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Nihilism, Futurist Traditionalism and Conservationism

Right, left: is there a difference?

08 08 10 - 19:46

There's a lot of confusion out there about what the difference is between right and left. This is because most of you were born in a time when the differences have been blurred, although you will not die in a time where the differences are blurred.

  • Conservatism is a focus on doing right by society as a whole.

  • Liberalism is a focus on empowering the individual to do what it wants to do.

In liberalism, society is the means to the end that is the individual; in conservatism, the individual is the means to the end that is society, so that the individual is provided with a safe, stable and sane place to live.

Morality is a social construction, but it is constructed out of evolved raw materials provided by five (or more) innate "psychological" foundations. In surveys and experiments I have conducted in the USA, Europe, Brazil, and India, I have consistently found that highly educated liberals generally rely upon and endorse only the first two foundations (Harm and Fairness), whereas people who are more conservative, more religious, or of lower social class usually rely upon and endorse all five foundations.

Each culture's morality is unique, but an aspect shared by all five-foundation moralities is that they do not regard society as a social contract created for the benefit of individuals. Rather, they see society in more organic terms, as an entity that is of value in and of itself, and they think the building blocks of society are not individuals but rather groups and institutions. The point of moral regulation is to enhance the integrity of these building blocks and to improve the way the blocks fit together, in order to ward off the ever-present danger of social decay.

The Ingroup, Authority, and Purity foundations are moral foundations because they constrain individuals; they pull them away from self-serving, pleasure-seeking individualism by binding individuals into groups and institutions. (Think about the transformation of an 18 year old who enlists in the army.) Liberals do not see this binding as necessary or as desirable, hence they do not see a moral system based on these foundations as worthy of anything but contempt. They think their opponents are motivated by greed, fear, racism, and blind obedience to scripture or tradition. - Jonathan Haidt

According to Dr. Haidt, there are five moral axes:

    Protect Individuals
  1. Not harming others

  2. Reciprocity and Fairness

  3. Protect Group
  4. Loyalty to In-Group

  5. Respect for authority and hierarchy

  6. Purity or Sanctity

Conservatives emphasize the group loyalty ones more than the individual ones; liberals emphasize the individual ones. This is why the two groups don't understand each other.

David Brooks notes an important aspect of this view of morality -- it's not about a divine/inherent morality, but about a common sense response to life:

Where does our sense of right and wrong come from? Most people think it is a gift from God, who revealed His laws and elevates us with His love. A smaller number think that we figure the rules out for ourselves, using our capacity to reason and choosing a philosophical system to live by.

Moral naturalists, on the other hand, believe that we have moral sentiments that have emerged from a long history of relationships. To learn about morality, you don’t rely upon revelation or metaphysics; you observe people as they live. - David Brooks

Herein lies much of the confusion: many conservatives identify a religious basis of their conservatism. At least as far as Western religions are concerned, this makes no sense: Christianity and Judaism, by their focus on the individual, are more closely geared toward liberalism. However, religiosity as a value is a conservative trait, as is the idea that finding a moral balance between the individual and society is the root of the human experience. For this reason, the conservatism pre-dates the religion; one must be conservative in order to value religion, and pull values out of it that are not liberal. Conservatism is a secular in its most basic impulse; it is a response that demands we adapt to our environment, in contrast to liberalism which wants our environment to adapt to us as individuals.

Social policy

One interesting aspect that is rarely discussed: liberal parties appear later in the life cycle of a civilization. No society is born with them, in part because the logical extreme of the left is anarchy, while civilization is inherently anti-anarchistic. People who are too individualistic do not find a way of working together, or we'd have a nice fat list of successful anarchist societies. Instead, we have a long history of police, authorities, military and legal constraints. Individuals, when left alone, become destructively divergent -- history tells us this.

Conservative ideals -- or, if we're honest, realistic ones -- favor the creation of society. They believe in the building and maintenance of a strong social order that creates a stable space for individuals to thrive; in the conservative view, the highest good is to make a society that functions like an efficient machine, ensuring that individuals have the capacity to do what they need to. It does not specifically pander to the individuals, or dwell on exceptions, because keeping the machine running is more important than any single individual. Conservatism is an inherently unitive outlook, as opposed to "collectivist" which is a large group of individuals demanding legislation favorable to their divergent pursuits, based on social consensus and with that agreement on values, a public morality, philosophy, legal system and/or spiritual outlook.

