Early Theories of Political Orientation
Political Affiliation and Darwinian Reproductive Strategy
Our story begins in 1936, when Nazi Germany hosted the Olympics, and Adolph Hitler's favorite psychologist, Erik Jaensch, ascended to presidency of the German Association of Psychology. Arguably, Jaensch introduced the first theory of liberals and conservatives, and a rather nasty one at that. To Jaensch, perceptual styles were the foundation for political beliefs. Liberals and conservatives did not perceive the world in the same way.
Jaensch's perceptual approach placed a central role to synesthesia, that is, the tendency for a stimulus to originate in one sensory domain, only to trigger a perceptual experience in another. Experiencing color sensations while reading letters of the alphabet is one example.
Following the Nazi party line, Jaensch proposed that the German population was subdivided into two biological types. The two types differed in their tendency towards synesthesia. The good type, which he referred as the J-type, was susceptible to only two synesthetic experiences involving a rotating spiral: the illusion of centric contraction, and when stopped, the illusion of outward expansion.
Because of this lack of susceptibility to synesthesia, the J-types were cognitively stable, logical, and ethical, and were socially responsible. The other biological type was not so good. This type was prone to all sorts of synesthetic experiences, and Jaensch thus referred to them as the S-types.
Given this general problem of synethesia, the S-types, declared by Jaensch to be the Jews and the liberals, were unstable in their logic and morality. They were the original flip-floppers. Further, they were easily distracted, artistically and musically inclined, and had a poor sense of time. This was a far cry from the "inner clock" of the Nazi J-types.
The Jews and liberals were polytheistic or atheistic, socially isolated, the males were feminine, and even worse, unfit for military duty. These were serious charges, and although there were no unbiased experiments that corroborated this proposal, with the ascendance of Hitler, Jaensch's theories became centric to the new Nazi psychology.
But not for long--so much for Jaensch's perceptual theory of liberals and conservatives. Jaensch never saw the final outcome of rise of the J-types, as he died in 1940. After the war, the study of conservatives and liberals would take a u-turn, and would be delivered by one of the great concentrations of intellectual liberalism in the world, the University of California at Berkeley.
The front man for this war on conservatism was not only a German exile, but a classic example of the German S-type. The apocalypse of World War II had the community of psychologists all wondering the same thing: what was wrong with the Germans? How could such a technologically advanced and educated population execute genocide on such a massive scale? While all previous wars had hidden genetic underworlds, the Nazi version was there for all to see.
In 1948, Else Frenkel-Brunswik would turn Jaensch upside down, noting some rather nasty traits about the right wingers: a tendency towards binary categorization (e.g., good and evil), a disinclination to think in terms of probabilities, higher levels of ethnic prejudice, a tendency to apply the same mental approaches in problem solving, and a tendency towards authoritarianism.
Frenkel-Brunswiks theories went unnoticed, that is, until she teamed up with two Berkeley psychologists, Daniel Levinson and Nevitt Sanford, along with the liberal of all liberals, Theodor Adorno. Like your average intellectual liberal, Adorno had a wide range of interests that favored music and social science. Liberals gravitate towards occupations associated with people or the arts, while conservatives are shifted towards occupations that produce energy and objects.
The Berkeley marriage of Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson, Sanford, and Adorno would sire The Authoritarian Personality (1950), which served as a springboard for a number of subsequent political-psychological studies, mainly waged against the right-wing. The Authoritarian Personality had a distinctly Freudian theme, fixing the blame on harsh parenting during the Great Depression, which worked to instill reverence for authority figures. This theme persists today, most notably by George Lakoff.
According to Adorno and company, the authoritarian personality was punitive to underlings, obsequious to authority figures, cognitively rigid, and politically conservative. Since The Authoritarian Personality, political-psychological studies have been few and far between.
But for the most part, the right wing was getting the short end of the stick, and over the years, being linked to a large number of undesirable traits, such as: intolerance of ambiguity (1948); low self-esteem (1969); fear of death (1972); ego defensiveness (1973); lower preferences for abstract art (1973); psychoticism (1977); closed-mindedness (1979); ineffectiveness in complex cognition (1985); lower preferences for unfamiliar music (1985); neuroticism (1994); the desire for cognitive closure (1997); elevated threat assessments (1998); tolerance for inequality (1999); positive assessments of dominance (1999); and poor acceptance of new technology (2000).
The social and biological sciences tend to draw more liberals than the physical sciences, thus, with a few notable exceptions, the psychological study of political disposition tends towards a liberal perspective, and highlights the brain's powerful biasing mechanisms, even when engaged in scientific research.
But the one thing that has been completely ignored in the study of political disposition is the most important thing of all: evolution. Fundamentally, political-religious disposition is closely linked with to Darwinian reproductive strategy. But what is a reproductive strategy?
(VL=very liberal, L=liberal, M=Moderate, LB=libertarian, C=conservative, VC=very conservative, NP=nonpoliti9cal)
It is not so much a deliberate strategy to reproduce, rather, it is the collection of processes that result in reproducing one's genes into the population gene pool. And when it comes to reproducing genes into the gene pool, nobody does it better than the conservatives, which can outreproduce the liberals by as much as 100%. Further, the greater the tendency towards conservatism, the greater the rate of reproduction. This is especially true for the religious conservatives.
