Right-Wing or Left-Wing: Where Do Our Political Identities Come From?

Have you ever wondered where our adult social, economic and political identities, ideas and ideals come from? There are at least four major sources that are worth taking into consideration. They are psychological temperament, family-of-origin, cultural values and social interests. Let’s examine each of these in turn:

One: Psychological Temperament cannot be ignored as a factor in the formation of one’s social, economic and political ideas, ideals and identity. However we look at temperament, there are clearly psychological differences between those who habitually describe themselves as “right-wing” and “left wing.” Generally speaking, those in the “right-wing” tend to have more archetypally “masculine” personality structures. They naturally value and are drawn to hierarchy, strictness, individualism, competition, tradition, ethnic purity and certitude. By contrast, those in the “left-wing” naturally value and are drawn to egalitarianism, permissiveness, collectivism, cooperation, progress, multi-cultural diversity, and ambiguity. These are not only psychological orientations but cultural values as well.

If we drawn from the Jungian temperament polarities we can recognize the right-wing as predominantly extraverted, sensing, thinking and judging (ESTJ). Again, by contrast, we can recognize the left-wing as predominantly introverted, intuitive, feeling and perceptive (INFP). Of course this model is not meant to be merely dualist and either-or but rather modeled on a bell-curve with perhaps even a majority people (the true silent majority of moderates) in the middle between the extreme right and left wings.

Two: Family-of-Origin cannot be ignored in understanding how we arrive at our adult political identities. It should not surprise us that most people adopt the political ideologies of the families in which they were raised. Socialization and indoctrination occur quite naturally around the family dinner table and in conversations of friends of the family. Birds of a feather flock together. As we grow up we tend to hear half of the conversation, the side with which our family-of-origin agrees. The other side is often distorted and satirized, and sometimes demonized with name-calling and labeling. We learn to respond predictably to the family dog-whistle. Words like “liberal” and “conservative” become fighting words, never mind that we don’t have any historical context for understanding the merits of these social traditions.

If and when we marry we often adopt the same political party and ideology as our partner. Sometimes one member of the partnership has stronger and more fully shaped political views than the other. He or she will tend to influence the other to “come around” to his or her way of thinking. Life is easier if a couple share the same political views, even if political identify is more important to one member than the other.

Three: Cultural-Moral Values are constellations of connected ideas that form a gestalt. We speak of the right-wing as the law-and-order party and the left-wing as the peace-and-freedom party. These ideals and principles mirror our psychological temperaments. All of us grow up in a cultural milieu whether we know it or not. It is influenced not only by our family-of-origin but also by our peer-group, intellectual aptitudes, educational fields, academic pursuits and work-place environment. We know that by conducting value surveys of different demographic regions we can predict which political parties a majority of those citizens will belong to. It seems we are herd animals and like to be among our own. For example, If I drive a few miles south to Ashland, Oregon I will find myself in a community that is overwhelmingly liberal, progressive, bohemian, artistic, esoteric, expressive, permissive, Democratic, left-wing. If I drive a few miles north to Medford, Oregon or west to Jacksonville I will find myself in communities that are relatively conservative, traditional, bourgeois, practical, exoteric, restrained, strict, Republican, right-wing. People move to Ashland who want to be among other liberal, progressive people. Sometimes people move away from Ashland because they want to be around more conservative and traditional types.

Four: Social-Economic Interests also play an important role in political identities. It is no secret that the libertarian and conservative right-wing party appeals more strongly than the left-wing to the white, male, working-class and to the white, rich upper-class and oligarchs who want to get rid of what they regard as wasteful and anti-free-market government regulation. By contrast, the communitarian and liberal left-wing appeals more strongly to a diverse multi-cultural and multi-ethnic citizenry, including women, gays, Blacks and Hispanics.

Economic employment is a major factor in social interests. Those who earn their living in the private enterprise, banking and commerce sector tend to be right-wing, while those who earn their living in public health, education and welfare sector tend to be left-wing.

All of this is to say that the process whereby we form our divergent political identities is a complex and many-sided process, but that its is not entirely an enigma. Our psychological temperament, our family-of-origin and peer group, our collectively reinforced cultural values and our social-economic interests all play a part.

One final comment: Whether its a bird or a plane, both the right-wing and the left-wing are required for the bird or plane to fly. In the Taoist Wisdom Tradition the Yang and the Yin are necessary to the creative dialectic which is the Integral Tao. If either the Masculine Yang or the feminine Yin were to make Total War on the Other, the health and integrity of the Tao would be undermined and destroyed. When a society rushes to the polar extremes where either or both sides can no longer listen to and truly hear each other, where each holds the other in mutual contempt, that society is in a state of fragmentation and alienation. Sanity involves a recovery of critical reflection and constructive dialogue where both sides, actually multiple sides, can meaningfully and respectfully engage the others. As E.M. Forster put it, “Only Connect.”


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