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.