Posted by: thealienist | January 11, 2011

Thoughts on the Politics of Behavior

For those few of you who have visited this blog over the past several months — thanks.  I have finally found my way back from the whirlwind of teaching, seeing patients, and doing research.  I hope to take a little time now and then to write some thoughts about psychiatry, psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science and how these find their ways into our everyday lives.

The thoughts that have been occupying me lately have focussed on the behavioral science associated with political affiliation.  In short, how do people from different political backgrounds understand behavioral control? It seems to me that the different political groups differ in several ways with regard to their views of behavioral control.  First, they differ on what kinds of behaviors need to be controlled.  The areas of life that are classified as public (and therefore open to control by society at large) and private (and so not subject to direct social oversight) seem to differ markedly, though not without some significant overlap.  Second, the party of interest in controlling behavior seems to differ between conservatives and liberals, though not in a consistent way.  For example, some of the more liberal individuals may assert that gun control laws are necessary to provide a safe society but that laws limiting marriage impinge on personal freedom.  The more conservative individuals may very well assert the opposite.  Third, the different groups seem to emphasize different methods of behavioral control.  The more conservative groups often seem to emphasize punishment of undesirable behaviors.  This can consist of either inducing an aversive condition or removing a rewarding condition.  Examples of aversive conditions might be levying fines or ordering jail time.  Rewarding conditions could consist of giving approval, monetary compensation, or opportunities to engage in desired behavior.  The more liberal groups seem to rely more on reinforcing desired behaviors by rewarding them or removing aversive conditions.

These are only preliminary thoughts, and I am sure that there is significant overlap in the thoughts and actions of liberals and conservatives with regard to behavioral control.  Still, this would seem to be a researchable question.  For those of you interested in this line of thought, please feel free to give me your thoughts on the following questions (or other questions you may have):

     1.  Is it more important for society to punish bad behavior or reward good behavior?

     2.  What should society be allowed to regulate?  (i.e. Which of our behaviors are public and therefore responsible to society?)

     3.  Which of our behaviors are private and should be protected from social interference?

     4.  Are there any exceptions to the answers for #2 and #3?  (i.e.  Is family life totally private or are there situations in which the public may intervene?)

     5.  Is it more important that we live in a harmonious society or that we have individual freedom?  Are either of these options absolute?

     6.  For each of the above questions, is there a single correct answer, or does one’s answer depend on one’s political views?

     7.  If there is no single correct answer to the above questions, how do those who differ in their answers live together in society?

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