The assumptions about social conservatism and ingroup-outgroup dynamics are odd:
According to social-dominance theory, the positive association between right-wing ideologies and negative evaluations of out-groups reflects the fact that both constructs share the core psychological element of a desire for hierarchies among groups (Sidanius, Pratto, & Bobo, 1996). Socially conservative ideologies have therefore been conceptualized as “legitimizing myths”: Although they are often rooted in socially acceptable values and traditions, such ideologies nonetheless facilitate negative attitudes toward out-groups (Sidanius & Pratto, 1999; see also Jost et al., 2003; Sidanius et al., 1996; Van Hiel et al., 2010).
I would have thought that social conservatism and right-wing authoritarianism would rather be marked by a desire for hierarchies within groups. Our paradigm for hierarchy is the legitimate authority and its subjects, which assumes a shared allegiance. No doubt this reflects the social conditions of our primate ancestors, which engendered a mentality my fellow social conservatives and I are as yet too simple-minded to outgrow. Be that as it may, out-groups are only conceptualized in a hierarchical relationship to the in-group to the extent that they are not seen as out-groups at all, but as accepted (even if perhaps inferior in status) parts of the social structure. The natural categories for out-groups, at least to our unrefined minds, are ally and enemy, which are not hierarchical relationships at all.
What really seems off is their identification of out-groups
In a report of a recent American study, Keiller (2010) argued that the capacity for abstract (as opposed to concrete) thinking should facilitate comprehension of other people and the complex mental processing required for the interpretation of relatively novel information (i.e., the type of information encountered during intergroup contact). For instance, adopting another person’s perspective requires advanced cognitive processing, abstraction, and interpretation, particularly when the target is an out-group member (and thus “different”). Given that perspective taking reduces prejudice (Hodson, Choma, & Costello, 2009), stronger mental capabilities may facilitate smoother intergroup interactions. Consistent with this rationale is Keiller’s finding that abstract reasoning negatively predicted prejudice against homosexuals…
Our results confirmed each component of the predicted model (see Fig. 2). Abstract reasoning negatively predicted prejudice, but this effect was significantly reduced when we included the mediators in the model. Lower levels of abstract reasoning also predicted greater right-wing authoritarianism, which in turn predicted elevated prejudice against homosexuals. Independent of these effects, there was a simultaneous indirect effect through increased intergroup contact: Individuals who had a greater capacity for abstract reasoning experienced more contact with out-groups, and more contact predicted less prejudice
Notice the identification of homosexuals as an out-group. What does one mean when one says that homosexuals are a “group”? First, a group might just mean all the members of a category, and in this sense no one would deny that homosexuals are a group: they’re the members of the set of all humans experiencing same-sex attraction disorder. However, this alone isn’t enough to make the ideas of in-group/out-group dynamics applicable. Liberals no doubt have a certain distaste for members of the “group” of murderers and members of the “group” of extortionists. These are obviously not cases of an in-group being hostile to an out-group. For that to make sense, the group in question must also have some sort of common life, that is, be a sort of rival community. This is certainly the way liberals see homosexuals, as members of a minority group, the “gay community”. It’s generally not the way conservatives have historically tended to see them. Social conservatives have been more likely to regard homosexuals as deviant individuals, members of the shared community who are violating its norms. Homosexual activism has changed this perception somewhat, making it clear that the norms being violated are not the homosexuals’ own, but the real import of this is to identify homosexuals as members of the group “liberals”. Social conservatives do have some hostility to the liberal out-group, not because they fit into the category “hierarchical inferiors” but because they fit into the category “enemy/threat”. The homosexual is still disliked qua homosexual primarily as a deviant individual. Conservatives don’t take the “gay community” very seriously, it being little like the biological, religious, and political communities whose importance we recognize. Saying that gays are disliked for their foreignness doesn’t quite capture the motivation.
It may be that the liberal is right, and that homosexuals should be regarded as members of a distinct and thick community rather than as individuals who engage in a particular act. However, if the goal is to understand the conservative mentality, one must not rely on characterizations that conservatives themselves wouldn’t acknowledge.
Filed under: Conservatism vs Liberalism |