When viewing political-religious disposition from the perspective of Darwinian reproductive strategy, everything falls into place. In short, conservatism and liberalism solve two of the greatest problems of species survival. But what two problems? Enter Thomas Malthus, the controversial British economist and demographer. Malthus proposed that human populations expand to meet and exceed the available resources of the habitat, which ultimately results in increased competition and mortality rates.
The Malthusian essay on the Principle of Population would spark one of the greatest confluences of scientific thought in history, as both Darwin and Wallace came up with the idea of natural selection while reading it. But the Malthusian theory of population growth would also have applications to the theory political-religious disposition.
And for this, we can thank Pierre-Francois Verhulst of Belgium. In 1838, Verhulst proposed the most relevant equation in the study of conservatives and liberals. Verhulst extended the Malthusian equation of population growth to include the carrying capacity of the habitat as a limiting varible.
In the Verhulst equation, N is equal to the population size, t is time, r is the growth rate of the population if unconstrained by resources, which is closely related to birth rates, and K is the population size limit that the habitat can sustain. And in the Verhulst equation, we can see two of the great evolutionary stressors that are placed upon species.
The first problem is seen in the variable r, which is the population growth rate. High reproductive rates, closely correlated to the variable r, and evident in modern-day religious conservatives, counter the strong tendency for small breeding populations to become extinct. Across species, the problems associated with small breeding populations involve increased susceptibility to inbreeding depression, habitat change, disease, and deleterious mutations, and as populations fall below 1,000 individuals, extinction is imminent.
The second problem occurs when the population nears the carrying capacity of the habitat, which is represented by the variable K. If a population does not scale back reproduction to match the carrying capacity, then populations can crash rapidly.
This commonly occurs across species, and in humans, some of the more notable crashes were the depletion of the Anasazi tribe of the American southwest, the population decline of Benin City, Nigeria, the crash of the Marquesans of the South Pacific, and the end of the Mayan civilization. In all cases, violence and competition accelerated with the population decline.
One of the more prominent variations between conservatives and liberals is population density. The conservative-liberal dichotomy in population density is easily seen in the voting patterns of urban, suburban, and rural environments. As a general rule, the greater the population density, the more liberal the population. In the 2004 US Presidential Election, the Democratic candidate, John Kerry, won every city with a population over 500,000. This pattern was repeated in 2008 with Barack Obama.
The mystical and long-standing relationship between liberalism and urbanism is common across all cultures, and raises two interesting questions: is this a self-selection process, where the reproductive conservatives flee to the suburbs leaving the big cities to the liberals; or, does urban life liberalize people? There is certainly evidence for the self-selection effect, but high-density living tends to liberalize people, and seen in other species that trend towards reproductive inhibition as population density reaches a certain threshold.
The conservatives certainly report a greater aversion to urban life and a general tendency to take up more space than liberals. This dichotomy reflects the divergence in reproductive strategies between them, and also provides the underlying theme of their political conflict associated with the following issues: abortion, gay marriage, women's rights, environmental regulations, gun-control, defense, and taxation.
While abortion is obvious in its negative relationship to reproductive output, the other issues require some discussion. First, gay marriage. The liberals are very puzzled by the religious conservative stance against gay marriage--why do they care? However, if reproductive output is under the influence of a spectrum of genetic, environmental, and social influences, which is inferred by the scientific research, then reproductive output can be increased via social pressure. It is interesting that the more reproductive an individual is, the more likely one is to be against gay marriage.
Women's rights are another point of contention between the secular liberals and religious conservatives, and its underlying reproductive significance lies in the fact that increasing female economic and educational status decreases average reproductive output per female. Females tend to want fewer children than males, and male dominance tends to increase the number of offspring.
The ultra-submissive behavior of these Fundamentalist Mormon females to their husbands has led to a lifetime reproductive output of between 6-7 children per female, and exposes the fundamental Darwinian nature of religiosity, that is, Fredrich von Hayek's proposal, in 1982, that it increases reproductive advantage.
Environmental regulation is a major point of contention, and reflects directly on the tendency for conservatives to convert energy into reproduction, and the liberals to reduce both habitat depletion and reproductive rates. The conservative polemic of "drill baby drill" may be a Freudian slip, as it highlights the close connection between energy and reproduction. Across many diverse species, reproduction is quickly sacrificed when the available energy in the habitat decreases.
Gun-control and defense also reflect the fundamental reproductive dichotomy of conservatives and liberals, as reproduction correlates with threat assessments from strangers. In general, the more reproductive one is, the higher their levels of suspiciousness to strangers. We'll revisit this point when we discuss the neural correlates of conservatism and liberalism.
Taxation also reflects the fundamental reproductive dichotomy of conservatism and liberalism. Religious conservatives convert more of their disposable income into reproduction than liberals, and therefore, are more likely to oppose higher tax rates. Further, the higher the proportion of tax revenue to gross national product, the more evenly reproduction is distributed across the population. As we shall see later, there is some fascinating research involving the brain and taxation.
Written and Narrated by Charles Brack, March 2011