Hierarchy and Why Conservatives Don’t Want to Conserve

For years I have struggled with the paradox of the question: why don’t conservatives want to conserve? But then I was reminded of Jared Diamond’s book ‘Collapse’ in which the various societies, under environmental pressures, collapsed. Easter Island, Norse Greenland, the Mayans, wherever; there was a common pattern: a quite hierarchical society in which preservation of the hierarchy trumped preservation of the whole society.

So the Norse didn’t adapt to colder winters or learn from the Inuit to survive them; they preferred for their society to die than give up their standing in the hierarchy. And the Eastern Islanders continued to cut down trees until the last one, rather than give up the status symbols of their famous stone heads and so on.

So in our society, the conservatives value hierarchy more than the society itself. So perhaps they deny all environmental threats, just like the Mayans, the Easter Islanders, the Norse, because hierarchy is more important than anything. Society in their view cannot exist without the existing unequal hierarchy so anything that threatens it, threatens to end civilization. Interestingly, the only society that bucked this was 16th century Tokugawa Japan where the conservative feudal class were smart enough to mentally separate hierarchy, and survival, and actually used it to survive and take dramatic steps to end deforestation etc. Are there any Tokugawan conservatives out there?

And, of course, this fits our Creative Conflict Model quite well. Conservatives are essentially Positional creatures. They focus on what they have relative to others as symbolic of their position in the hierarchy. They are aspirational. They think being aspirational, in wanting to have more than your neighbor is what drives society. And if the society you want is deeply materialistic and doesn’t count environmental costs, they may be right. But if they did some analysis on their real interests, they might see how many shared interests they had with others in preserving the planet we all depend on. But to do that they would have to give up their positional thinking, the priority they give to hierarchy and focus on something more collective. Not going to happen is it, any more than the Norse, the Easter Islanders, the Mayans…conservatives fear change and so freeze into status quo that is deeply unsustainable so the stability they seek will be denied them. To stay the same, society has to change a lot…they don’t like paradox either.


About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
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10 Responses to Hierarchy and Why Conservatives Don’t Want to Conserve

  1. TonyGee says:

    You ask the question…”For years I have struggled with the paradox of the question: why don’t conservatives want to conserve?” The problem with the question is the premise. Then you further it by relating it to the environment and how conservatives just don’t seam to care about the environment.

    I know a lot of conservative people and the all care deeply about conservation of our resources and how it effects our economy now and in the future.

    • @Tony Gee. I know conservatives who want to conserve the environment but they are a very small minority of the conservatives I know. The majority of the latter seem to take it as a badge of faith that mineral exhaustion is not happening, climate is not changing (or if it is, it is not human caused) and who want to drive huge cars and many don’t even want to re-cycle. I grew up in a very conservative family we saved every piece of string, pieces of paper etc. So my question was one of puzzlement and not thinking conservatives innately don’t want to conserve. And yes many conservatives want to avoid waste but listening to them, many of them don’t seem to see the natural world as something that needs conserving, that needs stewardship. They think only government wastes, not private business or individuals. While many religious people I know whatever their politics seem to believe in our stewardship, our responsibility to future generations to pass on protected natural world. So you are right to say it is more complex, but that said Fox News, most conservative commentators and many conservative voters and the politicians they elect have total contempt for the environment and it is those folks I am seeking to understand. And just a small example. Fox News and many conservative commentators reacted with outrage when the government decided to spend $2 million on research into bees. Well bee populations are plummeting and without bee population much of agriculture is in deep trouble and we will struggle to feed the world. But to these conservatives, caring about bees was some liberal money wasting ploy. Those are the conservatives I am seeking to understand because their stance on this issue is madness, kamikaze and deeply damaging to our country. And if there are conservatives who disagree with them, conservative farmers who know bees matter to pollinate their crops, where are they. Where is the conservative outrage about the stupid stance of other conservatives on bees?

      • TonyGee says:

        So your statement and the debate is political not about facts.

        The Monsanto protection Act…..(Google it if link bellow does not work) Allows the killing of Bees and the manufacture is protected from Fed. Courts in lawsuits to stop the making, distributing and using the bee killing chemical. Processed into law by the Benevolent Congress and then signed by the all caring President Obama.


