Anglo-Ghanaian philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah recently published a book, «The Ties that Bind,» in which he tells the story of a Jew who is shipwrecked and stranded on a deserted island. After many years a team come to rescue him and see that he has built three buildings. His rescuers ask him for them, and he says, «This is my house, this is the synagogue I go to pray to, and this is the synagogue I don’t go to pray to».
With this metaphor, Appiah perfectly exemplifies the duality in which we continually debate. Throughout life we are presented with situations that lead us to make radical decisions, without mixed tones. To choose one alternative is not only to renounce the other, it is also to reject and oppose it.
The worlds of politics and soccer are two good examples of how decisions are polarised. Being part of one team necessarily means wishing the worst, in sporting terms, to the other.
We think we can freely choose which team we belong to, but that’s not the case. There are three determining factors that have a definite weight when it comes to putting on one shirt or another. These are, in this order: to share location with the team, its winning baggage and the influence of third parties such as family and friends.
These are, in this order: to share location with the team, its winning baggage and the influence of third parties such as family and friends.
The world of politics is perhaps a little more complex, especially because localisms have less weight and there are characters, their leaders, who personify what they defend. In this sense, the sympathy or trust that the representative of a political party conveys, regardless of what he promulgates, is fundamental to vote for him, something that does not happen in football, more impersonal.
Apart from the multiple ballots that we find on an election day, the options are really reduced to two: those on the right and those on the left. Then some will be further away from the centre and others less, but all of them could be placed in a continuum with right-left poles, with an ideological centre that only exists in the imagination and rhetoric of politicians. There is no ideologically neutral option, there is ambiguous or changeable, but no in between of the extremes.
So, we have a number of citizens to the right of the centre and another to the left. The questions that come up now would be: What do those who are grouped on the same side have in common? What differentiates them from the others?
There are social aspects that make the political choice to one side or the other: age, socioeconomic level, education, geographical location, etc. There are also ideological aspects to controversial issues that throw you headlong into one of the two sides: abortion, immigration, religion, the defence of traditions, etc. Politicians know this and build their discourse around these variables in order to win voters.
Could we make the same distinction in terms of personality? Is the person of the right wing different from that of the left? Who is more sociable? Who has greater emotional stability?
We think we can freely choose which team we belong to, but that’s not the case.
The dilemma of whether people on the right are different from those on the left can be solved in two ways: with a survey, «What do you think?», or through science.
Take the test, ask someone «What are right-wing people like?» and they will always tell you something. Then ask for the left-wing counterpart, you’ll also get an answer.
However, this way of knowing the reality based on people’s opinion is weak, basically because you should not be surveyed by a situation that involves the respondent himself. When someone has to give their opinion about a rival, they will never be impartial and his speech will be filled with stereotypes, which we use to make reality more handleable. Stereotypes are always very benevolent to oneself and perverse to the other.
Science, for its part, has tried many times to find a form that identifies the way of being of those who make a political choice. All the results have been unsuccessful. Beyond the obvious, that conservatives have a greater orientation to order and less to change, nothing has been uncovered in this sense.
Beyond the obvious, that conservatives have a greater orientation to order and less to change, nothing has been uncovered in this sense.
One of the causes that explain the low coincidence of nature in the same political option has to do with the fact that personality and values are constituted before ideologies. It is known that personality, which is established in the first 16 years of life, especially in the first 12 years, has a genetic and a biological base, and both are strongly influenced by the family. The main predictor of political ideology is the family: conservative parents and conservative environments, then conservative children.
Here we can highlight those children who break with the ideological tradition of the family and face it, which can be explained from the own temperament in which the offspring develops more non-conformist habits, more exploratory and defending their identity. Always, first personality and then ideology.
One of the few studies that have light on these questions was carried out by the University of Minnesota and concluded that those who share the same political option and (here the nuance) live intensely their option (militancy, for example) do share more personality traits, but this is not the case with the rest of the voters.
Therefore, and going back to the title of the article, I say no, you don’t need to tell me what you look like because I won’t be able to guess who you’re voting for. And this is good news, because if ideology already generates friction among people, imagine taking it to the terrain of extraversion, neuroticism or pragmatism, a great chaos.