Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Liberal Thinker v's The Conservative Thinker

The recent study into the brains of liberal thinkers and conservative thinkers has raised some interesting theories. There is chatter regarding the results on almost every forum and in every newspaper I have looked at in the past week. Are the results true? What do they really mean?

For those of you who are unaware, the study found that liberal thinkers are hopeful, brave and open to change. Conservative thinkers are fearful, scared and wary of change. Sounds intriguing but how does that affect current politics and what is the result indicative of?

Essentially, what it says is that those who are conservative are pessimistic and those who are liberal are optimistic. This can be roughly applied to all policy that is currently on the table in Federal and State politics. The Cairns Post stated that this is true of most politics but does not translate when it comes to the most controversial of topics, climate change.

The argument is that those who believe in climate change, mostly liberal thinkers, are effectively pessimists for holding that belief while conservative thinkers are optimistic as they choose to align themselves with the 5% of scientists who disagree with the theory. I disagree, strongly.

As far as I am concerned, believing in climate change is realism. That does not fit into either category. If something is proven and it's proven by most of the great minds in the world, you would have to be slightly foolish to disagree. The optimism comes in believing. Only if you believe in climate change can you be hopeful that we have the power to undo some of the damage we have done, or at least halt it. It takes a large degree of optimism to focus on the positive change that can be made for the betterment of our world.

A pessimist, by ignoring the facts, is essentially admitting to themselves that they believe the problem is too large and cannot be reversed. Andrew Bolt's interview with Tim Flannery is a perfect example of this. He was asking questions about the immediate results of a reduction of carbon emissions. He knew the answer before asking the question. The answer was given by someone optimistic about the survival of the planet in the long term. Andrew's questions portrayed a man only interested in the future of the world....while he is still in it.

A positive thinker will look beyond themselves to future generations as they are not scared of what will come next, they choose instead to believe that they have the power to make changes now that will be felt in 100-200 years because they know that they will probably have relatives around who will benefit from the decisions they make today. These are the ones who donate to Amnesty International believing that human rights can be achieved in every country, while the pessimist gives to the stock market believing that they only have the power to affect their own lives.

It's not true you know. We all have the power to make positive changes in other people's lives. Sometimes the journey is long and the results may not be seen by our generation but that's no excuse not to try. It doesn't mean that the pessimist (conservative) is a bad person, just afraid. It doesn't mean that the optimist (liberal) is always right either, sometimes it pays to have a little cynicism so you don't go blindly into tomorrow.

The fact is we probably need both sides in order to effectively run the country and create stable communities. I have professed many times over to be the leader of the optimism party and proudly admit to that. The balance is achieved by having that healthy dose of realism I mentioned earlier. It's essential, regardless of which way you lean.


  1. LIBERAL THINKER ON MUSLIMS: I went out to get to know some Muslims and even read the Qu'uran. I found not all Muslims to be religious fanatics, and the Qu'uran similar to the Bible and Talmud in many parts.
    CONSERVATIVE THINKER ON MUSLIMS: They all believe if they kill themselves in a holy war, then they go to heaven with all the virgins. They don't mix with non-Muslims and the Koran says they have to hate non-Muslims.
    LIBERAL THINKER ON ABORIGINES: I know quite a few and I am fascinated by some of their cultural beliefs. It is shocking what has happened to them. There are some really nice people amongst the aborigines.
    CONSERVATIVE THINKER ON ABORIGINES: They are all bludgers and alcoholics. The Government practises reverse-racism whereby they now get everything and whites get nothing.
    LIBERAL THINKER ON REFUGEES: They come from the most horrendous conditions imagineable. We really should help them. There are more people in Australia on temporary work permits than refugees and maybe we should be restricting the temporary work permits.
    CONSERVATIVE THINKER ON REFUGEES: They are taking over Australia and get all the benefits. The Government gives them everything and practises reverse-racism with them. Itwon't be long before Australia is full of them.
    LIBERAL THINKER ON IRAQ WAR: I marched against the war. I knew that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction after the years and years of harsh sanctions. The Iraq war diminished the West.
    CONSERVATIVE THINKER ON IRAQ WAR: They will find those weapons of mass destruction one day. I reckon Saddam just hid them somewhere.
    LIBERAL THINKER ON POLITICAL CORRECTNESS: I think it OK not to insult people or cause them unnecessary grief with taunts of "fatso" or "splitfork" or "dago".
    CONSERVATIVE THINKER ON POLITICAL CORRECTNESS: The Government and the do-gooders are telling us how to talk and what to say.
    LIBERAL THINKER ON CLIMATE CHANGE: I am worried for the future of my children and their children and the world that they will come into. We really should be doing something now.
    CONSERVATIVE THINKER ON CLIMATE CHANGE: It's all bullshit and why should Australia do anything anyway. It's the fault of all the other countries.

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  3. I disagree KS, I am giving examples of typical conservative thinking. Here are a few more gems from the Conservative women I know-
    LIBERAL THINKER ON k.d. lang - "I love the way she maintains her individuality and refuses to kowtow to the sex goddess stereotyping of the music industry."
    CONSERVATIVE THINKER ON k.d. lang - "Oh, she's a lesbian, and I don't like the way she dresses. She looks disgusting."
    "The airlines should widen the seats for everyone. They cram us all in like cattle."
    "The airlines should make them pay for being overweight, like we have to for our luggage."
    "Why are women becoming obsessive about breasts? Something is very wrong in our society when breast implants are the single biggest surgical procedure in the country."
    "Oh, it's about femininity. Women like to look like women and men like women to look like women."
    There are times when I just have to walk away....or become deaf.
    Oh, one last gem -
    "They just are not safe. What has happened in Japan should be a lesson to the world...."
    "They say nuclear power stations are very safe. Andrew Bolt, the journalist, said in todays Cairns Post that............ "

  4. Thanks for the comments KS.

    This study was the first of it's kind and will quite probably be debunked at some time in the future as all studies quite often are. This post is my view of the current results only and you appear to have taken my views as a statement of voting practices by the public. It was not my intention to pigeon-hole people to that degree and at no time did I state which type of thinker would vote or belong to which political party.