        Reminds me of the Affordable HealthCare Bill. and Nancy Pelosi said something like, We have to pass the bill to see what’s in it…. What a disaster that has becoming. FYI the mom and pop restaurant i work for was just told by Etna that we are not going to be covered as of september. The six of us employees who have it will be forced to fend for ourselves. They stated for the reason, No underwriters to create policies for small business who have under 51 employees. So much for keeping my insurance and doctors as was promised. Will the owners be able to find a new insurance company…..?? a better Question why do they have to….?? oh ya thats right because of the wonderful law they passed that was to be GOOD for ALL…..silly me I am just being selfish I guess….I am Sorry Creative

        Bad laws by bad representatives, just follow the money. This is not about left-right or libs-conservatives it is all about control and power. They need to be re-elected and need the donations of big business and big money donors. We the little people are losing the war to you guys who really believe Government is the solution are making it bad for all of us.

        Yep there is bad commentary on both sides. Yep there is poor decisions made on both sides out here in the real world where there is no TV cameras and we show who we really are…..In my neighborhood I see what I see this past election many proud Obama supporters had their signs out on their well manicured lawns on the water. I wish I could have the lawns like them but I can’t I won’t use chemicals. We all live on a reservoir well I have one of the few lots without access but not them. One of many things things I learned from dad was, “Live your walk” and the five of us grew up in a democrat home. We don’t like to talk about it….we just walk it…..

        My wife who also grew up in a democrat home says it best…”The liberals hold the conservatives to their standards but no one can hold a lib to theirs because they have none.”

      • @Tony Gee. I agree with much of what you say. Indeed President Obama, while nothing like the demon the GOP says he is, is a very average President. And the Democrats are only electable because the GOP are a total disaster. It makes for very bad government when the opposition is useless. It doesn’t keep the governing party on its mark at all. Anyway facts are usually spun by politics. I try not to and while you grew up in Democrat household, I grew up in a conservative one. And one thing about US politics is that Congress is regulated by Corporations, not the other way round. I would like if both supported a constitutional amendment to reinstate the McCain-Feingold bill and get the big money out of politics. As for Obama-care, I would have preferred Hilary-care by a big margin, but the power of the medical industry gave us Obama-care which is the same as Romney-care and doesn’t do anything to cut medical costs. So while I like the idea of everyone having medical cover, I don’t like paying 17% of US Gross National Product to buy the life expectancy we have of 79 years which is equal to Cuba and way down on the rest of the developed world by many years. Thanks for your comments and insights. And the Democrats have not achieved much on the environment but at least they don’t want to shut the EPA and give us the urban air pollution of Beijing as the GOP does.

      • TonyGee says:


        So if that is true that the GOP wants the pollution of Beijing then would it be far to say the Demarcates want riots in the streets of the USA like in France and Greece were the government can no longer give to the people what they wont because they are so close to bankruptcy.

        I would say the EPA like the IRS like the Social Services HAS WAY TOO MUCH POWER without checks and balance. I came to that conclusion from my experiences that I have witnessed (not personally) but with close friends, coworkers and neighbors. I did not mention the school systems that we hear about with these, “zero tolerance” The student are punished without a hearing in court before a judge. I would add I personally witnessed a judge Say when asked for driving privilege when a guilty plea was submitted and the crime had NOTHING to do with DRIVING a car. The judge said, “Sorry my hands are tied, I can’t do anything to help you this, it the mandatory sentence that you loos you licence for 6 months.” I wanted to stand up and say, “You have to be kidding me You are the “JUDGE” and are to make ‘judgment calls’ based on the evidence it is clear that is not to be the ‘right call’ in this case.” I know he would have threatened me with contempt…which would beckon a statement like… you are not a “Respected Judge” who judges on the evidence but just a paper pushing clerk. There was no need for a high paying “Judge” in that court room.

        The IRS are back to the tactics of the 70’s do you remember the suicide stories that were circulating and congress or was it the president who committed to cut back the aggression of the IRS and negotiations started to change the perception of the IRS.

        EPA is good for stopping big guy but not for the little guy who is tries to make his farm work…I am reminded of the EPA taking to court the farmer who had a stream run thew his land and a beaver built a dam. I guess the dam damaged some wet lands and the rest was history the guy lost his family and farm because he chose to fight in court….he just lost too Big Government…forgetting that they have unlimited resources like money then little old pop.

