There are distinct differences between conservatives and liberals. Most of the behavioral differences seem to be philosophical in origin. The causes of particular behavioral traits can only be speculated. Parenting, environment, emotional life events and perhaps even the organization of the brain can all be contributors in the differences between liberals and conservatives.
As neurology relates to behavior U.C.L.A. has provided some evidence resulting from studies using magnetic resonance imaging, in conjunction with imaging, to observe levels of emotional response in subjects. From a New York Times Magazine article, 2007:
" our most compassionate (or even cowardly) feelings are as much a product of the brain as ''rational choice'' economic theory is. They just emanate from a different part of the brain -- most notably, the amygdala, the almond-shaped body that lies below the neocortex, in an older brain region sometimes called the limbic system. Studies of stroke victims, as well as scans of normal brains, have persuasively shown that the amygdala plays a key role in the creation of emotions like fear or empathy. . . . as The Times reported not long ago, a team of U.C.L.A. researchers analyzed the neural activity of Republicans and Democrats as they viewed a series of images from campaign ads. And the early data suggested that the most salient predictor of a ''Democrat brain'' was amygdala activity responding to certain images of violence: either the Bush ads that featured shots of a smoldering ground zero or the famous ''Daisy'' ad from Lyndon B. Johnson's 1964 campaign that ends with a mushroom cloud. Such brain activity indicates a kind of gut response, operating below the level of conscious control.”
That the amygdala reacts with greater compassion and fear in those identifying themselves as liberals makes some sense when considering liberals are known to be concerned with elements of society that may harm the vulnerable. In addition to empathy, fear of those elements can create a healthy drive to change the harmful. In this editorial I will focus only on the evident philosophical differences that can almost predict the behavior that would arise from these two frequently opposing and distinct personality traits.
Conservatives and liberals have a lot in common. Both hold family of great importance. Both have faith. Both are patriotic and want what they feel is best for their country. Both see hypocrisy in much of the actions of the other. Both feel the other is morally corrupt and each blames the other for what is wrong in society. Many liberals and conservatives accept as literal fact what they are told is true, often due to biased and selective news presentations on both sides helping to cement dichotomous views of the world. Both tend to exaggerate numbers in their favor. Both experience righteous indignation and can be zealot on an issue.
A conservative tendency is to value one's self, more so than he or she values others. On reflection at end one’s life, a liberal will be most satisfied or not, with the way that he has treated others and his family in his life time, the good that he has done for other people. A conservative will be most satisfied, or not, with what he has done for himself and his family in his lifetime.
A conservative wears rose colored glasses to see the past, forgetting the negatives and imagining a past society of Norman Rockwell appearance, of traditional conservative values where Donna Reed is a good housewife and Marcus Welby is the family doctor, where kids are good and wars winnable, and centralized government plays a minor role in the order of society. A liberal is likely to view the past with red flags that remind of poverty, sickness, inequality, and businesses run amok without regulation or labor laws.
A conservative is less likely to have an open mind when facing something new or something changing when preconceived judgments take priority over critical thinking and general intellectual curiosity. A good example of this is the David comparison. Suppose a liberal and a conservative are viewing Michael Angelo’s statue of David at the same time. The liberal is more likely to be impressed and intellectually satisfied with the nearly perfect depiction of the male human body. Quickly drawing on past lessons of shame and humility the conservative is instantly embarrassed at the full nudity before his eyes and would chose to hide David from the eyes of children.
Their differing views on entitlement programs such as food stamps are stark. A conservative will say “teach a man to catch fish and he'll fish for a life time. Give a man fish and he'll never learn to fish on his own.” While a liberal would say “teach a man to fish, but show him where the fish are and give him fish when he is without.”
Conservatives believe in “trickle down economics,” the socio economic hypothesis that tax breaks for the few wealthy will cause unselfish generous spending that will fall upon the many poor and provide jobs and happiness. Whereas a liberal subscribes to “a rising tide lifts all boats.” That providing more economic advantages (lower taxation) for the less affluent citizens benefits all – lifting all boats. This redistribution of wealth is a major point of contention between conservatives and liberals. The conservative believes that a wealthy person deserves every dime they have. Where the liberal sees that the poor have to spend every dime they have to survive.
There are foreign policy differences. While both sides exhibit patriotic behavior the conservative position in the world is jingoistic, arrogant, and proud and the good ole’ U.S. of A can do no wrong. Extravagant spending on the military is unquestioned and given priority in every budget. We have a spiritual manifest destiny guiding our place in the world because God has blessed our country above others less well-off then we are. When we act militarily we were right to do so. The U.N. is a socialist plot toward one world government. Immigrants take our jobs and are changing our way of life and we should close the borders completely. The liberal takes a more humility garnished pathway to foreign policy, realizing that we are one of many nations, one no more deserving than the other. Though a liberal is not shy about funding the military, a liberal leader is more likely to dispatch our military to end suffering such as genocide, starvation, or to keep peace. A liberal sees the U.N. as what it is intended to be, a peace orientated democratic body providing a neutral ground for nations of the Earth to settle differences.
Conservatives and liberals have distinctly differing views of what is justice and how it is hindered or progressed. Liberals speak for the weak and oppressed and want change and justice, even at risk of chaos. Conservatives speak for institutions and traditions and want order even at cost to those at the bottom. A liberal would be more likely than a conservative to come to the defense of the prosecuted or incarcerated. A liberal might argue that the founders of the United States wanted to place great emphasis on protecting the innocent from the tyranny of bad criminal justice, including unlawful incarceration. Conservatives continue to place greater importance on prosecution and increased incarceration than on the defense of the prosecuted.
Of course there are large and many governmental differences between the two dichotomous and alike thinking groups. Many conservatives will claim to be in favor of smaller governmental size and less governmental control over society to promote liberty and the general welfare. Some conservatives go so far to suggest that the government should only be in charge of the defense of the nation. While a liberal would more likely be more optimistic about the abilities of the people through government to promote liberty and the general welfare by a necessary and lawful amount of intervention into society.
Do liberals and conservatives need each other like night needs day, like ying needs yang? Just like a force needs an opposing force to define it’s properties, liberals and conservatives need each other to define each other when each is judging and evaluating the other.