An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of November 10, 2008
Written in Yokdzonot, Yucatán, MÉXICO

SOCIAL CONSERVATISM

More and more Maya farmers are abandoning their cornfields and I suspect that after this year's drought-killed crop the abandonment process will only accelerate. Nowadays most Maya no longer think in terms of living self sufficiently from the land. They want money more than corn, beans and squash. Most Maya prefer store-bought food, especially Cokes, white bread, crackers, instead of the humble but nutritious fare of their grandparents. Here traditional cornfields are mainly planted by socially conservative, tradition-minded older men.

In the modern world the conservative, tradition-minded impulse very often is maladaptive. That's because in the modern world wasteful and destructive behaviors have been practiced for so long that they now constitute the long-established, comfortable-feeling traditions many socially conservative folks feel compelled to conserve: Steak meals at distant restaurants; buying on impulse; deferring politically to the rich and powerful because of "trickle-down" notions.

Down here, socially conservative old men satisfy their traditionalist predispositions by planting corn, beans and squash as their ancestors did, even as their cell-phone-carrying children dismiss the whole exercise as an embarrassing waste of time. Yet, self reliantly keeping alive the cornfield tradition, eating wholesome food and "eating locally" are good ideas.

You can see why Nature would produce a humanity in which social conservatism always arises spontaneously in any large, diverse community -- just as progressive liberalism does. During the evolution of any complex community, sometimes social conservatism is appropriate and sustainable, while sometimes progressive liberalism is.

In providing humans with such big brains, Nature's idea was that we should use that brain to decide which impulse -- conservative or liberal -- should be allowed to express itself in which circumstances. Facebook Icon.