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Why Racist People Tend to Be Conservative

Tribal evolution explains how we're divided along party lines, according to the new book "Our Political Nature."
 
 
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Photo Credit: Prometheus Books

 
 
 
 

The following are excerpts from the new book Our Political Nature; The Evolutionary Origins of What Divides Us, by Avi Tuschman ( Prometheus Books, 2013): 

In relation to the political spectrum, tribalism breaks down into three components: (1) ethnocentricity, (2) religiosity, and (3) sexual (in)tolerance. High measures of ethnocentricity, religiosity, and sexual intolerance are commonly associated with one another. Individuals with this cluster of traits tend to have political views on the right. On the other end of the spectrum, attraction to out-groups (xenophilia), secularism, and higher sexual tolerance are well correlated with one another and with political views on the left.

What, specifically, would be the objects of sexual intolerance? Any form of sexuality deemed less likely to contribute to normatively sanctioned reproduction, economic stability, and social harmony of a given in-group. Examples include nonreproductive sexuality (such as homosexuality), premarital sexual choices made by young people, and extramarital affairs.

What is the logic between these three components of tribalism? The more ethnocentric, religious, and sexually intolerant people are, the more likely they are to reproduce with a mate from their own in-group. Moreover, conservatives are more likely to emphasize group values, such as prioritizing the reproduction and defense of their ethnic group, over other possible competing interests (e.g., personal pleasure, and education or career choices made at the expense of family).

On the other hand, more xenophilic, secular, and sexually tolerant people are more likely to see equal (or even greater) value in out-groups, and to reproduce with them. Thus, liberals place relatively greater importance on individualism and less on in-group values.

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EthnocentrIsm vs. XenophIlIa

Glenn Beck has been called a leader of the ultraconservative opposition to President Obama, and a voice of the far-right Tea Party movement. During the depth of the Great Recession, in 2009, Beck was quickly rising to a position of national prominence, despite—and because of—his extremely controversial statements. In July 2009, for example, Beck declared: “Everything that is getting pushed through Congress” is “driven by President Obama’s thinking on . . . reparations [for slavery],” and is conceived of as a way to “settle old racial scores.” Beck also asserted that a “deep-seated hatred for white people” drives President Obama.

Examining Beck’s political psyche is a fruitful exercise because his bigger-than-life personality magnifies the traits that interest us on his end of the spectrum. But do Beck’s statements characterize a typical position of the Tea Party or of the far right in general?

In 2009, 2.8 million viewers tuned in to Beck’s television program. Moreover, Beck’s live shows and merchandise business have earned $35 million in a single year. Considering that Beck is essentially selling political ideas, it’s fair to say that his ideological orientation carries substantial currency among a particular segment of the US spectrum.

As interesting and as popular as Beck’s personality may be, he is still only one person in one country. What we really want to know is whether his ideas on race are meaningful and typical. Is it possible to objectively determine how much people’s views about race affect their left-right orientation? And are ethnocentrism and xenophilia  associated with the same segments of the political spectrum in all countries around the world?

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Ethnocentrism and the Right

In every country, the right is more ethnocentric than the left. Conservatives have more positive feelings toward members of their in-group and higher levels of patriotism toward their country. In the United States they are more likely than liberals to have a flag in their bedroom.  On the other side of the coin, the right is more xenophobic toward other countries and members of out-groups.

 
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