Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Am I Really a Liberal?

I read an article today I may blog more about later. But right now I want to focus on one aspect of it. The article is a concise summary of social psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s take on the psychobiological roots of political liberalism and conservatism.

Haidt says research shows that liberals are “open” to and even crave novel experiences whereas conservatives resist novelty and stick with routine and that these differences are very likely biologically programmed and innate. Thus, liberals naturally push for social and cultural change they think will make life better, and conservatives naturally recoil from such change they think will disrupt established order and make life worse.

I first became acquainted with Haidt’s claim from his TED talk a few years ago. And I remember thinking that my political liberalism doesn’t fit Haidt’s mold. That is, I’m very liberal politically but exceptionally resistant to change in my personal life. How could this be?

I didn’t think much more about Haidt’s claim until it dawned on me today that what may be happening in my case is that I’m like other political liberals in craving novelty, but I stick with many routines not because I really want to but because my cognitive deficits and psychological hangups prevent me from seeking the novelty I’m naturally predisposed toward.

For instance, in his TED talk, Haidt says conservatives gravitate to restaurants like Applebee’s and liberals to ones like Chez Panisse. Yet, I am just the opposite. I like Applebee’s and have never eaten in a real French restaurant.

But why is that? Is it because I really want to keep eating at the same old humdrum places? Or is it because, while I want to eat at new places and sample new cuisines, I’m afraid that my learning disabilities and social awkwardness and anxieties will poison the experience and I want to avoid this unpleasantness?

After all, I know nothing about French food. Not only about what it is but also about how to order and, perhaps, even eat it in a way that won’t make me look stupid. So, I stay away from Chez Panisse or the Moroccan or Afghan restaurant nearby, just as I avoid doing so many other things, especially in public, because I don’t want to appear awkward and stupid and be looked down on.

Yet, when it comes to doing things, like reading about or listening to new ideas in philosophy, science, religion, or what have you, I love it and seek out these experiences with relish, so long as I don’t do it in a public manner that potentially exposes me to looking awkward or stupid.

That is, I love to read about or listen to new ideas in private or with people with whom I feel comfortable. But I wouldn’t be as keen on exposure to these ideas in situations where I’m with others with whom I might be expected to intelligently discuss these ideas, because I’d be afraid that I wouldn’t be up to the task and would look stupid.

And in some cases, I resist doing new things even when I don’t fear that other people would think I looked stupid doing them, because I’m afraid that I would FEEL stupid trying to do them and failing. For example, I might stay away from an art gallery because I don’t “get” art, even though I’d really like to, and I don’t like to place myself in situations where I feel inadequate.

In an upcoming blogpost, I’d like to say more about the article I read today.

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