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Moralism, tribalism and how we vote

['Did You Know That with Alan Walter']
['Did You Know That with Alan Walter']

Did You Know with Alan Walter

How would you describe what living a “good life” is all about?

The Greek philosopher Socrates aspired to live a “virtuous” life by being honest, trustworthy, kind, selfless, loyal, principled, and so on. In contrast, his compatriot Epicurus, declared that what made life worth living for him was the enjoyment of pleasure, wealth and power.

Here we have two very different expressions of “morality”; and we each live by our personal moralities; they govern our actions, and our opinions as to what is right and wrong in the world around us.

Our personal moralities can sometimes cause friction amongst family and friends who may not always agree with us on what is right and wrong, and we may have different views on what makes for a “good life”.

While each of us has control over our personal behaviour and beliefs, what influence do we have on the world around us to help create that good life?

Political activity can provide an opportunity to realise our version of a “good life”, as a voting member of the community.

When we vote in a political election we are guided by our own morality as to which candidate we believe has a correct view of “right and wrong” and may able to deliver some of the “good life” that we aspire to.

Each political party will present its case, as to what is “right” and “wrong” with the current state of affairs….and offer up solutions they believe will make for a better life; and the voters will support or reject them according to their own beliefs.

Politicians and their parties rely on organised support by members of the community to promote their respective ideologies. This can result in spirited competition between political factions in the community. Around election time, this can create frosty relations, even within families and between neighbours.

You would think that such behaviour would be the result of ideological divides in the community on what contributes to the “good life”.

Disagreements on competing policy solutions rarely arise however, since it seems that nowadays all that distinguishes one party from the others is that one is in power and the others are not.

What does energise folk in the electorate are deep-rooted allegiances to preferred political parties or individuals, regardless of their current election platforms.

Consider this as a mild form of “tribalism” is playing out here; rivalries based on longstanding family or community connections, no matter who is running for office on whatever platform. Once a Leafs fan, always a Leafs fan.

To understand this tribalism phenomenon, we need to understand that humans are social animals and not well-equipped to live on their own in hostile environments. So, homo sapiens spent much of its evolutionary history in small bands on the African savannah, competing with other bands for scarce resources.

Tribalism, where outsiders are seen as inferior or misguided, helped to keep individuals committed to the group and from wandering off. It was essential to group survival, and as a result tribal competition is present in our DNA to this day; and it shows itself in so many ways beyond politics, such as sports team rivalry, and sadly in religious strife, and interracial conflict.

So how do we in Cumberland County usually vote, with our varied moralities to be satisfied? First, take a look at what political scientists say about the various political options we have.

are said to be more open to new ideas and are more willing to change. They are more likely to focus on the good things change brings, hoping for the best. Socialists – read NDP, are more emotionally committed to extreme versions of similar causes.

Aptly named Conservatives tend to be reluctant to change, fearing that it may ruin the good things in life and bring more problems and unintended consequences. Such an outlook tends to track with age; younger people tend to be more liberal and older people tend to be more conservative.

Studies show that conservatism is also strongest in closely knit, ethnically homogenous communities. That well describes Cumberland County, so its no surprise that we have both of our MLA’s as Conservatives representing the populations of Cumberland North and South; sitting in the provincial legislature in opposition to a majority Liberal government.

These studies also show that in cities such as Halifax, liberalism leaning towards socialism is more dominant. This is a result of a richer cultural, youthful mix, ready for change, and attracted to broader education, employment and investment opportunities.

An exception to these voting patterns is the case of Bill Casey, the sitting Liberal MP for Cumberland - Colchester.

First elected to parliament in 1988, he has sat as both a Conservative and Liberal MP, with a spell as an Independent in between, with seemingly no impact on voter loyalty. There was no obvious change in his “morality” through the period, but he is an example of long-term service to his community being appreciated and more valued than the changing policy positions of the moment.

Our two MLA’s face a bit of a challenge with the demographics of the County working against them. They represent a slow-growth, older community in opposition to growing Liberal ridings, which by their nature attract younger, more qualified and racially diverse resources, contributing to ongoing Liberal electability.

It’s noteworthy that on October 14, 2008, Casey was re-elected in 2008 as an Independent MP with a remarkable 69% of the popular vote. Our very capable MLAs might want to consider the “Independent” option next time round, and use their two legislature votes as leverage in delivering a forward-looking idea of the “good life” specific to our county, rather than follow party dictates.

Alan Walter is a retired professional engineer living in Oxford. He was born in Wales and worked in Halifax. He spends much of his time in Oxford, where he operates a small farm. He can be reached at alanwalter@eastlink.ca.

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