Integrative Activism

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Complimentary Impulses

April 9, 2024

    Conservative and liberal world views often seem like polar opposites and in some sense they are. It is a tragic mistake, however, to think of one as right and the other as wrong. They are mutually beneficial impulses, expressions of evolutionary forces. Each are necessary to create healthy species and cultures.

The conservative impulse is to remain rooted in traditional convention, to maintain the status quo. The result of this is to create unique and specialized versions of species and cultures. We can think of it as a divergent evolutionary mechanism. When species stay rooted in specific localities, they adapt to their environment and traits well suited to those environs become enhanced and more pronounced. Our species began in Africa and migrated to inhabit lands around the world, but as people settled, they evolved specific traits and cultures. That is why we have French, Slavic, Arab, Nordic, etc. people and cultures.

     This conservative impulse creates wonderful diversity, but if left to itself and allowed to go too far it becomes unhealthy. Inbreeding leads to genetic defects that compromise the well being of the population. Prolonged isolation can leave a population vulnerable to displacement or extinction to invasive populations. Environmental disasters can destroy entire populations of geographically specialized species. It is not simply a matter of survival of the fittest, but often it is survival of the luckier that are spared from flood, fire, volcanism or other calamity. Cultures are not immune to the excessive dangers of the conservative either. Cultural isolation can lead to stagnation, a failure to to adapt and incorporate. New technologies and opportunities may easily be missed or underdeveloped by isolated cultures leaving them prone to conquer or eradication by others.

     The liberal impulse seeks novelty and tends to spread across vast geographic distances. The liberal impulse can be an essential benefit to the conservative impulse, adding necessary genetic and cultural diversity. The liberal impulse however has its own negative side effects or dangers. A good example is mono crop culture. When we farm vast tracts of genetically pure species of crops, they become susceptible to disease and pestilence. The same dangers exist with animal husbandry. While this may at first glance appear to be the same danger as the conservative impulse, it is not. If we look at specific species, such as apples or potatoes we find that we have selected our favorite varieties and have displaced others to a dangerous point. North America once had over 17,000 variety of apples and now has perhaps less than 500. The same has happened to countless other plant and animal species. The result is a lack of genetic diversity that results in entire species prone to potential extinction.

     These evolutionary impulses may manifest in our moral minds, minds and moral tendencies that are influenced by genetics…Jonathan Haidt presents it better than this author can, so here’s the link.