What's the difference between a liberal and conservative?

Sep 24, 2008

Political conservatives operate out of a fear of chaos and absence of order while political liberals operate out of a fear of emptiness, a new Northwestern University study soon to be published in the Journal of Research in Personality finds.

"Social scientists long have assumed that liberals are more rational and less fearful than conservatives, but we find that both groups view the world as a dangerous place," says Dan McAdams, study co-author and professor of human development and psychology at Northwestern University. "It's just that their fears emerge differently."

To better understand the differences between politically conservative Christian Americans and their liberal counterparts, McAdams and Northwestern University co-author Michelle Albaugh asked 128 socially active churchgoers this question: What if there were no God?

"Social scientists -- who are generally liberals -- have for decades done research to figure out what makes conservatives tick," says McAdams. The study, "What if there Were No God? Politically Conservative and Liberal Christians Imagine their Lives without Faith," available online to journal subscribers.

Like the Northwestern study, the preponderance of research finds that conservatives fear unchecked human impulses that challenge the status quo. What McAdams and Northwestern researcher Albaugh also find is an underlying, but different, fear that drives liberals as well.

"Political conservatives envision a world without God in which baser human impulses go unchecked, social institutions (marriage, government, family) fall apart and chaos ensues," says McAdams. Liberals, on the other hand, envision a world without God as barren, lifeless, devoid of color and reasons to live.

"Liberals see their faith as something that fills them up and, without it, they conjure up metaphors of emptiness, depletion and scarcity," McAdams said. "While conservatives worry about societal collapse, liberals worry about a world without deep feelings and intense experiences."

The study findings may shed light on why conservatives prefer more authoritarian leaders while liberals do not, he adds.

"What's clear is that it is their political and not religious orientation that underlies the different psychologies of political conservatives and liberals," says McAdams. After all, all of the adults he and Northwestern researcher Albaugh studied were members of churches, and their data suggested that most were socially involved, altruistic people.

The Northwestern University study sample included 128 highly religious and politically active Americans who attend church regularly. Although nationally conservatives are more likely to attend church than liberals, the Northwestern study was set up to sample equally from religious conservatives and religious liberals.

The researchers also observed gender differences, but said they did not interfere with the relationship between political orientation and narrative themes. The study is part of a larger project that looks at the relationships of faith, politics and life stories in well-functioning American adults. It is funded by the Foley Family Foundation in Milwaukee.

Source: Northwestern University

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User comments : 20

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Bob_B
3.3 / 5 (19) Sep 24, 2008
Religion - a tool to control the masses by invention of a "super" being.
Modernmystic
4 / 5 (13) Sep 24, 2008
That definition fits most (if not all) government pretty well too, except you have a cult of personality rather than a God.
nano999
4.8 / 5 (17) Sep 24, 2008
"When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross."
-Sinclair Lewis
D666
3.4 / 5 (11) Sep 24, 2008
Wow, what a load of mush. First, not all conservatives are religious, and not all liberals are non-religious. Secondly, you can have fiscal conservatives and social conservatives. Third, the "What if there were no God" thing is ridiculous. Faith doesn't require there to be an actual god. The mere fact that many forms of religion are mutually contradictory, and at most only one can be right, yet all of them have faith, indicates that faith doesn't prove anything except the existance of faith. Which I will concede.

Here's a hmmmmmm for you: If the current American neocons had taken over in the 80's, Ronnie Rayguns probably wouldn't have been the Republican nominee.The current Republicans-as-religious-nutbars state is a relatively new phenomenon, although the nutbars have always been there.
CWFlink
2.1 / 5 (16) Sep 24, 2008
It is amazing how people will have FAITH in exercise, "green" lifestyles, and feel smoking is a sin... and they condemn people for having "religion".
D666
4.6 / 5 (10) Sep 24, 2008
It is amazing how people will have FAITH in exercise, "green" lifestyles, and feel smoking is a sin... and they condemn people for having "religion".


Well, I see today's argument starting....
It's amazing that theists will try to confuse the issue by redefining "faith". Religious-based faith is belief in something for which there is no evidence, in some cases despite massive evidence to the contrary. "Faith" in stuff like the theory of gravity, evolution, the evils of smoking, all the secular stuff that theists like to look down on, is a provisional acceptance of a theory based on the fact that it explains observations better than any other explanation. In some cases, there are competing explanations with their own adherants, but the bottom line is that the acceptance is provisional. The secular believer is willing, in principle (if not always in practice) to change their opinion if further evidence comes in that changes things. This is in direct contradiction to the theist faith system which is completely totally unalterable, no matter what. In fact, it is a matter of pride to many theists that their faith is "unshakeable". These are two entirely different attitudes towards belief, and your disingenuous attempt to paint them as being on the same level fools no-one.
deatopmg
2.6 / 5 (9) Sep 24, 2008
It is amazing how people will have FAITH in exercise, "green" lifestyles, and feel smoking is a sin... and they condemn people for having "religion".


Well, I see today's argument starting....
It's amazing that theists will try to confuse the issue by redefining "faith". Religious-based faith is belief in something for which there is no evidence, in some cases despite massive evidence to the contrary. "Faith" in stuff like the theory of gravity, evolution, the evils of smoking, all the secular stuff that theists like to look down on, is a provisional acceptance of a theory based on the fact that it explains observations better than any other explanation. In some cases, there are competing explanations with their own adherants, but the bottom line is that the acceptance is provisional. The secular believer is willing, in principle (if not always in practice) to change their opinion if further evidence comes in that changes things. This is in direct contradiction to the theist faith system which is completely totally unalterable, no matter what. In fact, it is a matter of pride to many theists that their faith is "unshakeable". These are two entirely different attitudes towards belief, and your disingenuous attempt to paint them as being on the same level fools no-one.