Ultimately, as the old saying goes, in conservatism the individuals are a means to an end, and the end is more important than the means. Conservatives value achieving a stable society above all else, so if a few people become dead in the process, that's OK. From a realist perspective, this type of thinking is contra-Utopian: it recognizes that no matter what is done, tragedy follows for someone, so we cannot let the presence of tragedy stop us from doing what benefits everyone, even if indirectly (namely, a stable and prosperous society, which is very indirect -- your average person lacks the biological intelligence to conceptualize that idea that their income is the result of a stable society, and that if that stability goes away, their income changes -- or the value of currency changes; your average person can think at best two weeks into the future). In conservative logic, Goal > Method. In liberal logic, method -- respecting the individual -- is more important than achieving your goal, unless of course that goal is respecting the individual.

Opposing conservatism/realism is what we at ANUS call "Crowdism." Crowdism is what happens when a group of individuals get together and decide that they do not want their individual pursuits curtailed, no matter how divergent. Obviously, this happens later in the life of a civilization, because this attitude requires they first have a functional system under their feet that provides them with food, shelter and safety. Otherwise, they'd be concerned about more pressing needs. When individuals in such a society decide they should be free to pursue their divergent individual pursuits, they invent a convenient fabrication: the idealized individual, or an abstract concept of "a" individual who has "rights," or inherent and absolute demands they can make on their society and the world. The idealized individual requires they believe in equality of all people, but all of this activity is shorthand for what each member of the Crowd wants: a lack of oversight over his or her own divergent individual pursuits. Social standards restrain individuals from divergent pursuits; liberals, individualists and Crowds seek to reverse this situation.

When we get to modern conservatism, however, we have the legacy of WWII and the Cold War: neoconservatism. Neoconservatives are fundamentally liberals, much like those of the French Revolution. In order to stave off Communism, they offer the individual more than what Communism does -- where Communism offers equal wealth, neoconservatives offer consumerism and a chance at the lottery of capitalism, in addition to a society which has no ideal (such as Communism) and thus is unwilling to ever tell the individual what they're doing is wrong, unless it involves blatant harm to another person. Indirect harm is OK -- sell all the fraudulent products you want -- which makes such a society a free-for-all. Even if dressed up in conservative clothing, the neoconservative outlook is fundamentally liberal. They offer the individual absolute liberty in exchange for upholding capitalism. Neoconservatism was pioneered by the Americans, who wanted a reason to be superior to (a) the Nazis and (b) the Commies.


Naturally, liberals and conservatives disagree on economics as well.

The conservative view is that we should strengthen the value of the nation by making sturdy businesses, institutions and sources of wealth; the liberal view is that we should take what wealth we have, and make it more equitably distributed. To a conservative, this is silly: when money reaches the consumer, it's going to go to consumer products, not get re-injected into the heart of industry and institutions where it can be re-invested and used to make more wealth.

For the same reason, conservatives believe in "small government" that may have big bills. The idea is that concentrating wealth in the hands of government lets it re-invest; spending the money on salaries, or giving it out through welfare, stops the money from circulating as quickly as it needs to, and ends up profiting the small merchants who re-sell items produced elsewhere. When conservatives talk about small government, they mean:

  • Few government employees and only crucial employees.

  • It may move lots of money through the economy, but it does so in ways that produces more money, like R&D or stimulus, not welfare.

  • Fewer government agencies with less mission creep.

  • Less of a government hierarchy, and more independent and powerful lawmakers who get things done without hiding behind layers of bureaucracy.

  • Fewer laws, less paperwork, less focus on exceptions and more on a workable system.

  • End government mission creep: it's not here to train us in morality, how to brush our teeth, not to smoke, etc. It's here to provide a stable place for us to live.

This upsets liberals, who note that conservatives spend a lot of money through the military and in stimulus to industry. Yes, conservatives say -- because giving money to the military, and through it to heavy industry, or to industry itself, strengthens the infrastructure that produces wealth for all of society. Give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach him to fish, feed him for a lifetime. Even better, set up a giant corporate pond and have them employ guys like him to fish all day, and you have a "trickle down" effect that benefits the economy as a whole, and through that, each person. But there's a catch: it benefits each person according to their role in the society. Janitors get less than CEOs. The left, which is driven by individualism and thus demands equality (because every individual will want an equal share of the pie, unless they already have a bigger share), finds that offensive. They'd rather give $100 to the Janitor and CEO alike, but a conservative will point out that this money will go to the grocery stores, liquor stores and gas stations -- not to the farmers, manufacturers and oil prospectors. No new wealth is created with that re-distribution of cash.

As a result of this split in perspective, conservatives believe in a high-margin society -- where profits are huge, but costs are low -- and liberals believe in a low-margin society. In a conservative society, taxes are low and so when people sell products, they take away a huge profit that they can then re-invest. In liberal societies, taxes are high and there are numerous regulations plus welfare, so products are expensive and margins are slim, but there's plenty of money floating around, being distributed through the welfare state and the benefits it gives its citizens. Ultimately, the conservative view keeps money moving faster, and so the economy can adapt more rapidly -- but it will also run into problems when there are periodic recessions.


