Is there an inverse relationship between caution and emotionality?
I think it stands to reason that there is. Emotion can easily make you throw caution to the winds and you need to be pretty level-headed to be cautious. Caution is about thinking ahead and weighing up the possibilities. And that requires cool reflection. You cannot reasonably do that in the heat of emotions
And that explains something basic about the Left-Right divide. Conservatives have always characterized themselves as cautious -- as wary of rushing into things -- whereas Leftists are clearly in the grip of strong emotions and throw caution to the winds. I think we can show that Leftist beliefs and policies make no rational sense but they do make emotional sense. An example of emotionality that any conservative blogger will be familiar with is the choleric rage that Leftists hurl at him or her in the form of emails and online comments. By contrast, conservatives are less emotional and are thus able to provide an anchor of rationality to public discourse.
The Leftist obsession over equality can only be called a passion. Equality between different people has never happened, cannot happen and will not happen. But a push for equality pervades Leftist thinking and policy. And Leftist are prepared to break heads to achieve their aim of equality. From the French revolution to Soviet Russia and Maoist China they slaughtered millions in support of the deeply felt need for equality that they obviously felt.
Soviet Russia was in fact grossly elitist. Only the Nomenklatura had access to living standards that were normal in the West. The rest of the population lived very restricted lives with abysmal accommodation and very limited choice of food and clothing. Even mass murder could not carve a path to equality. But Russian Leftists were prepared to go to that length to achieve it.
And global warming is another belief that can only be explained by an emotional commitment. The correlation between global temperature and CO2 levels has repeatedly been shown to be zilch yet Leftists still believe that CO2 causes warming.
And, of course, conservatives are often amazed by the way in which no presentation of facts can budge the beliefs of a Leftist. You can't reason with emotions. A Leftist's beliefs serve his emotional needs so a presentation of facts that challenge that belief is met with anger rather than interest. So the conservative habit of opposing Leftist beliefs with facts is futile. In doing that, one is challenging deeply felt emotional needs. The Leftist NEEDS to believe the crazy things he does in order to legitimate deeds and policies that he NEEDS to carry out.
What the emotions are will of course be variable. Many Leftist voters are presumably genuinely compassionate people who are so deeply moved by what they see as evils in the world about them that they will vote for ANY policy that purports to ameliorate the evil concerned.
Leftist leaders, on the other hand, may start out that way but because of their greater involvement with the issues concerned will either become wiser and swing Right (as Churchill and Reagan did) or will become bitter and angry at the impossibility of great change in the world's existing arrangements -- and will conclude that no progress towards the Good is possible until the whole existing system is smashed -- which is what drove the French and Russian revolutions. The Leftist becomes so frustrated at the impossibility of bringing about his dream world that he comes to hate the existing world and to be angry at those who enable or defend it.
So I predict that if a good measure of emotionality can be devised it will be shown to differentiate the Left and Right well. Conservatives will be shown to have milder emotions that enable them to think things through while Leftists will be shown to be emotion dominated. And I am sure that there are degrees of both orientations and that both extremes are maladaptive. I have met Right-leaning people who are so emotionally insensitive that they are social misfits. And I have met very emotional Leftists who are a neurotic mess.
Self-report measures of emotionality
There are of course some existing self-report measures of emotionality but self-report measures of politically-relevant variables cannot withstand the characteristic Leftist talent for defensiveness, particularly the defences of compartmentalization and denial. Leftists are largely incapable of admitting anything dismal or adverse in their thinking. They usually cannot admit their anger and the bleak thoughts it inspires.
I found just that in my many years of research into attitudes to authority. I have probably done more published research on that than anyone else alive or dead. A liking for authority is definitional of Leftism, with Communist countries being the indubitable example of that. But even in Western countries it is Leftists who are the big advocates of more and more government control over practically everything we do. They need central power to bring about the changes they want.
Their latest craze is to cut off all reliable sources of electricity in the name of their global warming fantasy. But no-one in the modern world would voluntarily leave themselves without a reliable source of electricity. So the big problem for Leftists is that, left to themselves, people don't behave in the way that Leftists dream of. So they must be FORCED to do as the Leftist wants.
And only a very strong central government can achieve that. Leftism is intrinsically authoritarian. Mr Obama's declaration on February 16, 2008, that he wanted to "fundamentally transform" America was nothing if not authoritarian. And what could be more authoritarian than one of the more intelligible utterances of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, the founder of European Leftism and guru to Karl Marx? Hegel said: "All the worth which the human being possesses, all spiritual reality, he possesses only through the State."
And, just judging by what they advocate, a Leftist is a person who is so dissatisfied with the way things naturally are that he/she is prepared to use force to make people behave in ways that they otherwise would not
So in questionnaires about attitude to authority Leftists should show a distinct tendency to approve of authority, even a love of it. But they don't. I repeatedly found in my surveys that Leftists were no more likely to approve of authority than were conservatives. And the reason for that is plain. Authoritarianism has a bad name. Everyone knows about Communist brutality. So putting yourself anywhere in that league is resisted. If they are to have any credibility or popularity at all, Leftists have a desperate need to dissociate themselves from authoritarianism. So any liking for big authority has to be denied.
The denial is so strong and so fundamental that even social desirability indexes don't pick it up. Leftists genuinely believe that they are good people and don't think they are faking anything in claiming that. The evil side of their wishes is brushed aside into a compartment that they don't enter. They don't confront the viciousness of which they are capable. They desperately need to think well of themselves, as T.S. Eliot observed long ago. So self-report indexes of emotionality just cannot work. We will have to await developments in neurology.
Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).