Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Do conservatives "rationalize" inequality?

A study funded by the National Science Foundation says conservatives are happier than liberals — because they "rationalize" social and economic inequalities.
Regardless of marital status, income or church attendance, right-wing individuals reported greater life satisfaction and well-being than left-wingers, the new study found. Conservatives also scored highest on measures of rationalization, which gauge a person's tendency to justify, or explain away, inequalities. The rationalization measure included statements such as: "It is not really that big a problem if some people have more of a chance in life than others," and "This country would be better off if we worried less about how equal people are."

"Our research suggests that inequality takes a greater psychological toll on liberals than on conservatives," the researchers write in the June issue of the journal Psychological Science, "apparently because liberals lack ideological rationalizations that would help them frame inequality in a positive (or at least neutral) light."

The article's, or study's, ill-concealed antagonism toward conservatives (or as the reporter puts it, "individuals with conservative ideologies") might be summed up: conservatives are selfish, irrational people who pretend to believe in meritocracy ("in which people supposedly move up their economic status in society based on hard work and good performance") to justify their good luck or privilege. Liberals, however, look around, see inequality and weep for the sheer unfairness of it all, which gashes their hearts and makes them unhappy.

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That is how individuals with liberal ideologies view the world. Conservatives, if asked to explain their ideas rather than given prefabricated answers (e.g., "It is not really that big a problem if some people have more of a chance in life than others") might say something like the following.


Conservatives start from observing the world's realities, rather than demanding that the world live up to an impossible, Utopian vision. They recognize that all people are equal in God's sight, or should be under the law, but not in abilities or any number of other characteristics. A good society tries to maximize the possibilities for people to succeed in their chosen endeavors and to create equal opportunities for all — but that's as far as any society can and should go.

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Once past that point, a pseudo-equality can only be enforced by artifice and favoritism. It requires devaluing accomplishment and justifying its lack. Every inequality of outcome must be attributed to prejudice or unfairness. Under this system, everyone has a "right" to whatever they they think is their due,
and an endless round of grievance ensues.

Since by this definition all inequality is victimization, it follows that the full weight of the state must be brought to bear so the issue
comes out "right." Its authority must level out achievement, overlook incompetence and lower standards. As Melanie Phillips titled one of her books, "everyone must have prizes."

In the real world, not that of egalitarian fantasies, this parody of equality is never the real item. There are always those who rise to the top through some combination of ability, determination, luck, and ruthlessness. They may be called "comrade" or "Director of the Office of Racial and Gender Equality," but they are still the ones who have power over others' lives.

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It is a big deal if some people have more of a chance in life than others. But it is self-defeating, and opens the way to tyrannical control, to obsess over the fact of nature that not everyone will end up with equal wealth or power. Maybe that is not what we are on earth for and our souls have quite other purposes for being incarnated. Maybe conservatives tend to understand this to one degree or another. If they are happier, could that be a reason?

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8 comments:

David said...

Rick...I just linked this post at Chicago Boyz.

Shannon Love said...

I'm afraid this is part of an ongoing rationalization on the part of leftist to explain their failures. They are attempting to pathologize their political opposition making it appear that any opposition to them stems from mental defects.

Anonymous said...

The "failures" of the Left? like a balanced budget and trying to make things bettyer for the nation and its citizens rather than smugly settling for What Is-[-the worst p[resident we have had in our history and an endless war that goes nowhere and a housing debacle?

Conservatives tend to be happy because they accept what is; liberals, not so happy because they have a vision of what might be and strive for it...take your choice.

David said...

anon..."Conservatives tend to be happy because they accept what is; liberals, not so happy because they have a vision of what might be"...that would explain why conservatives are so attached to the current public school system, and liberals are eager to make major structural changes in it?

(snark mode OFF)

In actuality, I think many "progressives" look to politics for the meaning they lack in their own lives.

Anonymous said...

I always kinda assumed it was that conservatives tend to see how far we've come and how much we've got; progressives tend to see how far we could still go and how much more we could have.

In that way, conservatives are the "half-full" crowd and the progressives the "half-empty" crowd, which explains the happiness of the two sides.

--Luke G.

Rick Darby said...

Luke G.,

Conservatives tend to doubt that history marches forward toward inevitable progress, and believe that the direction of change can just as easily flow "backward" toward less individual freedom and social well-being. So it is not an issue of "how far" we've come but of "is this the way we want to be moving?"

Conservatives come in many varieties, of course. But most of us do not feel that ever-increasing government intervention in daily life, and a population that looks more and more toward government to solve its problems, represents progress in any true sense.

Government can be more powerful than private individuals, but it is very rarely wiser. I continue to be mystified as to why so many people who have watched events for a few decades have a faith that no earthly good can be accomplished except via government intervention.

Maybe that isn't your position, but I think it's fair to say that most liberals and leftists see government as the answer to every problem. Conservatives recognize that governments have their own vested interests and government officials their own empires to build. They are no smarter, no more selfless than anyone else. They are certainly incapable of making everyone equal, and can only create an illusion of equality through coercion. Is that the "how much more we could have" that you want?

-J said...

'...governments have their own vested interests and government officials their own empires to build. They are no smarter, no more selfless than anyone else. They are certainly incapable of making everyone equal, and can only create an illusion of equality through coercion."

Concur entirely, and would add Lord Acton's famous observation, "Power corrupts...absolute power corrupts absolutely." Just look around.

leadpb said...

Regarding government, one can go further and say that liberal activists have used its various branches as an effective weapon against ensconced powers and traditional society. Since the ideological aspirations of modern liberalism to a large extent cannot be realized in the normal course of civic progress-- folks tend to shy away from utopianism-- this utilization of the power of government was perhaps inevitable. In fact it could be argued that the public's distinguishing between the civic and governmental spheres has become alarmingly vague. The result seems to be less happiness all around.