of two very different evolutionary survival mechanisms.

Of course, that's just my opinion.

14 comments:

Robert Rouse said...

Okay, Alicia and what do you make of me?

I own a gun, but am responsible, keep it locked away and in a different location than the clip and ammunition. But I also believe that all guns should be registered and I don't see any reason for any private citizen to own a fully automatic assault weapon.

I believe in the welfare system but think there should be greater accountability by the people who use it and those who oversee it.

I hate how we ended up in Iraq but feel we have a responsibility to clean up our own mess.

I live in a state surrounded by conservatives but made my living as a rock musician.

I think we need to step up the war on drugs and at the same time I feel we should legalize marijuana.

I tend to vote on merit and issues rather than by party line.

Am I bi-polar . . . or maybe just bi-party?

Now you have me all confused.

Steve Bremner said...

Interesting analysis. I think you would get some push back from conservatives who would want to put themselves in the "hunter-gatherer" position. I think though that you are broadly on target though.

Alicia said...

Robert - I think you are a good mix! Nobody is all 'one or the other' which is what makes things interesting. But for you, I'd say you're someone who the 'hunter' side predominates, as you are an artist and tend to go your own way despite your surroundings. You have enough of both sides to keep you centered.

Alicia said...

Steve - I think every person can look at this and say, "Well. that's not me because I (fill in the blank)", but I think everyone is a mixture of these two. I would imagine the poor souls who are all one or the other are miserable. I think that most people will skew a little heavier to one side or the other, though.

As I said, it doesn't mean that all liberals are iconoclastic rebels or all conservatives are not iconoclastic rebels. I just think that liberals, for good or for bad, lean more to the 'hunter' side.

Alicia said...

And I think that both sides have tremendous value and the world would not work without both. I just think we need to recognize that each tendency is important to society and neither one could function without the other.

Alicia said...

Robert, I used to vote on merit, too, before I realized it's come down to a 'majority rules absolutely' situation. Now I vote the straight Democratic ticket every time...one more Democrat = one less Republican.

Helen Wheels said...

Very interesting theory, Alicia, and impressive as well, and incredibly well thought out.

I am toward the hunter for sure and was tested for ADD (turned out I just have some symptoms but not ADD itself). I am definitely on the alert all the time. I would have made a smashing hunter. In my case, I find that my roots were more farmer-like, and I rebelled, but now as I get older, I still rebel but I sure covet that nice, cosy, insultated-on-the-farm type of life (mine's a difficult one, trying to make a living as an artist).

How much do you think age factors into your theory? And, do you think someone from a 'farmer' background could produce children who were 'hunter' types? Is it biological or psychological?

In any case, it's fascinating. I love how your mind works!

Alicia said...

I think it's a combination of Nature and Nurture. We all have elements of both in our makeup - some leaning more one way, some the other, and then our life experiences influence us as well. Yes, someone that's a 'farmer' type can (and do!) have 'hunter' children, and vice versa, and often have both. My family is a good example. Although my mom leans toward the farmer type in her approach to life, her hunter tendencies evince themselves in her decision to change the faith she was brought up in when she found that it did not work for her, and her liberal politics relflect that. She is a very interesting mix of the two. My dad the artist is a stone hunter type, somewhat to his personal detriment, but his artistic sensibilty has led him to create some great art. My brother turned out to be almost all farmer, I'm almost all hunter, and my sister is a mix.

Well, I'm heading out to work, so I'll be interested to see who I manage to offend with this when I get home tonight! ;-)

G said...

Alicia,

I like your take. Thoughtful and well-versed. And very true.

Thanks for the food for thought - mmm, delicious like a petit-four. ;-)

- G

G said...

Not entirely sure on the ADD thing, but the paragraph on beliefs systems, news, and information is one of the more brilliant bits of thought I've read in quite some time. It is absolutely on the mark and couldn't have been written any better. The kind of thing we'd expect to see in the works of thinkers such as Chomsky. Great writing, Alicia!

