A Radical in Favor of Tradition

I once asked a friend to guess what I scored on the Big Five personality test. Given that I frequently argue for views that appear extremely conservative, along with the fact that it’s been found that low openness correlates with high conservatism, he guessed that I’m low in openness. To be clear, openness is one of the Big Five personality traits: Individuals high in openness are more likely to break apart established structures and forge their own way, leading either to reckless departure from the deep-seated truths of traditional wisdom and a blind embrace of chaotic dissolution of disciplined routine (when done poorly), or innovative eschewing of the dangerously misguided qualities of mainstream thought and a properly thought-out re-structuring of one’s thinking and behavior (when done properly). On the other hand, those low in openness are less likely to break apart these established structures, preferring to remain set in their ways, acting out the received wisdom of society, or at least their own past conclusions, without doing any sort of deep questioning of their path. Thus the progressives (those who question the wisdom of the past and wish to usher in a new era of human organization) tend to be high in openness, while the traditionalists (those who believe that the best compass for right action is religion and other founts of past wisdom) are generally low in openness.

To repeat what I said in the beginning of the previous paragraph, since I often communicate opinions that could be considered highly traditionalist, the friend assumed that I’m probably low in openness. But is that the case? Not at all. When I took the test the first time, I scored 96% in openness, and this fits with everything I’ve ever thought about my own cognitive architecture. Far from being low in openness, I’m maxed out on that parameter, and my daily struggle against akrasia is a testament to that. While people high in openness are equipped with the sort of imaginative thinking that allows for interdisciplinary investigation, innovative insight, and paradigm-shifting breakthrough, they’re also likely to go through periods where their life falls apart due to complete collapse of structure, discipline, and routine. Yet if this is true, then what underlies my propensity to communicate conservative opinions? Why does much of what I argue fall into the traditionalist camp, if I’m high in openness?

See below for an edited version of a message I sent to the friend:

There’s a key complication, in that I came to my conservative beliefs through a process that was fundamentally one that leveraged an extreme form of openness. This relates to a phrase I once used to describe Jordan Peterson: “a radical in favor of tradition”. We live in an unusual time in Western history, where the progressive program is becoming so much the mainstream that it’s starting to require openness to break from the collectivist lockstep of the progressives and suggest a return to tradition. Weirdly enough, it’s actually becoming a temperamentally liberal choice to advance a politically conservative worldview.

Beyond that, I also consider conservatism to be a medium-term solution, whereas certain radically new forms of societal coordination will constitute the future. Cryptocurrency along with the project to create the seed for an international visual language; these two technologies are likely to put an end to the era of the nation state, and thus irreparably destroy many aspects of conservative organization. I think there’s a sort of reckless form of openness happening in the West at this time; it seems to make sense to lean on conservatism an tradition for a while longer, though that doesn’t mean I think such traditions should continue indefinitely.

With the great culture of the West currently tearing apart at the seams under the massive duress of the naive progressive’s denial of human nature gone overwhelmingly mainstream, and the resultant situation where throwing away tradition, erasing the past, and jumping headlong into an ill-thought-out future is the default for those who simply follow what everyone else is doing, it takes an individual who would have been considered liberal in days past to suggest a conservative program. Society thrives when there’s a balance between progressivism and traditionalism, and the modern West is a lopsided disaster; the liberals have taken the reigns of society to an unwarranted degree, and if we’re to avert certain catastrophe it’s only natural for some of us who lean open to suggest that perhaps a more closed way of thinking is necessary at this time in history. To repair this grave imbalance, those of us who are high enough in openness to question even the utility of being so open may be key. Jordan Peterson is one of those people, and certainly one of the deepest reasons for his popularity is that he very effectively shows the how to leverage a high degree of openness to come to conservative conclusions. Few things could help more at this time in Western history.