Creeping Conservatism

June 5, 2009


Why do so many people become more and more conservative of view as they get older? Quite often, people adopt views as seniors that they would have made fun of as teenagers.

There's not any single reason why many people adopt increasingly conservative views as they get older. By conservative, I am meaning "generally right wing" as opposed to "generally left wing," rather than speaking about any particular collection of views or party association.

One reason is becaue many people begin to crave more surety - they want things to be more black and white, not all messy colors and shades of grey. As they get older, most folks get more responsibilities. They have more people depending on them. As a result, they like to feel that they understand how the world works. They like to feel that they have some measure of understanding and control, so that when they make decisions for other people, they're making informed choices, not just wild guesses. If you're making choices like this, it's a lot easier to choose between simpler, plainer choices.

Conservatism tends to support this view of things, of a simple dichotomy of what is right and what is wrong, of truth versus error, etc. A universe where things just are, in a largely arbitrary and random way, does not support easy choices. A messy cosmos where you've got to make a choice, knowing that the world is just going to happen around your choice (and not because of your choice) is a leftist analysis. It is much easier to be uncertain in a leftist universe than in a rightwing one. As we grow older, that leftist universe becomes unattractive to many people.

Of course, there is also the fact that older people, as a group, tend to have more material prosperity than young people. Rightwing views, causes, and perspectives tend to favor those who have over those who have not. In the conventional conservative view, if you have a considerable fortune, you are favored by God - you've earned what you have and you deserve to enjoy the fruits of your good fortune. The leftist analysis that those who have more have a duty to those who have less is an unattractive view. When you have more than enough, it's, seemingly, tough to share. It is much easier to be selfish (and cushioned from that arbitrary universe).

People who have achieved a degree of material prosperity have done so because material things have become important to them. They feel better with more stuff and no matter how much they have, no matter how much wealth they amass, it is seldom ever enough. People who become fabulously well to do are typically obsessed with more. My grandfather was this sort - he was a self-made millionaire twice in his lifetime, once before 1929 and once after. It was hard for him to do and his achievement left him, at the end of his life, with his possessions and very little else. This was a fact he only became aware of after it was too late.

Not to say that people who do well for themselves are incapable of charity - far from it. Many people who become wealthy have operated very generous charities - but not so generous as to make themselves anything like poor. You don't have to be Mr Potter (It's a Wonderful Life) to be rich, but it helps.

As your material prosperity rises, it becomes easier to identify with those whose interests and aims more closely match your own. Most of the older, more prosperous folk, tend to believe in preserving the system in which they were successful. The disenfranchised, unsuccessful people have more to gain from changing the system in which they were unsuccessful. This is not rocket science.

Of course, there is also the third (and largest) group: people who earnestly want to be rich someday, but who are not and in all probability will never be -- but their desire to be rich makes them identify with the interests of the rich, and they tend to adopt the beliefs and politics they see as being most favorable to the rich, even if the programs and policies that they support actually harm them and their families. It's a very prevalent form of living in denial and it is not an accident. It is the world view that is actively promoted and supported by the wealthy, precisely because when the peasants profess this world view, they'll never be a threat to the rich.

So, it's not a big stretch to see why our capitalist/consumer oriented society tends to promote conservative rightwing views. The amazing thing is that those views are diametrically opposed to the ideals of Christianity and of enlightened social and economic justice, but that no one apparently notices this. Hence the need for denial. The denial is the sickness whose symptoms we see all around us as the forces of welath and power resist inevitable and essential change.

Change is coming, make no mistake
Change don't care.

Change is coming, don't matter who you are
Change is coming, don't matter what you believe

Like the ocean coming in, change is going to overtake you
And if you don't believe in it, it will happen despite you

But if you embrace change and accept it
And if you believe in it, it can happen because of you.

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