Morality, Politics, and Psychology

Below is a comment I wrote to a blog post on the website of my local paper.  In it, I’m pointing out the problems of ideology that lacks a larger context of knowledge.  I do think that sometimes its necessary to declare a moral principle as valid even if it affronts the commonsense of the majority.  This is the ideal of natural law which makes sense to me personally.  Besides, its what our country is based on and heck it’s even what early Christianity incorporated from the Greeks.  Morality isn’t an issue of majority opinion.  There simply are certain inalienable rights that democracy stands or falls by. 

However, I don’t think it useful to invoke universal moral principles in order to dismiss intelligent discussion.  Standing by one’s principles is important, but so is basing one’s opinion on facts and logic.  If the data (objective and subjective, scientific and psychological) seem to undermine the practical usefulness of a principle, then that is very important info to consider.

Why are Condoms a Liberal Idea? , by IowaArtist

My response:

I’ve always thought it odd that people support abstinence only programs when they’ve been shown to increase the rate of pregnancies. I think there are two reasons.

1) The attitude is ideological. It’s a principle they believe in so strongly that it would go against their sense of morality even to consider the practical implications.

2) Also, the fact that teens still get pregnant just proves their belief that liberals have undermined our moral society. The teens getting pregnant is the direct fault of liberals and so giving into the liberal agenda would be even worse.

They don’t consider the possibility that teens would have sex whether or not liberals had political influence. What they seem to believe is that if they hold onto their principles long enough then maybe all of society (including teen sexuality) will change to fit their ideological vision of reality.

Another important factor is that, because of chemicals in our diet, girls mature at a younger age than they used to. Also, college has become a necessity for more people than in the past and so people now marry much later. Many kids start having sexual urges at 10 or so when they lack psychological maturity and they’re not likely to get married until their late 20s or early 30s.

Considering those facts, is it practical to promote abstinence? How likely is it for the average kid to remain abstinent for the next 2 decades of their life?

In hunter-gatherer cultures, people marry as soon as they sexually mature. This is unimaginable in our society. It works for them because kids sexually mature much later with a non-agrarian diet. The problem with modern society is that it creates an unnatural situation, and so our moral ideologies become out of step with our own biology.


There is another perspective to all of this.  Disagreements over such socio-political issues might not be all that directly related to either what is moral or practical.  Much research has been done on politics and personality.  The first two links are articles I just came across from The New York Times and the last link is to a post of from my Gaia blog in which I cover all of the research and theories.

Op-Ed Columnist: Would You Slap Your Father? If So, You’re a Liberal, by Nicholas D. Kristof

Across the Great Divide: Investigating Links Between Personality and Politics, by Patricia Cohen

Politics, Personality, and Character by Me

It makes me wonder what actually motivates people.  Much of our psychological tendencies are based in genetics and some show as early as infancy (look at twins research for very clear evidence of genetic predispositions), but there are many other factors as well.  Here is one factor I mentioned in the comments in the above blog post:

An interesting complexity is the fact that personality correlates to party affiliation but not to party registration.  So, its possible that conformity to social standards of family and community may play a stronger role than does personality. 

How or rather where we’re raised is infinitely important.  My parents were raised in conservative communities and they grew up to be conservative.  However, they went through a slight liberal phase as young parents maybe because they moved to a more liberal community during a transitional period of their life.  This liberal community of my childhood had a strong influence on me and, along with my brothers, I became mostly liberal.  This shows that community may have more influence than family, and I believe I’ve seen research that shows peers are the most influential for kids (rather than what kids are taught and modelled by their parents). 

As examples, I’m a liberal child of conservative parents and  my dad is a conservative child of liberal parents, but my mom is a conservative child of conservative parents.  Personality might predict, though, to what extent one is influenced by other factors such as community and family.  My mom, according to MBTI, is and ISTJ which is one of the most conservative personality types and also the type that is most likely to follow authority (such as parents) without question or rebellion.  So, maybe it isn’t surprising that her views are more in line with her parents.  I’m an INFP which is a personality type that tends to have more of an independent streak than, for instance, an ISTJ.  But also INFPs tend to be more liberal. 

