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Friends And Foes In The Battle Of Ideologies

The world is divided into two kinds of people- one who think like me and the other who should learn to think like me. Nowhere does this thought haunt me more than when I open my facebook page. It takes me a good couple of minutes to control my demons of arrogance and let sensibility dawn on me, except when it is times of elections or big political events, when from a thinking human being I morph into a computer and begin processing information only in binary, in a ‘you- are- with- me- or- against me’ mode.

In times of elections you may have noticed, that an occasional comment or a remark on facebook can act as a sting operation on ideological divides of your friends and expose to you your friends like you have never seen them before. Some you weren’t reasonably impressed with, back then in college, will become elevated in your opinions if their beliefs are same as yours, and others who differ will definitely take a beating.

All I can say is whatever your leanings may be, if you haven’t been rattled by the liberal vs conservative arguments of your friends, you are not that into facebook.

So what is this pull of shared  ideologies and why is this ideological divide so deep. The pull and the push forces are so powerful that it looks a bit strange and perhaps unjustifiable for something as obscure as political ideologies to be so controlling of our emotions.

A few years ago when I first read in a book that liberals and conservatives are not just ideologies but two different personality types, it struck me as the most fascinating revelation of my life. “Liberals and Conservatives don’t just see things differently they are actually different”-reads an article in Scientific American. This statement just took my breath away; all these years I have been wondering on the lines of ‘how can they think like that’ or  ‘may be they are not reading the right stuff’ and there it was- the tranquilizing answer to a turbulent mystery.

The liberals vs conservative divide is so universal and seemingly so primal that it had the researchers thinking. In recent years a lot of social, psychological and brain studies have been done on this and the results are pretty interesting too.

Researchers of University College of London have found that conservatives have larger amygdala-a part of the brain that is active during states of fear and anxiety while liberals have more grey matter- the region of the brain that helps in coping with complexity.

Psychologists have found that conservatives have relatively higher levels of anxiety and therefore they place more value on attributes like safety and security. They tend to be more organized and self disciplined. They have greater respect for authority and are more likely to seek structure, order and stability in their world. They don’t like uncertainty and haze, they want clear answers to even seemingly complex questions. Perhaps their reverence for authority is a manifestation of their preference for order and stability.

Liberals on the other hand are more chilled out, they are less anxious people; they are like those privileged kids who never had to bother about their place in the world because they had a fat inheritance to take care of them, so they set out to save the world.

According to American psychologist Jonathan Haidt, two very important pillars of liberal morality is caring for vulnerable and fairness; fairness to a liberal means sharing the resources equally while the conservative’s idea of fairness is based on proportionality i.e., ‘to each according to their ability/effort’.

Liberals also believe in diversity and have greater tolerance for chaos that comes with heterogeneity. They are less respectful of authority and relatively weaker on group loyalty when compared to conservatives.

Although there is no clear answer on which ideology is better,  but we may still have  primal leanings for one than the other. This is largely attributed to our personality bias. Yes, both nature and nurture control our ideologies. Recent studies have shown that we inherit a lot of our beliefs from our parents and there is a strong biological component to our ideologies.
But if our beliefs are tied to our genes, does that mean we have no control over them?
Well we have control over them, perhaps as much as they have over us. It is seen that in an environment of some threat or danger people are more likely to be conservatives and when they are safe and secure they are more likely to be liberal.

Political ideologies don’t exist in vacuum, they are shaped by our personalities, influenced by our emotions and evolve as we evolve intellectually. Liberal or conservative- no ideology has the perfect solution, therefore a lot of people have a mix of all, a kind of bespoke version where they position themselves left right or centre on each issue per se.
Ideologies shouldn’t be water tight, they should be fluid in nature, so that as our knowledge and understanding expands we have the freedom to revise our opinions. 

References
  1. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/calling-truce-political-wars/
  2. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-human-beast/201104/conservatives-big-fear-brain-study-finds

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