    I am positive that if you delve further into political persuasions and politicians were allowed to speak their mind, you would find climate sceptics on both sides. The same would also prove true for those who believe in climate change.

    I use the word 'believe' as it relates to the topic but I suppose that those who don't think climate change is real are also believers in their own way.


    This is the link to another article on the study.

    And this is as close to the original study results as I could find.

  6. Sorry Leigh. I just spent a half hour composing my response but failed to get through the posting process. Sorted now.

    Ill abbreviate.
    I agree with the observations in the studies. Ive always held that view.
    Ive experienced much the same as Alisons accounts. Many many many times.

    A positive outcome of such a result, is hopefully that once people recognise the simple biological difference , they might approach people who are more fearful than them from a less confronting perspective.
    Just as you would adjust your approach to a cat, vs a dog or a bird.

    Fear results in denial or aggression.
    Fearful folk build their view of the world around personal security.
    So if you confront them, you are threatening them.
    Instead of telling them what you think, just ask them what they think instead.
    Fundamental truths are difficult to ignore once youve heard them. And the best way to hear them is if you say them yourself.
    When a fearful person is explaining their circle of rationality, just repeat those words back to them as they go. Acknowledge that you heard them.
    That way any inconsistencies will be raised by their own conscience.
    And also, give them time. They might not piece it all together immediately. Denial takes some wading through. Be patient and hope that your discussion will have some effect over time.
    And bring some cake.


    Sorry again for stuffing up that thread didn't realise there had been further posts. This is the link to the Peter Mrtin post I referenced with some interesting outcomes on how small some of the political spectrum divergences can be.....

  8. "Essentially, what it says is that those who are conservative are pessimistic and those who are liberal are optimistic."

    Does it say that? Or have you interpreted media reports simplistically in compliance with your own evolutionary tribalism and displays psychological confirmation bias? I noted the media comments but didn't delve further as there is usually not much gained from headlines and media reports on science but .... be careful of how you perceive yourself!

    The current Wikipedia posting on this research says:

    "As a result of these structural differences, liberals may be more efficient at managing conflicting information, while conservatives may be more efficient at recognizing threats.[6][12][13] However, the researchers concluded, "It's very unlikely that actual political orientation is directly encoded in these brain regions."[13]

    How did you infer pessimism and optimism from the research? Any immediate translation to the political spectrum is at best naive. My personal observation is that "liberalism" and "conservatism" as defined are in fact more evenly spread across the political spectrum than most political participants In Australia would like to concede. A recent post from Peter Martin on Julia Gillards values speech is an example of this. Self-described liberalism is not always the same as open minded as I have had to remind more than one such self-described friend.

    This is particularly so in economics where most "liberals" tend to "pessismism" in my experience, and I have also seen this displayed among respondents to a Ted talk presentation. I don't know what the point of the link with climate science is as I think polls show exactly what I said above, and more evenly spread across the political spectrum than most want to pretend? As previously noted in some forums one of the strongest advocates for a carbon tax has been Mankiw, economics professor at Harvard, advisor to Republicans and previously Dubya Bush. So where does he fit on this simplistic analysis? I note in the Wiki reference above on the research: " However there is no explanation for socially liberal, fiscally conservative or apolitical people.[7]"

    The statement that "optimism comes in believing" disturbs me as it should any genuine "liberal"? That is a very psychologically "conservative" statement to me? The statement that anyone who does not "believe" in climate change is "afraid" is also more akin to "conservative" political religious rhetoric. I don't know of any climate change disbeliever who I would describe as afraid. Note: personally, I think anthropogenic climate change is happening on the evidence, but "believe" is not a word I prefer to use in any context! "Belief" implies a closed mind to me?

    I recommend this talk from the "liberal" Ted talks as a psychological reference and a more appropriate psychological moral / political framework:

    P.S. Alison, my friend, you are showing stereotypical tribalism rather than liberalism.

  9. Sorry, have had a major Google malfunctiuoin here somewhere?

  10. Sorry again, i did do an explanatory intro which somehow after being posted was lots in the ether!

    Regardless! Alsion, you are living on a linear scale but the world, as Einstein displayed, is not linear?

  11. Hi KS, It's back up for you. When I checked into my blog page it appears that your comments were placed in the 'spam' folder. I am guessing that is due to the multiple comments? Not sure really.

    Anyhow, fixed it for you so it's all good.

    Oh, and the reason that climate change was used as the prime example is because that was the issue the Cairns Post focussed on so I geared my blog to reflect that.

    And Alison, I feel that your comments are undoubtedly made from experience but are more examples of left and right thinkers rather than conservative or liberal ones.

    The study itself has also not been able to ascertain whether the brain reacts to life and experiences or is geared that way from birth. The results from further studies will be interesting.

  12. What an interesting observation from Wikipedia..."Liberals may be better at managing conflicting information...."

    So there we were in 2003 with over 100,000 US and UN military land forces racing through the Iraqi desert while the embedded journalists kept on telling us ad nauseum about Saddam's cache of "weapons of mass destruction."
    The Conservatives sucked it up without question.

  13. I like your thinking and suggestions there, gregdwyerart. I will give them a try the next time I decide to raise the issue that the very first soldier in this country was the aboriginal warrior armed with a spear and that he should be also honoured and remembered on ANZAC DAY. (You can imagine what the conservatives' response is......!!!!)