The psychology of ‘Not’: Meet your (unexpected) inner conservative


 

Paul Wallis, Sydney Media JamIf conservatism is famous for anything, it’s famous for what it doesn’t do. Conservative platforms since Thatcher and Reagan have been all about ‘Not’:

  • Not regulating.
  • Not funding.
  • Not culture.
  • Not education.
  • Not public health.
  • Not social justice.
  • Not science.
  • Not environment.
  • Not modernizing.
  • Not listening.

These Nots are basics, monotonously droned out by conservatives in every Western country on Earth without exception. They’re therefore usually ignored, and therefore not at all understood, by progressives. This range of Nots are everything about conservatism that any progressive has ever claimed them to be, and devalued accordingly.

The problem is that’s a very simple, and shallow, way of looking at conservatism. It’s also a great way of totally misunderstanding what Not really means in practice.

Paul Wallis books, sydney media jam

This book is all about creative ideas. Nobody has yet died of reading it, but it’s a pretty tough call for those not familiar with working with ideas. “Passive voice”, eh?

For example – The usual appeal to “tradition” is often based on a personal reward. It brings back to you things that barely exist anymore. Tradition, however, is also the incarnation of a range of Nots, too, if you spin it that way. These appeals to tradition are great for those lost in the modern world, modern thinking and modern initiatives.

Tradition can be a huge reward. It’s a return to the womb or the family home of childhood, a safe place in your mind. (You could call it a luxury, on that basis.) It’s also a well-known psychological manipulative process. It’s guaranteed to appeal to the insecure, the overstressed and the under-acknowledged. It’s particularly effective on the modern psychological plague, anxiety.

This is the major, classic version of ‘Not’. These pre-adult nostalgias are at their core all about things  that are ‘not’ the things now bothering you. It’s like watching an old TV show from when you were a kid; you’re back home, somehow, at least for a while.

Let’s be fair about this –

  • Everyone over 10 has an established ‘Not’ zone, and a range of experiences and preferences to back it up.
  • The ‘Nots’ are real, perfectly valid psychological buttons, and they work on anyone. People use their Nots as valid reasons.
  • There’s a natural, and reasonable, right to insist on your personal ‘Nots’.

The problems with ‘Not’ as a basis for anything start with the ultra-dangerous “Not real”. This is a double entendre in a whole new class:

  • It can mean your personal Nots are real.
  • It can mean that any reality which isn’t a Not, isn’t real.

The separation between reality and Not is based on deep Fight or Flight catalysts. Fear is always effective, delivering adrenalin to upgrade non-specific Nots to personal crusades or deeply held, sudden beliefs in anything and everything.

Case in point – Many people fear change, and by extension, progress. Others may fear ideas, which leave them lost and totally unprepared for the thinking that goes with new ideas and new things.  They feel insecure, and disadvantaged by these things, and, in fact, they are. Their Nots have excluded them.

This is another universal human experience. It can be a very honest experience.  Many are highly distrustful of the often fake, facile logic of business culture. They distrust it, both on the job and in general.  That distrust is usually backed up by truly lousy personal experiences, and the belief in Not, which is a natural defensive reaction to adversity, becomes entrenched.

It’s a type of logic, perhaps not very focused, but it can drive a drastic response to anything. It can also drive a demand for more Nots. Nots are both a combination of conflict evasion and a position for conflict. Any Not can be used as a stonewall reaction to any group. It can be a rallying point. Add some dopamine, and you can even use it as a basis for “friend or foe” relationships.

The reality or unreality of Nots in history

Put enough Nots together, and you have a society based on Nots. That would be all fine and ducky, but Nots have a 100% record of failure over time.

  • China had a policy of not introducing foreign goods, for decades; look at China now.
  • Tsarist Russia had a policy of two very separate economic classes, not connected in any way and a strict social hierarchy on that basis; look at Russia now.
  • The sun did not set on the British Empire; Not-style mindsets destroyed it with unpreparedness and mismanagement based on the Not mentality. Look at the UK now.

The moral of history is that it’s not about Nots. Nots are straws in a hurricane. Life isn’t, and can’t be, entirely about negativity. The question is this: Does everyone’s inner conservative, the usually self-serving Not-addict, recognize the risks? Probably, Not.