:-) G

Alicia said...

Gee, G - thanks! I guess what I mean by ADD refers to people at the far end of that scale, and I personally don't believe that it's a deficit - now that I understand the way my brain works a little better, it has become an asset.

The fact is that our society is structured in a very 'farmer' way, and people like me don't fit into it very well. We're not so good at following directions or doing as we're told. Instead of going from A to B to C, we may go from A to Q to L, then back to A again, but we may have come up with something new and different by going that way. I think that people are starting to realize that people have different learning pathways now, but when I was growing up it was seen as rebellion or laziness.

I am not stupid, but I couldn't manage college. I couldn't organize well enough. But since I found out about how my brain works, its strengths and weaknesses, I've taught myself computers, sound engineering and recording, and all kinds of stuff. Now that I know what I'm up against, I probably could go to college now. But I see my so-called 'ADD' as an asset, not a liability.

My point is that we all share a certain amount of both sides, some more one way, some the other, but we can't function as a society without both types. If we could recognize that, we might understand each other a little better.

That's my hope, anyway...

You had to mention the petit-fours...mind-control rays are going your way...

G said...

I can feel 'em. Must - fight - urge - to - go - to - Toronto - soon - aaaccckkk!

:-)

And I do hear you on everyone being a bit on each side of the spectrum. We all differ in our views - my own may be predominantly on the left, but I have a few that rest on the right also.

As do most politicians. As we saw in the Bush-Kerry battles where "he signed this bill and not that one" became a mantra. Because to the Republicans launching those attacks, leaning right on one issue meant someone had to lean right on ALL of the issues. Which I find disturbing. Whether a voter or an elected official, one needs to approach things on an issue-by-issue basis. Voting by party line only serves to dismiss the issue at hand - how many Senators have voted in a bill, then been unable to explain what was in it? Plenty - they knew which way they were voting before even looking at the thing - those who did just skimmed it. Happens in all parties in politics to some extent. Scary thought given these are the guys in power.

Helen Wheels said...

Wow, we sure have a lot in common. I couldn't finish college, either, didn't understand how my brain worked - only that it didn't work like my friends' all seemed to. And, like you, I could definitely go to college now! And I've also self-taught myself in many, many different areas, from programming to web design to cartoon animation, to music composition, video, etc.

I discovered I wasn't lazy as well; just confused, or unable to buy into the popular view. I could always follow language courses, but never math. I also tend to learn in a different way than most folks I know. Not sure how to explain that.

This is great theory you are developing and you can really go places with it.

It's too bad that those of us with 'rebellious' tendencies get told over and over we are lazy, when usually we are the opposite. Our minds shut down when we don't see original thought in action, when we don't see things in life that make sense.

Currently, sometimes I just sit and marvel at the insanity that is our society right now. There's rampant blindness, hate, intolerance, materialism, and lack of spirituality. I can't figure out how people would be so concerned with their neighbor's lifestyle, unless they themselves are incredibly unhappy. Farmers should not let themselves become complacent :)

It's really interesting to hear a fresh theory about what can cause society and individuals to act as they do.

Great work!

alyceclover said...

Wanna run for president? Back in Clinton's day I took a political quiz, and winded smack dab in the middle, almost exaclty where he was. A recent Internet one shows me a tad bit off center (well, I always knew I was...) to the left.

Most of my family are "farmers". Used to be married to a real hunter. (the crook)He wanted the rifle's loaded at all times to be ont he ready to shoot to kill an intruder. I don't like guns, but very anti-gun control (then only the police will have them). His favorite prey was deer, and they keep to a pretty routine schedule. They would feed them apples all summer, and be able to shoot them right in the backyard. I would definitely label him a farmer type, he hated change, but did like the adrelaine of alcohol, sometimes drugs and evading the game warden & State Troopers. He was also a welfare cheat.