Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Worldview Model as a Model of Political Diversity

Conservatives who are lower in nonspecific needs for closure but have high needs for specific closure with regards to, for example, God and government, may be relatively more open to change and uncertainty that is an outcome of their decision to reject prevalent modernist norms and even to militate against them. Jost et al (2003b), for example, have suggested that progressive revolutionaries should be highly open to change and uncertainty, reactionary revolutionaries moderately open, established socialist and communist regimes also moderately open, and traditional hierarchical regimes not at all open.

However, Jost et al. (2003b) ignore differences among the progressive revolutionaries—some of whom may be seeking to instantiate values based on a transcendental truth, others of whom may believe that they have an empirically verifiable truth. The Worldview Model suggests that progressive revolutionaries should have different closure needs depending on their traditionalist, modern, or post-modern orientations.  Their level of integrative complexity, responsiveness to salient beliefs and values, and tolerance of change should vary with the specific and nonspecific closure needs specific to their version of traditionalism, modernism, or postmodernism.

Self-identified liberals may also embrace beliefs that could reflect postmodernist absolute uncertainty (Golec & Van Bergh, 2007), but are instead firmly modernist.  For example, these liberals could embrace scientific inquiry and believe that it allows them to know absolute truth.  These same liberals, however, could claim to respect other forms of knowledge. This could be because liberals in general tend to value novel experience and are generally lower in closure needs (Jost et al., 2003a).  This could also be because the modernist perspective encourages a sense of personal uncertainty and some modernists may generalize from their lack of personal ability to achieve certainty in certain domains to a belief that no living person can achieve certainty in those domains. Alternate beliefs, to these modernists, can be accepted because everyone operates under the same conditions of inescapable uncertainty.

Liberals with relatively more certainty about their own ability to know may be both higher in need for closure and engage in more moral exporting (proselytizing), although I know of no studies directly assessing liberal this relationship.  Peterson, Smith, Tannenbaum, and Shaw (2009) demonstrated that the relationship between moral exporting behaviors and conservative identification can be mediated by both the need for closure and moral absolutism. Using a sample of undergraduates at the University of Utah and administering a bipolar scale of liberal to conservative identification, as well as new scales developed to measure moral absolutism and moral exporting, the authors found that moral exporting was positively related to conservatism. This relationship varied by religious affiliation, with both moral exporting and moral absolutism being positive correlated with religious attendance. Mormonism was more highly correlated with moral exporting than other religious affiliations. While need for closure correlated positively with conservatism, moral exporting, and moral absolutism, moral absolutism was a more proximate mediator of the relationship between conservatism and moral exporting.

It is possible that liberals who are high in moral absolutism (which modernist liberals should be when and if they believe in their own ability to make rational moral judgments) and higher in need for closure will engage in moral exporting. The Worldview Model would predict that liberals who possess relatively fewer closure-avoidant beliefs should engage in more moral exporting. Moral exporting may bring closure by affirming individual beliefs but it may also be in service of interpersonal closure (Peterson et al., 2009). At times of conflict, when interpersonal closure needs are elevated as threat is elevated, even relatively uncertain modernists should engage in moral exporting. Traditionalist liberals, who believe in transcendental truths but take liberal policy stances, may be moral absolutists but only believe it necessary to share a small segment of their values, limiting the extent to which they proselytize. 

Libertarians in the Worldview Model may be modernists who accept individual moral orientations but justify this stance with reference to a rational process. Libertarians may assert each individual’s ability to discover their own individual rational values.  Libertarians may, further, reject postmodern beliefs that these individual values cannot be considered objective. These libertarians may either take traditionally conservative or traditionally liberal policy stances. However, they should be relatively consistent in their belief that a society that limits their personal freedom is oppressive.  This is an issue on which they should be motivated to achieve closure. 

Seeing themselves as being in conflict with an oppressive society, libertarians may be under relatively high closure needs and aggressively seek a solution to the problem of that oppression. Libertarians, then, should be motivated to achieve closure on why they deserve more freedom, which could reduce their integrative complexity, if this process is not challenged by traditionalists, modernists, or postmodernists with other beliefs. However, relatively powerless and conscious of their perceived oppression, they should also engage in dialogue with wider society, which could lead them to develop stances that possess relatively more integrative complexity.

It should be recalled that the Worldview Model predicts that modernist cultures should vary.  Some should require specific closure only on the fundamental questions of whether absolute truth exists and whether it could, possibly, be discovered through inquiry.  Others should require specific closure across a variety of domains. However, although this model asserts that all individuals should have a dominant worldview, a claim that should be empirically tested, some individuals may switch worldviews over the course of a lifetime. Others may hold beliefs that reflect contradictory worldviews, leading to internal conflict only when their ability to analyze and evaluate absolute truths is called into question. Still other individuals may combine traditionalist or modernist orientation with a postmodern one. 

A postmodernist, as defined by Golek and Van Bergh (2007), believes that no one can possess absolute truth. To the extent that a postmodern worldview is the product of socialization, it should increase a need to avoid closure and decrease a need for closure.  However, there are no relevant empirical studies that I know of that directly examine postmodern participants. However, the postmodernist resembles the individuals postulated by Fiske and Tetlock’s (1997) model of how to manage taboo tradeoffs.  The authors suggested that the equal validity of the conflicting values be affirmed, as well as, within a group, differing individual preferences for each value.  They further suggested that the group work out an optimum solution that acknowledged, rather than avoiding, the tradeoffs.  This model specifically denies the ultimate rationality of any one solution, but suggests that the best solution will represent a compromise among the conflicting values. The postmodernist individual, the Worldview Model predicts, would most likely be politically liberal, but political preferences would vary with interpersonal interactions in a decision-making context.

Many indigenous peoples combine traditionalist and postmodern beliefs in order to assert their right to continue to embrace traditional beliefs and to follow traditional values. Relatively unable to lead revolutions, colonized indigenous traditionalists living in a postcolonial society must carve out a place for themselves as knowledgeable authorities without completely rejecting the philosophical basis of the post-colonial state. These efforts may militate against western science or seek to claim scientific legitimacy.  Vine Deloria Jr.’s Red Earth, White Liesexemplifies both approaches. When these cultural conflicts cannot be resolved, closure may be boldly avoided. 

While postmodernist beliefs may fulfill needs to avoid closure that arise from the undesirable or impractical implications of traditionalist or modern worldviews, they may also moderate need for closure on certain political issues. For example, a postmodernist may believe in freedom of religion, until that religion seems to oppress her, an individual that she cares about, or a group with which she identifies.  Although she may ultimately take a stance and seek closure, she may ultimately simply acknowledge her value conflict and seek to find the best solution possible.