I had opportunity today to witness again an example of one of my original (I think) observations. When conservatives or libertarians go paranoid, they tend to hole up and get defensive, arming themselves and daring whatever authorities they have run afoul of to come after them. They don't seem to go out after the people they are angry at. It's the liberals who go paranoid who tend to go out after people. Eco-warriors, antiglobalists, people vandalising (or even bombing) offices and headquarters, protestors that turn violent - these tend to come off the left.
Side note: this tends to get obscured because when there is any ambiguity the press reports it as they see it, which is slanted. Jared Loughner was liberal in his politics and never saw Sarah Palin's website (which did not have Gabrielle Giffords in the crosshairs anyway). But Giffords was left, and therefore Loughner must be right. Timothy McVeigh was clearly more attuned to extremist right-wing rhetoric, but his writings record a lot of liberal ideas about universal healthcare and anti-wealth culture as well. See also Columbine and other school shootings. The targets are often against the right, but somehow those aspects get downplayed. See also Lee Harvey Oswald.
Back to the main topic: today's paranoid was more liberal - insofar as any structured belief system could be imposed on the confusion - and more aggressive in intent. I never thought about how that develops. Do people who are defensive in their paranoia gradually work their way over to the right, regardless of where they started politically? Or do conservative ideas call forth a defensive rather than offensive paranoia?
There are folks out there studying whether our politics are built into our genes. I have only followed this at a distance, reading some of the summaries without digging down too far. I have disliked the attempts to define liberal and conservative, as they seem to be shifting sands. I keep reading the descriptions and thinking "I dunno. Not untrue, perhaps, but not the way the conservatives I know would describe themselves. This sounds more like what liberals who are trying really, really hard to be objective think describes conservatives." It is somewhat different to ask people whether they themselves think they are liberal, moderate, conservative, or something else, then measure their shoe sizes or favorite flavors and see what jumps out of the data.
Update: I forgot to include this study on brain-scans the first time.
But I think I have another divide, a negative measure. If you look at what makes for a career-destroying write-off, among liberals it is holding, or at least expressing, an incorrect idea. If you have the right ideals, if your "heart is in the right place," then any number of personal failings are unimportant. Among conservatives the personal failings are the bigger career-destroyer.
So I wonder, which is the cart and which is the horse? If one believes deeply that the ideals are the thing, and lying is only a little regrettable (just human nature) if it's in a good cause, do you just end up on the left, discarding some ideas to come into line with one's fellows? Or, if one believes that being honest is near the top of the list, and any number of screwups and bad plans (just human nature) can be tolerated, does one slowly drift rightward?
I tack this next part on because it is related to the topic that we don't necessarily change our views for logical reasons. In fact, if you read most online comments sections from general sources, such as major news outlets and popular sites, nothing will strike you more powerfully than the impression that most people are not merely wrong, but likely unable to ever fix that. Even the ones who agree with your positions are an embarrassment. And they cannot be the dumbest people in the country, because they can at least operate a computer, type, spell, and string together sentences. The very worst can't meet that standard. Also, the periodic surveys which reveal that college students cannot identify who won the Civil War, or pass other general-knowledge quizzes provide further evidence that a whole lot of people - most of the country, in fact - is not capable of much beyond some very elementary reasoning. So in any discussion where the arguments get complicated, we have to conclude that most people are on the side they are on for somewhat bad reasons - even if they are right.
In 1994, gay marriage was not even on the radar, not only among conservatives and religious people, not only among mainstream Democrats, but even among most of the farther left in those days, the issue seldom came up, and nearly everyone rejected it. Even in Europe. Now, it might be a correct idea - a discussion for another day - but there is no way that it isn't a new idea. And taking the paragraph before this one into consideration, there is no way that the country has changed its mind because they were logically persuaded of its rightness. We were advertised and socially pressured into it. (One could as easily maintain that those who did not change kept their previous ideas for similarly illogical reasons. That's not quite the same thing, but it's close enough to hold for the present argument.) We are now at a point that those who oppose the idea of gay marriage are described as unthinkably mean and bigoted, and it's just obvious to any thinking person - even though nearly everyone fit that description twenty years ago.
So I wonder about a third divide, one I have mentioned before, of adopting ideas because they are popular rather than because they are true. That comes down to how we define "popular," or what group we want to be popular with, perhaps. And do we choose that group unconsciously for personality reasons, and then adopt their coloration?