My experience has been that the vast majority of BOTH religious based faith and secular based faith beliefs (also a religion) are unshakable and independent of the evidence, i.e. "Don't confuse me with the facts I've made up my mind."

Another difference I heard 40± yrs ago that fits best is; "conservatives like people, liberals like the IDEA of people" - Orson Bean
Glis
2.1 / 5 (7) Sep 24, 2008
Lipstick
(on the underwear)

The conservatives are clean because men don't wear makeup.
fuchikoma
5 / 5 (3) Sep 24, 2008
So the study only covers Christians, and the way the article is worded, seems to assume that all of either party is the same. It doesn't show what either seeks from their parties, just their religion.

Still it only makes sense that fear may drive selection of a political party, since the social contract with government basically trades liberty for security and essential services. We don't have a libertarian party in Canada, but I guess that's where I would fall since if anything, I fear oppression at the hands of government. I'm sure without government there would be a certain amount of chaos until someone dominated and established their own system, but already being without a god, I'm simply prepared for, and do not fear my fellow man. Without an us vs them dichotomy, I see that most people are essentially well meaning, if greedy. Conscience increases with relatedness, so if you fear your neighbor, get to know them. Even if they're the kind to victimize people, it will put a name and face on you unless they're sociopathic...
GaryB
1.7 / 5 (6) Sep 24, 2008
Religion is OK, it just has to become more like burning man (celebrating creative expression) and also turn from backwards looking (super being who created us) to forward looking (the super being we, as a species, will create).

I do believe in judgement day, it's just that it will be we who judge God. At least which version thereof we would download on average.

Oh, and vote for Obama.
mbraun
5 / 5 (5) Sep 24, 2008
it's physorg, just read the article and don't pay attention to the headline
Bob_B
3 / 5 (2) Sep 25, 2008
I enjoyed reading your comments.
superhuman
3.4 / 5 (8) Sep 25, 2008
I find this study really amazing for at least 2 reasons:
1. The authors think all people can be divided into just two groups without leading to an extreme and useless generalization.
2. They think they can extrapolate findings based on answers to religion based question onto not religious people.

Why not go a step further and dump everyone into a single group? Then you can publish even more brilliant paper on universal human morals based on answers to "What if LSD was God?".
Jack5551212
2.1 / 5 (7) Sep 25, 2008
Religion is OK, it just has to become more like burning man (celebrating creative expression) and also turn from backwards looking (super being who created us) to forward looking (the super being we, as a species, will create).

I do believe in judgement day, it's just that it will be we who judge God. At least which version thereof we would download on average.

Oh, and vote for Obama.
Religion is OK, it just has to become more like burning man (celebrating creative expression) and also turn from backwards looking (super being who created us) to forward looking (the super being we, as a species, will create).

I do believe in judgement day, it's just that it will be we who judge God. At least which version thereof we would download on average.

Oh, and vote for Obama.


Wow, we will judge God? That has to be the most arrogant thing I have ever heard in my 37 years.
D666
3.5 / 5 (6) Sep 25, 2008
My experience has been that the vast majority of BOTH religious based faith and secular based faith beliefs (also a religion) are unshakable and independent of the evidence, i.e. "Don't confuse me with the facts I've made up my mind."


This is a very common tactic among theists. Since they can't get people to elevate religious belief to the status of science, they attempt to reduce science to the status of religion.

Sorry, but in "English" (the language I'm speaking -- I don't know about you) the word "religion" has very specific meaning, which isn't compatible with "science". You can make like Humpty-Dumpty all you want, but you are neither fooling, impressing, or convincing anyone.

And theists really need to get over this persistent belief that this type of debate is just a parlor discussion where you can just say anything, and the only score-keeping is based on bon-mots. There is an objective reality out there against which your statements are tested -- if not by you, then by listeners. When you say something idiotic, you may think you're being clever, but what you're really doing is making people roll their eyes and tune out.
Glis
2.7 / 5 (3) Sep 25, 2008
superhuman: If? IF?!?!
Modernmystic
2.6 / 5 (5) Sep 25, 2008
In my experience it seems those that favor more centralized government control ask the question "What should man be?", and those that are in favor of a less centralized more "liberal" (classical sense of the word) government tend to ask the question "What is man?"

One is more of an emotive unrealistic wish for the world and everyone in it to behave the way they'd like them to. The other is a more realistic (if sometimes cynical) scientific view of the humanities.

I think if humanity collectively had more of the latter persuasion our political and social institutions wouldn't be lagging as far behind our technological ones. What we really need to do is extend the Renaissance to the humanities as well.

Anyway I think that's a more accurate grouping than "liberal" or "conservative" as IMO they are two sides of the same coin. One likes to use the government to beat you over the head with the bible, the other likes to use it to beat you over the head with your wallet.
E_L_Earnhardt
5 / 5 (1) Sep 25, 2008
The poorest science is "to KNOW" BEFORE YOU TEST!
GrayMouser
1 / 5 (1) Sep 27, 2008
I find this study really amazing...
1. The authors think all people can be divided into just two groups

There are only 2 groups of people:
1 - Those that think there are 2 groups, and
2 - Those that think there aren't...

I find the following more interesting:
"Social scientists long have assumed that liberals are more rational and less fearful than conservatives

Could this be because social scientists tend to be 'liberals'? Has anyone done a study on the political tendencies of social scientists?
Duude
1 / 5 (1) Sep 28, 2008
This is just a stupid column designed to draw in bloggers to create a discussion. Isn't any different than writing a column about race.