Thursday, February 14, 2008

Bethany's Thought

Bumped from a week ago, with an update: Philo of Alexandria discuss some evidence that Republicans are actually happier.

Commenter bs king over at her own blog, Fair Trade Certified, made an interesting observation last month, which has blown around in my head since. To oversimplify, when she is feeling upbeat and hopeful about the country, she leans Republican. When she feels less sanguine about the US of A, she leans Democrat. She opened this out to discussion, and her readers, at any rate, confirmed the observation.

I wanted you to know that I not only read these things but think about them, Bethany. I think your observation is true in an even deeper way than stated. It is not merely how people assess the republic’s chances at any given moment that leans them Republican or Democrat (or more precisely, conservative and progressive) but their overall cast of mind. My wager would be that even if things went brilliantly well over the next ten years, the same people who assessed things as worrisome now would assess them as worrisome in 2018 again. They would find other things to deplore or be anxious about, and would come to the same conclusion again.

I see an exception to this, hearkening back to my viewing everyone’s behavior as strongly influenced by their cultural tribe. If people feel their guys are in charge and running things, they will feel more optimistic about the future, choosing their objective evidence for their belief selectively. The poll question about whether folks believe the country is “on the right track” should come to mind here.

Even granting that motives are always varied and individual, what subterranean general motives would drive progressives to see the country as doing more poorly than conservatives see it, seeing that both are viewing the same landscape?

I've got my answer. What's yours? (For regular readers, what's mine?)

James Lileks has related comments today. An amusing and graceful writer.


David Foster said...

In his studies of decision-making, Prof Dietrich Doerner found that people under stress often tend to grab too much control. For example, in his simulation of forest-fire fighting, many of the players tended to micromanage the activities of the individual brigades, rather than allowing them autonomy to make rapid localized decisions.

It is common for CEOs (especially new CEOs) confronted with a failing business to centralize too much of the decision-making into their own hands. (Although sometimes the mistake is in the opposite direction, once things get really bad the reaction is typically to centralize.)

All of which is consistent with the idea that a person convinced that we as a nation were in deep trouble might tend instinctively to favor the Democrats with their top-down model of problem solving.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I like that answer better than mine.

Der Hahn said...

Maybe I'm just contrary but I figure that we can tolerate experimental Democrat leadership when things are going well, but need the steadier hand of traditionally Republican conservatism when things go south. (I readily admit those are pretty broad, almost facetious, generalizations.)

Are we still feeling the influence of FDR's personality cult in identifying Democrats with more ability to handle crisis? If you project your self back to 1908, wouldn't the party of Lincoln look like the place to turn when times are rough?

David Foster said...

I also think that managerial-style preferences are deeply affected by one's perception of the population involved. For example, British commanders in WWI were convinced that the huge volunteer and conscript armies were incapable of intellegent and courageous individual actions, and hence required them to walk into enemy fire rather than moving from cover to cover. The purely Tayorist approach to factory management (which may now be more common in customer service than in actual manufacturing) makes similar assumptions.

And I think the leadership of today's Democratic Party is deeply suspicious of the average American citizen.

Anonymous said...

The gist here, I believe, is the fundamental psychological reaction to uncertainty/fear - the impulse being to either fight or flee, the first one assertive and daunting (thus an emphasis on freedom/self-actualization)and the second one guarded and secure (collectivism/safety in numbers). So that, as extensions to polar ends of the political spectrum (rugged individualists/Randians vs. socialists/Trotskyists), most people fall somewhere in the middle - swaying between its two major parties depending on how confident or afraid they feel about the future.