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The Mirror of ERISED

By Helen and Peter Evans
web posted August 4, 2003

A new study about the conservative attitude has recently come out. Entitled "Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition," it is obviously not intended for a mass audience, but left-liberal reviewers are having fun with some of its findings. According to a UC Berkeley review, "Four researchers who culled through 50 years of research literature about the psychology of conservatism report that at the core of political conservatism is the resistance to change and a tolerance for inequality, and that some of the common psychological factors linked to political conservatism include:

  • Fear and aggression
  • Dogmatism and intolerance of ambiguity
  • Uncertainty avoidance
  • Need for cognitive closure
  • Terror management.

While the research paper itself does not state that these common, human characteristics are necessarily 'bad', or that "conservatism is pathological or that conservative beliefs are necessarily false, irrational, or unprincipled," it does darkly insinuate as much by drawing provocative parallels between Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini and such noted conservatives as Rush Limbaugh and President Ronald Reagan. We must acknowledge the patience of the psychologist-authors (they did sift through an impressive volume of material in order to compile their findings), but we do suspect them of a little "motivated cognition" of their own.

Let's to turn to some plain old, mass-audience common sense to come up with our own 'findings' (and without the academic baffle-gab). This is exemplified in a scene from the first Harry Potter movie, the one where Harry stumbles on the "Mirror of ERISED." (DESIRE backwards) The eleven-year-old Harry looks into the mirror and, instead of his own reflected image, sees his long-dead parents, who he has been yearning all his life to meet. Harry's friend looks into the mirror and sees himself as a successful and celebrated athlete. It seems that what this peculiar mirror reflects are the deepest desires of the looker-in. When the headmaster finds Harry in front of the mirror, he warns him that people have wasted away in front of the glass, pining for what they desire, rather than getting on with their lives. He also tells Harry that a person who was content with his life would see only himself reflected in the mirror.

So, let's think about this. If someone is content with his or her life, they wouldn't desire to change it. So, "the resistance to change" would be totally reasonable, whenever anything is OK in one's life. However, we all know that "change is inevitable." Thus, we may reasonably think of content individuals as those who accept change as it naturally, inevitably occurs, who might even initiate it in themselves, as in educational self-improvement or finding a better job. Our 'finding' is that conservatism is a sign of contentment.

The second core aspect of conservatism, apparently, is "a tolerance for inequality." If we could put aside for a moment the fact that "inequality" is the left's equivalent of "evil" in the buzz-word lexicon, we might be forgiven for interpreting a tolerance for "inequality" as an acknowledgement of "the way things are." The flip-side of the tolerance for inequality (it's mirror-image, you might say) is the conservative's willingness to succeed or fail on their own merits, and not to try to 'fix' people who happen not to be the same as they are.

Another attribute arising from the resistance to change, according to the report is, "The terror management feature of conservatism can be seen in post-Sept. 11 America, where many people appear to shun and even punish outsiders and those who threaten the status of cherished world views" So, it seems conservatives will bring about change after all, by punishing "those who threaten the status of cherished world views," for instance, the skyline of Manhattan.

The other psychological factors, according to the study, all seem to hang on the core characteristic of resistance to change. The Berkeley reviewer notes, "The avoidance of uncertainty, for example, as well as the striving for certainty, are particularly tied to one key dimension of conservative thought - the resistance to change or hanging onto the status quo, they said." Our interpretation of this observation is that when you're a self-assured, well-adjusted human being you don't constantly second-guess yourself and your motivations. You make decisions and stand by them; you have faith in yourself and are loyal to your friends. The attributes of personal integrity have always threatened those who doubt themselves.

So why do some find the same attributes distasteful and others find them satisfying? Tammy Bruce's new book, The Death of Right and Wrong, provides a clue. She relates from her own experience that many of the left's passionate leaders are not self-assured and happy people. In fact, they have experienced some traumatic incidents in their life that leave them feeling victims and angry at the world. In Tammy's words, "they try to shape our world to mirror their own damaged psyches." We can certainly imagine such people wasting away in front of the "Mirror of ERISED," desiring a world which cannot harm them, but as we know deep down, only we, ourselves can fulfill our own desires. No "mirror, mirror on the wall," no other person, no government can do this for us.

We will only be content when we look into our mirror every morning and decide we can live with the face that stares back at us.

Peter and Helen Evans, this husband and wife team - international teachers and authors, teach a philosophical approach to conservatism. They have helped thousands of adults in more than thirty countries realize more of the best of themselves through responsibility. They have long been fascinated by mirrors, and a sculpture, called "Moment of Recognition" is their own creation.

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