The Difference Between The Liberal And Conservative Mind?

From Education And Its Discontents

About three years ago, a scientific study was undertaken to examine some of the differences between the conservative and the liberal mind. One of the conclusions emerging from the study was that liberal people tend to be able to handle ambiguity and nuance better than conservative people, processing new information that might challenge some of their beliefs, incorporating that information and even altering their thinking on a subject as a result. Conservative minds, on the other hand, tend to adhere to beliefs and convictions despite evidence that call them into question.

From what I can gather from the postings, I’m not sure this test demonstrates what the authors of both the study and the articles assume.


Conservatives have a longer (lower) time preference. (This is why they are happier than liberals, and tend to be wealthier.)

Because they have a longer time preference:

  1. They are less likely to attempt to ‘serve or satisfy’ the immediate requests of others: lower empathy, longer (lower) time preference, greater pattern reliance (tendency to see the world through natural law.)
  2. They are more likely to try to identify patterns and begin acting in anticipation, rather than simply reacting.
  3. Unless we know the male-female ratio and ages, we don’t know if this test is simply an empathy or dominance test.

The same test would need to be run with time preference survey questions, and the male-female statistics would have to be included.

The more interesting question is, why liberals — people with shorter (higher) time preference, and greater empathy — tend to be less happy and less successful in life?

The reason conservatives are change resistant, is because:

a) they are inter-temporally pattern sensitive they are very reliant on forecasting, and significant pattern changes mean high cost of reorganizing patterns.

b) In natural law, and in Greek philosophy, and in the western mythic narrative, human HUBRIS is the primary warning. ie: they are skeptical.

c) Government is the repository of a great deal of power, and the most dangerous human hubris, and is most susceptible to the fashionable short term sentiments of human beings.

d) Conservatism, because it is the repository of the militial and commercial sentiments in western civilization is meritocratic in the sense that they accept established rules, and will operate within them, and see others who do not make the sacrifice of operating by the same rules, and in particular, those who use the artifice of government to circumvent ‘the rules of the game’, as either immoral or thieves or both.

This is a different strategy from charity. Redistribution and charity are conservative sentiments, but they allow conservatives to ‘fund’ instances of charity that have ‘good’ behaviors, most of which are extending time preference. They see people who use government to forcibly redistribute without requiring extending time preference, as either profiting from corruption, theft of the fruits of their effort for personal political gain, or simply a moral corruptoin of society that shortens time preferences. Understanding the conservatives sentiment requires understanding that conservatives KNOW that they passed on many opportunities for self satisfaction.

To a large degree, conservatives do not disfavor redistribution. They disfavor the means and uses of redistribution favored by people with shorter, higher time preferences, because they see it as theft of their sacrifices.

And not all people who vote conservatively have longer time preferences. There are plenty of people in the financial sector who are not conservative, just voting with conservatives to exploit the monetary opportunity of doing so. The fact that they take advantage of conservative policies does not mean that they are either conservative or have a longer time preferences. It simply means the are voting for longer time preference in order to exploit the opportunity for a shorter time preference. In effect, this is fraudulent behavior and one of the problems with democracy itself.

The country is center-right (conservative leaning) and will always be so. This is for demographic reasons that have largely to do with the dominant class and culture of the people who occupy that particular geography.

Structurally, conservatives have opposed both good and bad change. The impact of women, catholic, and Jewish votes, as well as the rapid third world immigration did accomplish exactly what they stated it would do. Whether that is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is a matter of economics and preference. The conservative sentiment is to resist change until they see risk abandoned, then to adopt the new state of affairs as the ‘conservative’ position.

To a conservative who sees the rules established by the constitution (a classical liberal) or a conservative who adheres to the western tradition (a conservative) or a religious conservative, or a small business owner or craftsman (an economic conservative), or an investor (a financial conservative)the threat to the established political order, to which they feel they have made sacrifices and taken risks, these political ‘innovations’ are not ‘goods’. They are ‘bads’.

Because of the two party system, there are conservatives in both parties. People tend to be conservative or liberal on different issues. They self identify as liberal or conservative, for a set of reasons. And left-right political nonsense is almost always meaningless, because all elections are decided by a fractional portion the independents in the middle. The change in US voting patterns is almost entirely to the rise in young single mothers, immigrants and breeding rates of different social classes. Independents and conservatives are in roughly equal proportion, making up over eighty percent of the population. With liberals making up less than twenty. Despite our desire to the contrary, political sentiment is NOT rational: it is inherited from one’s parents, and is largely a function of class, history and occupation.

Given the interpretation of this questionably meaningful study, it’s easy to see that this is another example of why conservatives believe that hubris is alive and well. 🙂


  • Time preference is the tendency to seek shorter or longer outcomes. In the literature short time preference is called ‘High’ and long time preference is called ‘Low’, because at the time when economists were inventing Marginalism, they thought about satisfying preferences marginally, by stacking people’s preferences. in the ‘stack of preferences held by the individual’, something could be described as higher in the list or lower in the list.
  • Because time passage increases complexity logarithmically, long time preference must rely on what cannot be observed directly – general rules and principles using historical allegory.
  • In general terms, Long time preference is a FORECASTING method of human interaction, not a SATISFACTION method of human interaction.
  • Time preferences are incommensurable. Or more simply, long waves and short waves don’t allow us to think both short and long term very well. Planning by combining long and short time frames is either difficult or impossible.
  • Different social classes have different time preferences. Since longer time preferences require greater complexity, and complex goods are of greater scarcity, then classes are divided by those with higher mean IQ’s, longer time preferences, and who engage in production involving and affecting a larger number of people, over longer periods of time.
  • Since it must rely upon what cannot be observed correctly it often appears less EMPATHIC and EGALITARIAN. When in fact, it is the difference between having a priority for short term or long term satisfaction. We would not successfully raise children if women were not empathic and sensitive to cues from children. Children cannot survive a mother who does not feel the need to satisfy them. Conversely, tribes would not survive if the males were not working on the problem of whether the local territory could continue to support them.
  • In large part, the division of labor increases production. The division of knowledge increases production. And since different outcomes take different amount of time, and some outcomes take a very long time, and since planning becomes very difficult for human minds when we mix a large number of time frames, humans participate in a vast division of TIME, with some producing short term goods and some long term goods, and together we tend to specialize.
  • The shorter time preference strategy is to accumulate small successes at low cost and to navigate to a satisfactory end. The longer time preference strategy is to forgo short term satisfaction in order to accomplish a long term end. This is why conservative societies survive longer: they are capable of surviving duress without loss of social cohesion.
  • Urbanites and Ruralas have different time preferences, largely because there are more opportunities for inexpensive gain when people are in more dense population. This is why cities are inseparable from markets. A city is market, otherwise it would not be a city. Each would not survive in the others environment.

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