The question, then, is to consider why people end up with particular personality types.  Research has shown that certain traits are inheritable, but not all.  My parents are ISTJ and ENTJ, and so where did my INFP come from since the last two letters representing Introverted Feeling are completely opposite my parents’ shared Extraverted Thinking.  It still may be genetic as my grandmother (my father’s mother) seemed likely to have been an INFP.  On the other hand, one of my brothers has a personality almost exactly like my mom and yet the two are on opposite ends of the political spectrum.  I assume that is where non-genetic influences come in. 

To get down to one specific aspect of personality, Thinking vs Feeling in MBTI is very central to political attitudes.  Thinking types (especially Extraverted Thinking) fit the typical attitude of conservatism in which a principle is held as true no matter what.  Feeling types (especially Introverted Feeling), instead, are more likely to consider the people involved to make a decision.  Basically, its a difference of whether someone believes that people should serve their moral values or else believes their moral values should serve people. 


This translates to the original example in that a conservative is less likely to change their attitude even when it seems counter to the evidence of how humans actually behave.  To the conservative, we should strive to live up to our ideals (even if it means failing) rather than to lower our ideals.  That is a worthy attitude in certain situations, but problematic in other situations.  An interesting additional definition of conservatism is a common belief that human individuals are limited in their ability to change and so in a sense conservatives are in certain ways more accepting (or rather more expecting) of people failing moral standards.  The fact that kids still have sex and get pregnant even when taught abstinence isn’t an argument against the socially conservative belief in abstinence.  For a conservative, that is besides the point or if anything proves their point.

The ironic thing to me is that teenagers don’t have sex because of moral failing but because biology drives them to do so.  It’s natural for animals to feel an instinct to procreate.  It’s how our species has survived this long and grown so large.  It’s a very effective instinct.  The ironic part of this is that the socially conservative attitude against pre-marital sex is also embedded in human biology.  Conservative beliefs, despite what some conservatives may think, didn’t fall from the lips of God.  Besides biology, there are also socio-cultural factors to no end.  For instance, Spiral Dynamics gives a detailed account of why certain values are held by societies during specific stages of development.  Or, as another example, the generational theory of Strauss and Howe seems to explain why certain values follow cyclical patterns of popularity.

I don’t mean to just pick on conservatives as we’re all equally influenced by factors we have little control over.  It’s the sad fate of being human that civilization evolves quickly and biology evolves slowly.  And it’s a major problem that modern civilization is so far out of sync with human nature… which applies to everyone whether conservative or liberal or whatever.  In this, the conservatives have intuited an element of our dire straights.  They are right in a sense that our human nature fails us in the situation of modernity, but it would be better to understand that it’s modernity rather than human nature that is the problem.  We have to either develop socially to a new stage more in balance with our own nature (and in balance with nature in general) or else eventually destroy ourselves. 

My criticism of conservatism is that their answer is unhelpful to say the least.  Social conservatism, as we know it now, is as mired in modernity as anything else… related to the idea that fundamentalism is a direct result of modernity meaning it isn’t actually a return to pre-modern values.  If looked at closely, the socially conservative ideals such as family values don’t fit the truly traditional values that we as humans held for thousands upon thousands of years prior to civilization (and actually they don’t even fit the traditional values of a few centuries ago).  If we’re going to attempt a revival of traditional values, then we should really take it seriously and revive hunter-gatherer lifestyle which is the only way to support values of the most traditional variety or at the very least return to an agrarian-based society of small villages and close-knit communities (from which America was first born).  The problem with Christianity is that its a religion that arose in an imperialistic society and in an urban setting.  It’s a religion very much of modern civilization.

I’m not dissing civilization, but humanity is now facing probably the largest obstacle it has ever faced.  We are in an unsustainable situation which is potentially an endgame scenario.  Derrick Jensen explains this all very well, but I hope that he is wrong that the only solution is for civilization to end.  Humans are innovative when the stakes are high.   I’m sure we humans will (eventually) give a noble effort in attempting to save ourselves from the predicament we created for ourselves… and we might even succeed to create some new form of society.  If future humans do succeed in not only surviving but thriving to boot, I suspect they’ll look back with bemusement at the idiocy of both liberals and conservatives.

Anyways, disagreements about the sexual proclivities of teenagers is the least of our problems.  I say let them enjoy their youth because they’ll grow up soon enough and realize the mess they’ve inherited.


In case anyone is further interested in this subject, here is a post I made in this blog a while back:

Political Party, Morality, Personality, Gender

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