SEB Mailbag: “What went wrong with my dad” edition.

I received this email from J a couple of days ago and I’ve been mulling it over trying to come up with a decent answer. Here’s what he wrote:

I will try not to bore you to death. My father raised us well. We do not discriminate, race is a non issue with us. My brother married an Indian, and I married a Puerto Rican. I’m going to move forward to speed along…

Today my  father is an angry man. He is angry at all the wrong things. He blames Obama for just about everything and is scared and paranoid. He has many guns which he displays daily. He supports open carry. He says racist remarks and incessantly complains about immigrants, although his own parents moved here from Europe, which he hates! He goes to church but displays hateful rhetoric and attitudes daily. He curses gays and lesbians. He believes the government is after his guns. I would be interested to hear what you think has happened. My mother thinks it is the news he watches. I think it is fox news which my wife has banned from the house. Although I like to watch it to get the others perspective.

Naturally I can only speculate based on a very limited bit of information. Admittedly my first impulse is to say that if he relies mainly on FOX News for information then that may have a lot to do with it, but it’s far from the only reason. They say that most folks tend to grow more conservative as they age and perhaps that’s what has happened here. You don’t mention how often you interact with him these days so it’s also possible you’re seeing only one aspect of him these days. Obama winning the election brought out a lot of otherwise hidden bigotry among the populace so perhaps that played a part in it.

Again, not having known the man myself I can only provide guesses. I have family and friends who took a turn to the far Right as they got older and I’ve never been able to fully figure out why. I mentioned just recently that I’ve gone as far as to unfriend one relative because they were getting upset at my attempts to discuss their conservative postings to Facebook. People I’d once admired are often hard to stay in contact with these days due to the views they espouse. You could argue that I’ve become more Liberal as I’ve gotten older and I’m sure it’s just as confusing to the Conservative folks who’ve known me a for a long time.

angryconservatives

There’s an interesting article over at Psychology Today from October of last year in which they discuss some of the reasons some folks become more Conservative as they get older. They include:

  1. Personality: “people differ in their typical levels of curiosity, and these differences have been attributed to the broader personality trait of Openness to Experience.”
  2. Judgement: “in particular information-processing capacity.”
  3. Familiarity: “as we grow older, our experiences become more constrained and predictable.”

The point of curiosity is one I can relate to. I’ve always been an intensely curious person and I’m sure that’s a big factor in why I became an atheist. From the article, here’s the full text from the segment on personality:

Indeed, a review (link is external) of 92 scientific studies shows that intellectual curiosity tends to decline in old age, and that this decline explains (link is external) age-related increases in conservatism. At any age, people differ in their typical levels of curiosity, and these differences have been attributed to the broader personality trait of Openness to Experience. Higher levels of Openness have been associated not only with aesthetic and cultural interests, but also with a general tendency to seek emotionally stimulating and adrenalizing activities (e.g., from scuba diving to bungee jumping; from drugs to unprotected sex). Furthermore, open people are also more likely to display counter-conformist attitudes, challenge the status quo and disrespect authority. Although these qualities make high Openness a potential threat to society, Openness is also the source of creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship, as well as an intellectual antidote to totalitarianism, injustice and prejudice.

The article admits it’s a generalization and doesn’t apply to all people (obviously not in my case). There’s another article from last year over at Bloomberg.com that adds another reason why some folks become more Conservative as they age: Having kids.

Contrary to popular belief, paying taxes, accumulating wealth, and being in the 1 percent or the 99 percent are extremely poor predictors of left-right political orientation. According to American National Election Studies, an academically run survey project, the correlation between family income and party identification for U.S. voters in the 2012 presidential election was a mere 0.13. This weak statistical relationship is typical of past elections.

There is one life event, though, that greatly accelerates a person’s shift to the right, and it often occurs in the 30s: parenthood. Its political impact is easy to see among a cohort of Canadian college students studied by psychologist Robert Altemeyer. Their scores on an ideology test at age 22 grew more conservative by an average of 5.4 percent when they were retested at 30. But among those 30-year-olds who’d had children, conservatism increased by 9.4 percent.

In the case of your dad, J, it’s possible that his shift to the far right is just a natural consequence of him getting older. It’s also possible that it’s been exacerbated by the media he consumes and the people he surrounds himself with. There’s also the possibility that your perception of his Conservatism is heightened by the difference in your ages (and thus where you both are in terms of your political viewpoints).

Which of the above is the actual reason for it? I haven’t a clue. It could be that it’s a combination of all of those things. With any luck perhaps I’ve given you a pointer in the right direction to help figure it out.