Although above we've discussed the values systems of conservatives versus liberals, I think there's an even more basic psychology: liberals are externalized, where conservatives are internalized.

If you are externalized, you need external affirmation in order to feel good about life. I have done x, and other people like it, or it generates money.

If you are internalized, you do not need external affirmation; as a result, all you require from the external is that stability exists, and you do not want it to intrude on what you're doing in the way an externalized person needs it to. You know your values, and if you trust those, you don't need them confirmed by others. Especially if you are, as David Brooks writes above, a naturalist -- your values are derived from adaptation to the external, and so you don't need the external to be converted into an affirmation/punishment structure. You know what works and what doesn't, and don't need your reality filtered through social pressures.

People who rely on external affirmation tend to adopt surrogates. As they come to depend on this affirmation, they soon adopt "sure things" -- ways to create this affirmation and experience it on a day to day basis. For most, these are easily acknowledged social goods: helping the poor, furthering equality, educating the downtrodden, or even buying things. This produces a society of the insincere who are as a result good manipulators of image -- poseurs, hipsters, scenesters, marketers, advertisers, politicians, liars of all stripes.

If you want to know why conservatives and liberals differ, it's this: a conservative psychology needs nothing from society but physical function, and keeps society out of your head and as a result, keeps shallow manipulators away. This is why in many ways, conservatism is far more "anarchic" -- requiring no social oversight -- than even the anarchists, who tend toward a liberal basis for their thoughts.

The ultimate extreme of such conservatism is self-actualization, or acceptance of one's role in the larger physical order of nature. A self-actualized person is aware of and accepts her limitations and strengths; as a result, she has pride without being pretentious or arrogant where her abilities are exceptional, and has humility where it is demanded by recognizing the limits of her abilities. In a group of fully self-actualized people, there comes a transcendence of the demands of the ego -- I must be just as good as everyone else! -- and a recognition instead that power/wealth should go to those with ability, so that they can provide good leadership, so that we all get a stable and prosperous society with trickle-down wealth.

Schopenhauer believed that a person inherited level of intellect through one's mother, and personal character through one's father..[39] Schopenhauer quotes Horace's saying, "From the brave and good are the brave descended" (Odes, iv, 4, 29) and Shakespeare's line from Cymbeline, "Cowards father cowards, and base things sire base" (IV, 2) to reinforce his hereditarian argument.[40] On the question of eugenics, Schopenhauer wrote:

With our knowledge of the complete unalterability both of character and of mental faculties, we are led to the view that a real and thorough improvement of the human race might be reached not so much from outside as from within, not so much by theory and instruction as rather by the path of generation. Plato had something of the kind in mind when, in the fifth book of his Republic, he explained his plan for increasing and improving his warrior caste. If we could castrate all scoundrels and stick all stupid geese in a convent, and give men of noble character a whole harem, and procure men, and indeed thorough men, for all girls of intellect and understanding, then a generation would soon arise which would produce a better age than that of Pericles.[41]

In another context, Schopenhauer reiterated his antidemocratic-eugenic thesis: "If you want Utopian plans, I would say: the only solution to the problem is the despotism of the wise and noble members of a genuine aristocracy, a genuine nobility, achieved by mating the most magnanimous men with the cleverest and most gifted women. This proposal constitutes my Utopia and my Platonic Republic".[42] Analysts (e.g., Keith Ansell-Pearson) have suggested that Schopenhauer's advocacy of anti-egalitarianism and eugenics influenced the neo-aristocratic philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, who initially considered Schopenhauer his mentor. - Wikipedia

A society at this far level of actualization occurs at two times, I'd wager. The first is the founding of a civilization. As happened in Africa 200,000 years ago, a small group breaks away from the rest and forges toward a less hospitable climate -- purely to escape social pressures, and the tendency of Crowds to find anyone with a divergent and functional idea (non-functional ideas are non-threatening) and then brand them a Witch Doctor and kill them -- so that a group can found a new civilization. As in a military unit, all members of that sub-tribe must be realistic about their abilities and step aside when they are not the right tool -- means to an end -- for the job.

The second time occurs when a civilization has been in decline for a long time, and the remaining people who are not on welfare or bureaucrats look at each other and realize: if we don't stop these Crowdists, they will consume everything we have, destroy us, and in doing so, destroy the useful remnants of a society. These people may have read history and become aware that in the ruins of a great society, one finds dumb corrupt people who are better than average at using language to convince others, making music and socializing. The marketers took over, there. When the recognition that Crowdism is death and that it doesn't stop until it encounters force makes its way into the middle classes of a moribund regime, they either band together and depose the Crowd, or perish at its liberal hands.