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periodic commentary and analysis on news items from a worldview perspective
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 previous issue                      issue #70  posted 1/31/2022,  updated 2/13/2022                   archive of all  issues 

Conservatives, Conscientiousness and Chaos

in the news: Newly published research from Duke University suggests "It's not conservatives in general who tend to promote false information, but rather a smaller subset of them who also share two psychological traits: low levels of conscientiousness and an appetite for chaos." Likewise a January 18 article summarizing the results of a team coordinated by Johannes Gutenberg University (JGU) in Mainz, Germany, links a "conspiracy mentality" to "extreme political ideologies"--especially "supporters of the far-right” and those "with a lower level of education.” The study, based on 100,000 responses in twenty-six countries to surveys, found “a greater inclination to adopt a conspiracy mentality among those who vote for opposition parties because they feel they have been deprived of their personal influence and consider they have little social impact.”

commentary and analysis: by Stephen P. Cook, founder and managing director, project Worldview: The Duke researchers define conscientiousness as “the tendency to regulate one’s own behavior by being less impulsive and more orderly, diligent and prudent.” For me, the context in which the word appears recalls the 1964 USA presidential election campaign and Republican candidate Barry Goldwater's book: The Conscience of a Conservative. There he wrote, the conservative "knows that the utmost vigilance and care are required to keep political power within its proper bounds." 

One suspects Goldwater would not have approved of the January 6 2021 insurrection at the US Capitol, nor with Republican attempts in seven states to replace legitimate slates of electors (pledged to Joe Biden given his greater number of votes in the 2020 election) with illegitimate slates pledged to Donald Trump? Given his oath as a US Senator to uphold the US Constitution, and law and order based on it, I bet Goldwater would have recognized both of these activities, that many who call themselves conservatives participated in, as exceeding the "proper bounds" that the cherished document establishes? Many would say that elected officials who pledged in an oath to uphold the Constitution but nonetheless support those activities are, at bare minimum, not acting as good stewards of what this document represents. Many would go beyond that and say such folks are--like bomb-throwers or anarchists of old--recklessly promoting chaos.  

Were I to attempt to define Goldwater's worldview, I would consider using Project Worldview's "Conscientious, Efficient, Stewardship" (#102A) worldview theme in this effort.. Its description begins, "I try to do what is right or fair. I try to meet work obligations and other duties carefully, thoroughly, and efficiently —minimizing wasted materials, energy, money, time or effort—and taking responsibilities / commitments to others seriously. I anticipate and plan for emergencies. If entrusted with managing what someone cares about, I’m a good steward.

I have just finished an effort to characterize the worldview of former US President Lyndon B. Johnson, Goldwater's victorious opponent in that election, based on the man as portrayed in the definitive four-volume biography of him by Robert A. Caro. Its volume 2, largely about Johnson's stealing the 1948 closely contested Democratic primary election for US Senator from Texas, has convinced me to use the "Spreading Disinformation / Tactical Deception" (worldview theme #4) in characterizing Johnson. 

Johnson's chief opponent in that election was former Governor of Texas Coke Stevenson, who, though a Democrat, prided himself in being a conservative. Stevenson described such folks by saying, "A conservative--he's one who holds things together. He shouldn't fight all progressive movements, but should be the balance wheel to hold the movement to where it won't get out of hand." Certainly a conservative is not, I bet Stevenson would agree, someone who promotes chaos or disinformation / knowingly false conspiracy theories, such as QAnon nonsense. Conservatives have long been associated with promoting stability not chaos--think Britain's Edmund Burke's 1790s book Reflections on the Revolution in France.  Their preference for "Hierarchical Rigidity" (theme #203A)  and "Valuing Traditions / Status Quo (theme #34) in two of Project Worldview's fifty-two choices in the Choices We Make framework, choice # 27 and choice #31, is certainly clear.  Likewise, with valuing of law and order, reason, and real facts over chaos, "alternative facts" and magical thinking, they prefer (in choice #7) the "Orderly & Explicable" (#6A) theme over "Magic" (theme #7B) and (in choice #15) "Conscientious, Efficient, Stewardship"  over "Easy-going, Disorderly, Cavalier." 

What it means to be a conservative or a liberal has evolved over the last three centuries. I am disturbed that, as this research suggests, many who today call themselves "conservatives" have "low levels of conscientiousness," an "appetite for chaos" and increasingly both spread false information and embrace "Conspiracies" (worldview theme #36B).Given its long ago roots--and more recent (1960s and 1970s) Republican role in spurring the conservation movement and establishing the US Environmental Protection Agency--seems it would make more sense that conservative worldviews would broaden to include other themes. Besides holding on to the more traditional ones noted above, to me it makes sense that they would increasingly embrace "Sustainability" (theme #23A) and "Respect for Nature" (theme #104B)--and turn their backs on the chaos associated with lawless anything goes and mindless destruction. I bet my environmental activist friend who thinks of herself as "an Eisenhower Republican" agrees! 

Notes / update: After the above was posted, as National Archive officials retrieved fifteen boxes of documents Trump had illegally transported to his Florida estate, news broke that emphasized just how poor of a steward Donald Trump was of official documents associated with his presidency. As reported by New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman, White House staff periodically found pieces of paper clogging a toilet, from which they concluded he'd attempted to flush documents he'd ripped up. With respect to choice #15, not only does Trump fail as a "Conscientious, Efficient, Steward,"  but to just characterize the above behavior as "Easy-going, Disorderly, Cavalier" misses the point: In making a mockery of the need to preserve documents related to the highest level of America's government, Trump provides more evidence bolstering the case that his "anything goes" / attitude promotes chaos. Indeed, the world is full of restraining lines that if everyone crosses them society totally breaks down. 

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