The Mystery of the Conservative Mind

Recent research suggests that the rich, which really means conservatives, lack empathy. The poor, on the other hand, are more attuned to other people, perhaps because they rely on these friendships to make their lives easier and more pleasant. It seems significant in such an evaluation that one of the main items of the conservative religion is that we should be completely independent of others. We certainly don’t need any help from the government, nor should others have it. If so, why should we have empathy?

Most of us have been in the presence of people who shake your hand, but seem to be looking right through you, and not hearing anything you say. They express no interest at all in you personally, and soon drift away, leaving you with the distinct impression they consider you not worthy of their time. This trait is not limited to the rich, of course. It can be found in all kinds of people with any sort of power, such as university administrators, or politicians, or even athletes.

Recent research suggests
that the rich lack empathy.

To a certain extent, the tendency is understandable. People in higher positions simply don’t have either the time or the capacity to take a personal interest in everyone’s concerns. In fact, we’re all like this to some extent. We rarely take time to actually talk to people on the street who ask us for money, partly because so many of them look incapable of normal social function. This may be true, but it’s also true that literally every one of them has a story, and has experienced times that retelling by a good writer could make into compelling reading. Everyone has had important experiences worth learning about.

There is no better example of the opposite of the disinterested rich man than the Dalai Llama. Although he regularly meets with all sorts of world leaders, he is just as interested in meeting the ordinary people he finds wherever he goes. Typically, after he has greeted the “nobles” he has traveled to meet, he goes directly to the service people, such as the hotel maids. As if he has all the time in the world, he speaks with each one of them, asking them about their lives, their families, their day. Often, after he has spoken to a few, the next day he finds a small crowd waiting to meet him. He meets every one. It’s worth noting that typically none of these people has ever before received the slightest evidence of interest from the people they serve, other than an occasional nod or casual greeting from a few of them.

What I don’t understand is why
people who are not rich
embrace the conservative ethic.

My generalization is no more true than others, of course. There are, in fact, very wealthy people who do speak with their lessers, and who even know them well and care about them. But they appear to be a small minority.

What I don’t understand is why people who are not rich, who in fact may be struggling to survive, embrace the conservative ethic, which almost exclusively benefits the rich, and not themselves. That’s a bit disingenuous, because there seems to be a quick answer—that they have accepted the lies of rich conservatives—but there must be more to it, right?

Remember the Equal Rights Amendment? This is it, in its totality: Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. During the time it was being debated around the country, opponents devoted a great deal of effort to fostering a series of half-truths and outright lies about it. The most notorious lie claimed that all restrooms would be for both men and women.

Many true believers listen faithfully
to right-wing commentators,
who give them someone to blame.

One day a neighbor repeated this lie to me, and a number of others she had accepted at face value. I showed her the card I carried with the amendment printed on it. “That’s not it”, she asserted, and nothing could persuade her otherwise. We are all subject to taking as truth what we hear from people we regard as authorities, which is surely what she did. Once she had accepted this “truth”, she simply could not believe that what she had heard were outright lies.

Today, many such true believers listen only to right-wing radio commentators, and watch only right-wing news, which not only echo their own frustrations, but give them someone to blame everything on: liberals, lazy people of color, and Obama. It’s worth noting that there is no left-wing equivalent to these. Most other sources come much closer to objectivity, in spite of right-wing blather claiming all other news sources have a liberal bias. Perhaps that’s true, but if so, it’s because, as Paul Krugman has said, truth has a well known liberal bias.

So people who need assurance and don’t want to inspect their beliefs accept what these right-wingers say, which is at best biased, and at worst nothing more than hateful lies. Such lies are not innocent, either. Screaming that anyone with a Middle East background or darker skin is a terrorist, which a number of wingnuts have done, has cost innocent lives, yet not one of these hatemongers has accepted the slightest responsibility or shown any contrition at all—or bothered to change their message of hate.

A central item of conservative faith follows the ditty, “That government is best that governs least”. It’s a simplistic bumper-sticker slogan that is catchy and cute, but not true. Least government is expensive.

The catchy ditty,
“That government is best that governs least”,
is cute, but not true.

Liberals believe in something better, but it doesn’t fit on a bumper sticker. Nor should it. Two primary elements are: (1) The right size government is big enough to do the job well, but no larger. (2) There are numerous essential needs of the people that are most efficiently satisfied by pooling our money through taxes, rather than buying the service individually.

Under the rubric of best, least government, conservatives and their jingo philosophy have proposed dissolving practically every agency in the government except the military, which is one of the biggest cash cows for the very rich there is. But think about how you go about your day, and you cannot fail to understand that nearly every minute you are aided and supported by the government via its services and agencies. These are many essential things you could not accomplish by yourself.

Republicans have yammered so long about
runaway government spending that
they have forgotten to check the facts.

Conservative Republicans have yammered so long about runaway government spending that they have forgotten to check the facts now and then. Paul Krugman called out Eric Cantor about this recently on a talking head show. Cantor, he pointed out, was simply wrong, as shown by readily available reports of the nonpartisan GAO. The facts are that government spending has been declining for five straight years. That fact has done absolutely nothing to alter Republican talking points.

I remain mystified by a political mindset of beliefs based on a philosophy with a thoroughly non-democratic founding, as well as reliance on an absurd string of “facts” that are simply not true. I simply don’t understand how anyone could accept these beliefs at face value, and I am alarmed that the possibility of irreparable damage to our democracy because of it.


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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I always wonder how much of this conservative following is more about achieving a perceived status (based on the classic paradigm of survival of the fittest and success). It’s about how we look to our peers, and to be for poor people is to not be financially successful, typically (unless your religious and tithe, for example). I recall a documentary where they interviewed European and American people in poverty, and Europeans blamed the government more, while Americans blamed themselves more. I find that interesting. I think this following could also be due to a need for more community-based leadership. Not necessarily no government, but a more local one? I could be wrong, of course, just really thinking about why this might be. Great post!


    • Thank you.


  2. evolution, I think that’s partly it, “achieving a perceived status”, and if I interpret that correctly, that the poor who support the conservative agenda believe the message, and hope to achieve what the rich have achieved. They believe it is possible. And, it IS possible. It is also possible to win the lottery, just unlikely.


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