Doctor Science Knows

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Conservation and Conservatism

Amanda posted about her recent visit with her family in Lubbock and the mind-set of modern conservatism -- as show in wedding planning, women doing housework while men sit around, and not believing in global warming. One of my comments was:

What is the connection between conservatism and short-term thinking?

Ethyl, I think you’ve got it backwards: young-Earth theology is attractive to conservatives because they’re already short-term thinkers, not the other way around.

I think the core of conservatism isn’t a philosophy, but an emotional attitude: a preference for the status quo. Don’t rock the boat, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, don’t change horses in mid-stream, the old ways are the good ways, give me that old-time religion.

But I don’t see why that attitude goes with short-term thinking, rather than the kind of long-term thinking traditionally called “prudence”. How did prudence become unconservative?

One commenter, Richard, also noted:
the corporate mentality that puts short term thoughts and profits over every other consideration in the business world. THAT mentality permeates all the discussions of global warming: “Why, if we do what you say, we would have to invest all this money in processes, equipment, whatever and our profits would go down.” It’s the penny-wise pound foolish attitude that causes firms to not invest in new equipment or preventive maintenance until it is too late.

Meanwhile, slacktivist had a discussion of the price evangelicalism pays for its bargain with the Republican Party. One commenter (Scott, our pet Libertarian not-quite-troll) deprecated environmentalism by saying
the green tree does have red roots after all

I replied:

Piffle. The root of the green tree is essentially *conservative*, but in an emotional rather than political sense. That is, it's the desire to keep things from changing -- that's why "conservation" and "conservative" are so similar linguistically, though they're the opposite in current American politics.

Speaking as a scientist and an historian of science who saw this develop over the last several decades, scientific concern about global warming is deeply conservative. It taps into many of the basic conservative feelings: fear that any change may be catastrophe, love of things the way they are, valuing the old above the new. But none of these feelings are attached to human power relationships, which by definition makes them apolitical.

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  • A friend of mine took two "political orientation" tests about ten years apart, once in the 1950s and the next in the 1960s. In the first, he was "conservative" in the second "liberal." The difference was that the first test took "conservationism" as a conservative value. The second took "environmentalism" as a liberal value.

    I personally think that everyone believes it's all a big game of musical chairs and the music is going to stop soon, so they need to grab all they can while they can. The time frame is the difference between "greed" and "rational self-interest."

    By Blogger James Killus, at 3:36 PM  

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