Trait talk about issues

In psychology graduate school, I trained to identify personality traits, both functional and dysfunctional, that tend to cluster together in people. So now, as a TV talking head in the midst of a presidential election cycle, I can’t help but notice certain traits that seem to cluster together in our American candidates and their supporters. And here’s what I wonder:

Why is it that as soon as an American tells me she’s “pro-choice” when it comes to abortion, I can reliably conclude that she’s anti-choice when it comes to giving vouchers to poor people who’d like to send their kids to the best K-12 schools in their areas, regardless of whether the teachers in those schools are unionized?

Why is it that as soon as an American tells me he’s for curtailing law-abiding adult citizens’ rights to own and carry guns for home and personal defense, I can reliably conclude that he’s also for raising income taxes on high-earning citizens and redistributing their earnings to lower-earning citizens (and even to lower-earning non-citizens)?

Why is it that as soon as an American tells me she’s for giving amnesty and citizenship opportunities to people who’ve entered the United States illegally, I can reliably conclude that she’s against expanding domestic oil and gas production/transportation (e.g. a north-south transnational pipeline)?

And why is it that as soon as an American tells me he’s against adopting a tougher stance on Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, I can reliably conclude that he’s also against giving employers and insurers the freedom to contract for wages and benefits with minimal interference from government?

I’m speaking statistically of course, and I acknowledge that exceptions exist, but in general, I think that these positive and negative correlations between positions on seemingly-unrelated issues tend to be quite strong:

If you’re “pro-choice” on abortion, then you’re probably anti-school-choice, for gun-control, for wealth-redistribution, for giving amnesty/citizenship to illegal immigrants, against expanding domestic oil/gas production/transportation, against getting tough on Iran, and against broad freedom of contract in the employer/employee and insurer/insured relationships.

Similarly, if you’re pro-life, then you’re probably pro-school-choice, against gun-control, against wealth-redistribution, against rewarding illegal immigration, for expanding domestic oil/gas production/transportation, for getting tough on Iran, and for broad freedom of contract in the employer/employee and insurer/insured relationships.

I ask why these and many other correlations between candidates’ and voters’ positions on major political issues appear to be so strong, but actually, I think I know. I think that there are essentially two competing philosophies about how we Americans ought to live together, and that from these two divergent philosophies descend the two divergent patterns observed above (as well as our predominant two-party system). So what are these two philosophies?

Well, one philosophy emphasizes the collective over the individual, subordinates the individual to the collective as its means of optimizing the collective, encourages collective responsibility over personal responsibility, and eschews individual autonomy from the collective, even within the global community, minimizing the exceptionalism of our collective with respect to other collectives.

The other philosophy emphasizes the individual, promotes the optimization of the individual as its means of optimizing the collective, encourages personal responsibility (as well as personal generosity) over collective responsibility, and applauds individual autonomy from the collective, within both the national and global communities, recognizing a profound exceptionalism of our collective with respect to other collectives.

Which major party’s candidates and voters represent which of these philosophies? I’ll leave that to you to discern. But some Americans subscribe to neither philosophy consistently. What about them? They’re the self-described “moderates” or “independents” who sit back and say that both philosophies have merit or that they subscribe to one philosophy on “fiscal” issues and the other philosophy on “social” issues.

I tend to think, however, that “moderate” Americans really just haven’t done the intellectual work required to discern which of the two major philosophies is correct, insofar as one of them is profoundly more consistent than the other – across the board – with human nature and with the optimization of human potential, both individually and collectively (as has been illustrated consistently by history, here in America and elsewhere around the world). So which philosophy is it? Once again, I’ll leave that to you to discern.

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