        Who was it who said something like, Ultimate power corrupts ultimately?

        For those who have eye to see can clearly see this being played out before us……I wish you too be one of them…..

      • @TonyGee. Actually Tony knowing the situation in Europe quite well, as I live there part of the year in Spain and the UK, what is causing the riots in Greece and elsewhere is a financial crisis caused by stupid big bank unregulated lending that caused an asset bubble and inevitable collapse. Greece, Spain and other Southern European countries, Ireland etc had government surpluses until the crash. Their problems were not caused by government deficits; the government deficits were caused by the crash when the economy went down and tax revenues fell and unemployment pay exploded. Now the governments want to slash unemployment pay and do nothing to punish the banks, when in effect the banks caused the unemployment. The riots are against the cuts and the banks not against the government deficit.

        And I find it amazing that the conservative media seem to have forgotten what caused the crash: Wall Street madness. And no not the Community Relations Act which was a minor factor. And of course, George W Bush was running a government deficit in good times. We went from $120 billion surplus under Clinton to a $1500 billion deficit under Bush. Bush should like Clinton have run a surplus and reduced the debt. Dick Cheney famously said in 2004: ‘Reagan showed that deficits don’t matter’ Really, he did say that and it is totally wrong in the long term.

        And President Obama has followed roughly the right course in not bringing the deficit under control too fast, and the US economy is slowly recovering, though the Sequester could make the recovery slow down. And the expansion in the money supply or so called Qualitative Easing is a conservative strategy invented by Reagan’s hero Milton Friedman. As for the US solvency, it is very far from bankruptcy as the amazingly low return on US government bonds demonstrates. And the dollar is at a long term high. The US is far less likely to go belly up than most of Europe, the developing world or even China which is actually quite unstable. The rich Chinese are moving their money to the dollar. The world financial markets definitely don’t agree with your analysis. Indeed the annual deficit has plummeted from $1500 billion at the end of the Bush era to $900 billion today…and it is a lower percentage of a bigger national income. Yes there are long term problems with funding Medicare (medical costs need to come down fast) and Social Security (retirement needs to go to 68 or so) but these are very fixable and don’t bite until the 2020s or 2030s…but as Clinton tried, you need to fix them early not later.

        Now that said, all your comments about the abuse of power have a lot of validity. That is my problem with the Republicans. They could be working to make the EPA more efficient, more accountable, more sensitive to local concerns and reality checks; and they instead want to abolish it, at least some of them do. And as for the IRS, I wish it would devote most of its energies to the $20 trillion sitting in offshore tax havens, much of which belongs to US citizens and corporations evading tax. The real problem, however, is not that Congress controls big corporations but that big corporations cosmantrol Congress. And so Congress does nothing for small businesses. Indeed all the Chambers of Commerce are controlled not by small and medium businesses, but by big corporations.

        Under the Republicans the House of Representatives have done nothing. They have passed a bill to repeal Obamacare 37 times without a hope of it passing the Senate. A total waste of time and political play acting at our expense. When they should have been amending it to make it better. You said rightly it had flaws as every major piece of legislation does and needs modifying. Correct. But the Republicans, despite the fact that Obamacare is modeled on Romney Care (mandatory insurance, insurance transparent market, insurance companies not allowed to reject people on prior medical record etc.) have not been willing to do anything to immprove it. Again like the EPA they want to abolish it on ideological grounds and many could not even say what Obamacare involves….

        That said, I don’t think the Democrats are much good either. But I think that is partly because the GOP are now so useless. It is like football if the opposing teams are useless your standard drops. The GOP has not a single strategic policy that makes sense. They don’t expect to be in government soon and so all through the last 5 years they have just blocked everything without a single original idea. Well Tony if you think they have any good ideas let me know. Seriously, I may be being unfair…Thanks for your comments.

  2. TonyGee says:

    Whoever has control whether it is GOP or Democrats says the other party has no ideas. My point is so many laws they pass have huge unintended consequences (and I used the word unintended very loosely). I think more times then not they know the consequences but gives them more reason to make a new laws to “fix-it” that only end up taking more of our rights away giving them more power. As I have said before this time a bet different…. this bickering between the two party system is what the elites want in DC from us. We become drones…my team better then yours…..your team sucks….(one of the many reasons I don’t follow sports any more) while they both party’s receive donations from wealthy donors whether it is from packs, big co. or the Forbes top 100 wealthiest in the world.

