Sunday, February 22, 2015

Conservatism as a Disposition

"A conservative is someone who stands athwart history yelling Stop."
--William F. Buckley

I'm really not writing today about politics in this entry, but feel free to make a political interpretation if you like. What I'd like to take some time to explain is how the conservative temperament operates, and maybe from there you can see how that leads to a political disposition. It runs something like this: some folks are not comfortable with change. Some of this discomfort is based on fear or mistrust, true; however, some resist change because the lifestyle, rules, or processes they grew up with work, or they have experienced negative consequences from making sudden or unplanned change.

A conservative seeks stability and comfort. Going with the flow--i.e., the rules received from parents, grandparents, ancestors, etc.--is the path of most comfort and least resistance. Said conservative accepts the guidelines laid down before they were born with the assumption that a) authority figures know what they're doing or b) there had to be good reasons for why the rules exist. The more inquiring will ask why things are the way they are. If living with the rules becomes more problematic than not doing so, then they'll consider changing their behavior or the rules.

I had a friend in high school who had no interest in traveling more than five miles from our home town. Moving beyond the Western Suburbs of Chicago was just not something that made her comfortable. Perhaps that's an extreme example, but I'm certain she was not unusual.

When people in the West lived in villages in ancient and medieval times, aside from occasional raids by bandits or neighboring countries, they accepted that the ebb and flow of life was more or less static and cyclical. The disruptive influences of the Renaissance were merchants, who dared to challenge the wealth of the Crown and the authority of the Church. Merchants--budding capitalists--believed that the world could be improved and changed, that people could become wealthier, wiser, and more knowledgeable than their ancestors. The Crown and the Church pushed back, but change happened anyway. And while Western Civilization faced several setbacks--the Napoleonic Wars, World War I, and World War II--that philosophy of affluence, scientific inquiry, and technological advance has continued up to the present.

Some people are still not comfortable with all this change. One typical conservative sentiment is, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." That could apply to anything from manners to business processes to technology. In fact, I butted heads with a gung-ho fellow cast member when I worked at Disney because she was trying to push through a bunch of changes to how our department was conducting business. I finally had to draw her aside and say, "Look, I know you have a lot of great ideas, but you have to understand that not everyone wants to change. You need to provide them reasons for why they should do things your way."

Conservatives--again, speaking of people with a conservative temperament, not necessarily a conservative political affiliation--are not just anti-change or pro-comfort to be difficult or selfish. There are times when change IS disruptive and DOES have harmful side-effects. There are financial, personal, and resource costs to change. Example: "Hey, why don't you move to Washington, DC? You'll make more money. You'll be closer to me, and others." I hear this one occasionally. However, I moved there before and didn't like it. I didn't fit in with the "political" culture, as I found it focused on manipulating and gaining power over others--I'm not interested in either. That's a social and personal cost. My bills were much higher in DC/Northern Virginia, and I don't have a bunch of money to pay for another move. Those are financial costs. I could put myself into further debt or I could stay where I am in Orlando, warm and happy. Or there's my pal who suggested we run in the Disney Half-Marathon next year. Could I do that? Possibly. Might I get into better shape? Probably, but will there be costs? Yes: the entry fee, for one. But more importantly there would be a physical cost to me because I have bad knees.

If there's one mistake that people who have a more change-oriented disposition make when dealing with personal conservatives, it's their dismissal of the real costs of change, whatever they might be. They always have an answer to any objection, assuming that the conservative wants to change but they just haven't thought through the details yet. Much like extroverts who think that introverts really want to go out and socialize in large groups, they just haven't been invited to the right group yet. Sorry, no. It doesn't work that way. Sometimes a conservative says no for a good reason. They have thought things through and have decided that the costs of some change in their life are not worth the advertised benefits. And if they don't say yes to a particular change, the result will turn out just fine.

1 comment:

lin said...

You make an excellent point. Everything has a cost, and considering the cost of a proposed change in terms of resources needed to effect it is prudent. Other important matters to consider are who benefits from the change, in what manner, and what other changes might result? Lastly, determining whether those who propose changes will benefit but not pay for them is both important and revealing.