Election day in the US is right around the corner. What are the possible future directions of the US? Growing up in a conservative and homogeneous community, America represented the beacon of a multicultural and pluralistic society for me when I was a teenager. However, already in 1985 David Bowie sang “This is not America”, criticising an America that had decidedly anti-American values. I also grew up as a Christian and I don’t think there is much wrong with Christian values, but I do think there is a lot wrong with Christian fundamentalism. These kinds of conservatives aren’t really conservatives sensu stricto anymore, they are “regressives”. The anti-abortion laws and taking away hard-earned women’s rights was only the beginning.
Former Trump adviser Michael Flynn is at the centre of a new movement based on conspiracies and Christian nationalism. The retired lieutenant general, former national security adviser is now focused on his next task: building a movement centred on Christian nationalist ideas, where Christianity is at the centre of American life and institutions. His motto: One nation under one God. Desecularsation (anti-enlightenment) and depluralisation are not only extremely regressive, but they are also anti-American, aren’t they? One might assume that the descendants of people who fled religious intolerance might be a bit more tolerant towards diversity.
On the flip side, one might think that I am a bit paranoid seeing the danger of authoritarianism in the spread of Christian values. I don’t think so. Nor is this attitude so un-American as I used to think. Colin Woodard writes in American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America (2011):
While other colonies welcomed all comers, the Puritans forbade anyone to settle in their colony who failed to pass a test of religious conformity. Dissenters were banished. Quakers were disfigured for easy identification, their nostrils slit, their ears cut off, or their faces branded with the letter H for “heretic.” Puritans doled out death sentences for infractions such as adultery, blasphemy, idolatry, sodomy, and even teenage rebellion.
Certainly modern American conservatives would not regress this far, would they? That seems currently unlikely, however not impossible. In order to understand this conservative-regressive mindset we have to dig deep into our evolutionary history. Solomon Schwartz identified different universal values which he divided into four quadrants. I have assigned those values to different subsistence strategies: hunting-gathering, farming and pastoralism.
Michael Flynn neatly fits into the “farmer” quadrant. As an ISTJ (MBTI) he is a farmer type who values security, tradition and conformity, including religion and rules. In contrast to nomadic peoples, early farmers couldn’t easily relocate in the face of threat (natural disasters, raiding, etc.) and had to form tight-knit communities in order to defend themselves and help each other. Uniformity was a sign of membership, diversity was a sign of potential threat. Religion has always provided the necessary uniformity, rules and stability farmer types crave.
Farmer types are generally well-meaning and getting along with their neighbours and community is very high on their agenda. However, their mindset can also lead to dangerous developments. The Salem witch trials were a series of hearings and prosecutions of people accused of witchcraft in colonial Massachusetts between February 1692 and May 1693. More than 200 people were accused. Thirty people were found guilty, 19 of whom were executed by hanging. Those were crimes that were committed by highly moralistic (Puritan) farmer types.
Talking about witch hunts, McCarthyism was another manifestation of this very same farmer mindset. Was it very American or very un-American? A quote attributed to Sinclair Lewis can now often be read on social media: “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross”. Even though it probably wasn’t Lewis who said it, there is a lot of truth in it.
American conservatives will only be growing in numbers. Conservatives have famously more children than liberals. This has always been the case. The good puritan farmers of Massachusetts had the highest fertility rates in the Western world:
In Waltham, Massachusetts, for example, completed marriages formed in the 1730s produced 9.7 children on the average. These Waltham families were the largest that demographic historians have found anywhere in the Western world, except for a few Christian communes which regarded reproduction as a form of worship. (from: Albion’s Seeds)
For more on the forager-farmer framework check out my book: The Forager-Farmer Framework: A new perspective on personality, society and culture