Growing up in staunchly conservative, white-washed North Idaho taught me a thing or two about fear. I knew what I was supposed to fear but more importantly, I knew who (somehow this didn’t seem to conflict with my call as a Christian to “love” everybody). I knew that I was supposed to be afraid of the homosexuals; they were unnatural, perverted, and the men, more likely than not, pedophiles. I knew that I was supposed to be afraid of the government; it wanted to take our guns and put us all in concentration camps. I knew I was supposed to be afraid of liberals and socialists; they wanted to take our hard-earned money and give it to lazy unwed mothers and drug addicts. A new study in the American Journal of Political Science confirms what I personally knew for years: Conservatism is a natural political reaction to fear:
“We suggest that people are not expected to be more fearful because they are conservative; rather, individuals who are more fearful tend to espouse less supportive policies toward out-groups, and this process operates through a common genetic pathway.”
Think about it: Why are most conservatives against gay marriage? Because it threatens their belief in traditional Judeo-Christian marriage. Why are the majority of them also against gay people being able to adopt? Because they are afraid their children will turn out gay or worse, molested. Why are most conservatives against increased immigration and for deporting the 11 million plus undocumented immigrants that are already here? Because they are afraid that the immigrants (specifically those of Mexican and South American origin) are taking their jobs, stealing their hard-earned tax dollars and refusing to integrate into white “American culture.” Why did it seem to be conservatives who were the first to cry for retaliation after the 9/11 attacks but the last to bat an eye when we racially profiled, captured, killed and tortured Arabs/Muslims? Again, fear.
Unfortunately, fear seems to breed in homogenous, cut-off communities like the rural North Idaho I grew up in. It’s easy to be afraid of someone that you’ve never met. After all, there’s nothing scarier than what you can’t see (remember the “bogeyman” under the bed)? I believe that this, more than any other reason, is why cities tend to be more liberal and small towns more conservative: Diversity (or lack of).
The study in the American Journal of Political Science puts it this way:
“Those with greater fear dispositions will experience greater discomfort toward novel social situations or unfamiliar others and as a result prove less willing to interact with new people or environments.”
In other words, people avoid what they fear. Conservatives, who tend to be fearful, will tend to cut themselves off from people who don’t think, look, or act like them, only leading to further isolation and fear. A little etymology study can help us better understand the psychology behind the ideology.
Conservatism, at its core, is defined as being resistant to change or as a desire to “conserve” things the way they are. Thus conservatives are inherently resistant to the new and unfamiliar. They are inclined to see the past through an idealistic lens which is probably why we hear so many of them talking about “taking America back” and reminiscing about “the good ole days.”
Interestingly, I was raised to think that it was liberals who were the ones afraid. I understood them to be sort of socialist dictators whose fear of liberty led them to shackle the American people with big government and rules and regulations. But once I left that particular cult of North Idaho conservatism, my heart slowly began to change. The fear and sense of righteous anger that used to burn inside of me has gradually been replaced with understanding, caring and tolerance. I now vote for the kind of America I’d like to see rather than against its future in hopes of preserving an oppressive antiquated past. And that’s really the main difference between liberals and conservatives: liberals push for while conservatives are always pushing against. Just look up the word “reactionary.”