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← Does Conservatism Have to Be Synonymous With Ignorance?

rationalmind's Avatar Jump to comment 18 by rationalmind

Comment 14 by danconquer :

"Does Conservatism Have to Be Synonymous With Ignorance?"

It's a good, pithy question. And the answer I suspect is that, yes, there is degree of inevitability in the two being synonymous.

Conservatism takes the natural human desire to conserve certain things and turns it into an almost fetishistic position against change, against evolution in human relations and behaviours. One seeks, by default, to prevent evolution in culture, in ideas, in techniques (unless, of course, those changes happen to permit personal enrichment, at which point monetarist selfishness suddenly trumps any desire to conserve).

How can seeking to maintain something solely because 'that is how things have always been' possibly not lead into blind-alleys of ignorance? Trying to hold back the mutation of ideas and cultures is about as pointless and self-defeating as trying to prevent the mutation of genes. Just look at all the things that even European conservatives were opposing a few hundred years ago (opposition which is never apologised for nor mentioned today) to get a flavour of the sort of ignorant stagnation that unchallenged political conservatism leads to.

I think you have hit the nail on the head. I have been involved in various committees and charitable things for years and I always had problems getting a certain kind of person to understand technical or progressive things. It was really hard work getting them to appreciate science or how things linked together on any matter. These people were also not progressive themselves and often rather conservative with a small "c" in their attitudes. One one memorable occasion I foresaw the outcome of a sub-committee's deliberations just because of the people who volunteered, and the charity is still suffering as a result of the bad decision! One friend uses the term "mundanes" for such people who lack a certain something. It is borrowed from the Babylon 5 sci-fi series usage where telepaths use it to describe non-telepaths.

It wasn't therefore too much of a revelation then when I discovered that there is actually a documented and well researched basis for this. It appears it is primarily related to a well-known aspect of personality called "openness to experience" which is even sometimes called "intelect" in the literature. "Open " people tend to like new things and are often knowledge seekers and more creative. It is a characteristic linked with higher IQ scores too. They are likely to reject tradition and authoritative sources and work things out themselves and there may well be a genetic element to this. The converse is true for non-open people, they tend to be less intelligent and createive ,dislike new things and new knowledge.

This is probably why you get what Americans call the "liberal bias" in academia. It is also the reason why you see it in Hollywood too. Open people tend to be "liberal" in their attitudes.

If you want an example we know well, just look at Richard Dawkins himself. He is an intelligent knowledge seeker who expresses excellent creativity through his clever writing. His father, we discover from the obituary Richard wrote, exhibited similar qualities but in a different way.

John's binder-twine ingenuity extended beyond farming. Throughout his life he took up one creative hobby after another, and all benefited from his resourcefulness with red string and old scrap metal. Each Christmas there would be a new crop of home-made presents, beginning with the toys he made for me and my sister, moving on to equally beguiling contraptions for four grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

Look at Richard's wife Lala Ward, a famous actress. This is what Richard tells us about her and their meeting in another article.

I'd had it explained to me that she was an actress, and I was very impressed that she had played not only the 'Companion' in Dr Who but also Ophelia in the BBC television production of Hamlet. Even more remarkable was that she had read my books. Actually, I later discovered that she's read everything. She read Darwin's Origin of Species when she was only 15. But it was still gratifying to find that she had read not just my Selfish Gene, which people sometimes have read, but also The Extended Phenotype, which is a rather technical book designed for professional scientists.

Then I learnt about her other career, as an artist. She has done beautiful embroideries, for the Shell calendar and for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds calendar. She has written books on embroidery and knitting. In one, which is about birds, she has a comic verse about each bird, and they are very funny.

Another intelligent , creative, open person.

I have been seeing these characteristics in people for years and the research just explains what it was that I had already noticed.

Of course, it doesn't mean that every conservative is stupid, it just means that the personality traits that cause certain kinds of stupidity also can cause conservative attitudes.

Thu, 15 Mar 2012 11:27:08 UTC | #927421