    Wealth rules the world. Back is 1776 our fathers had a grate idea it just was taken over by greed. Their intention was to represent the people and those who were in office were there not for self but to serve to be a servant, to give back to the country the loved and willing to die for. Today not-so-much. They never dreamed a day would come that the representatives would be a career with life long benefits. They did not do it for fame power (ok I am sure some did) but out a sense of duty, honor and for nothing in return. Today we have whole family’s in the “game” and we give homage to the senator or president by naming a building or street after them. I get it that we named things after our for-fathers but not a sitting senator or one who is alive. That is just sick down right weird and sick. Reminds me of the CEO thread….They just vote themselves raises benefits…how much money can they get to go back home with to their constitutes. Then start the cycle back again get elected vote to keep your job (never intended to be a job but servant-hood). This county was not formed to satisfy the elites but for freedom for all do I need to recite the Declaration of Independents.

    Sorry Creative we are loosing our country and I really think it’s gone to fair with no turning back.

    The Goerge Zimmerman trail is an example of a political power at play….Geraldo Rivera said it well in his documentary something like…..Grate Tragedy that someone died and family has to live with the loss…. it is not always the case that someone is to be punished for the death…… TonyGee says…would Zimmerman get “a fair trail” if he did not spend hundreds of thousands of dollars defending himself…..what constitutes “FAIR TRIAL” anyway…. that’s a rhetorical questions…..we all know…..I suggest you sit in a courtroom and be an observer and see what I see regularly in my life……I not so sure if you understand my world….. I get the feeling your in the elite category….I hope to be wrong….

    Our two party system is broken and we will soon be a one party rule and that is what many are wishing for by their actions (one of the unintended consequences or not??) unfortunately you might be in that group…..here to >-l hoping your not…..government is not always the solution but mostly the problem….

    • @TonyGee. I completely agree with you: both parties are too influenced by money. And I can’t stand competitive sports either. Adam Smith warned about this: he said government would always be in the hands of the rich and so should be suspect. That said, I do see some exceptions. I like John McCain (when he doesn’t have Sarah Palin at his side) for working with the Democrat Elizabeth Warren right now to try to fix Wall Street. They are reintroducing the 1933 Glass Steagall Bill that was repealed in 1997 by the awful Phil Gram. That was a disaster as it allowed the banks you and I use for our salaries to speculate and become too big to fail. You will see all the screams from Wall Street over this. I doubt it will pass a corrupt Congress. And McCain worked with the Democrat Feingold to reform campaign finance in the McCain-Feingold Act, and then the conservative Supreme Court working for the power of money, overruled it, but there is a state by state movement for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Court ruling. So there is some hope. Reform campaign finance and Congress immediately becomes less corrupt. I think also the House should only be elected every four years as the two years at present mean all they do is campaign and never actually have time to do the right thing. And I just read an analysis in the British Financial Times on US government debt which agrees with my view: it is now in reasonable shape and only the long term reform of Social Security and Medicare costs need attention, ideally now but some time in the next 10-15 years they will have to be fixed. Otherwise deficit as a % of GNP is plummeting as tax revenue rises with the economy and unemployment falls. Also the Sequester slashed spending though a bit un-intelligently.

      Remember the media attract audience by bad news and by slagging the opposition: divide and sell newspapers/attract ads with big audience. Reality is more boring.

    • PS You might find this denunciation of Goldman Sachs interesting. They are the real evil behind the financial markets and politics.


  3. TonyGee says:

    About your link I have said somewhere in this blog about the, “Wall street’ Issue is all in the Banking NOT companies are a big broblem…although there is bad people in corporations like-wise in ALL FOUR BRANCHES OF GOVERNMENT. I am glad you ask, “FOUR Branches what you be saying TonyGee.” The fourth being the non-elected all powerful cabinet members and their staff who serve at the Command of the President of the USA…….. sorry I am done talking about this….for now….I need sleep for some of us need to work and get a few hours of sleep…….

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